If there is a bright spot to the COVID-19 epidemic, it's the positive environmental impact that social distancing has had on the planet. There has been a steep drop in worldwide pollution and wildlife is returning to places that were once dominated by human activity.
The pandemic has also inspired many world leaders to champion a green recovery.
Pakistan has found a great way to help its laborers who've lost their jobs due to the health crisis by hiring them to plant saplings as part of the country's 10 Billion Trees program. The five-year project was launched by Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan to counter the droughts, flooding, and rise in temperatures in the country caused by climate change.
Pakistan ranks fifth on a list of countries most affected by planetary heating over the past two decades by the Global Climate Risk Index 2020.
The country has been on lockdown since March 23, but the prime minster granted an exception for the 63,000 laborers it has hired for the program. The workers will be paid between 500 to 8000 rupees a day — about half of what a laborer would usually make —but it's enough to get by.
The work is a lifeline for the unemployed laborers but it will only put a small dent in Pakistan's unemployment rate. A recent assessment by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics found that up to 19 million people could be laid off due to COVID-19.
Even though the work takes place in isolated areas, laborers still have to abide by social distancing rules. They must remain six feet apart from one another and wear masks.
Much of the planting is being done on 15,000 acres near the state capital of Islamabad as well as other pieces of state-owned forest land throughout the country.
"This tragic crisis provided an opportunity and we grabbed it," Malik Amin Aslam, climate change advisor to the prime minister, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The United States should look into similar programs to help its unemployed citizens as well as the planet. During the Great Depression, president President Franklin Roosevelt mobilized the U.S. Forest Service, the Works Progress Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps to create a shelterbelt of trees that ran in a 100-mile-wide zone from North Dakota to the Texas panhandle.
The goal was to provide a natural barrier against the dust storms that ravaged the middle of the country during the Dust Bowl
Over seven years, 30,233 shelter belts were planted, stretching over 18,600 square miles, and containing over 220 million trees. It also provided much needed employment for thousands of workers who's livelihoods had been destroyed by the Dust Bowl and stock market crash.
In every great tragedy holds the seed of opportunity. The U.S. should follow Pakistan's lead and use that seed to plant a better future.
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