Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam said that Pakistan is grappling with the growing threat of expanding desertification for the last many years, which has exacerbated the country’s food insecurity, poverty, and hunger levels biodiversity loss. “But, various green initiatives have already been rolled out in various parts of the country as a part of the Prime Minister Imran Khan’s world-acclaimed green agenda to combat desertification risk, which is devouring fertile lands resulting in gradual damage to the agricultural lands and loss of gains in food security, hunger, malnutrition, and biodiversity areas,” the PM’s aide highlighted in a statement issued on the occasion of the UN’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, marked every year on June 17. The day is being celebrated this year under the theme “Restoration. Land. Recovery: We build back better with healthy land”, with a heightened global focus on the call for turning degraded land into healthy land for the sustainability of humanity, planet earth, and its resources. On this day of global importance, Malik Amin Aslam also re-affirmed his government’s unflinching commitment to the global action for combating desertification, drought, and reclaiming decertified lands. “The green initiatives of the country aim to support in achieving the voluntary Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) Targets by 2030 and implementation of National Action Programme to Combat Desertification. “Restoring lands degraded due to outpouring desertification and seething droughts not only leads to economic resilience but also helps create jobs, raise incomes, increase food security and supports biodiversity to recover, the PM’s aide emphasised, adding, “curbing desertification is vital to slowing climate change as it locks away the planet-warming carbon emissions.” Quoting UN-supported studies, he said that nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s ice-free land had changed due to unsustainable human activities to meet an ever-growing demand for food, raw materials for industries, highways, and homes. “Averting, slowing and reversing the loss of productive land and natural ecosystems now is both pressing need of the time and unprecedented for a fast recovery from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and for ensuring the sustainable survival of humanity, the planet, and the resources it provides. Besides, restoring damaged ecosystems helps boost climate resilience of the systems and strengthens nature’s defences against disasters and extreme weather events such as wildfires, droughts, floods, soil erosions, and dust storms,” the PM’s aide underlined. He appreciated the commitments pledged by over 100 countries to restore almost one billion hectares of the degraded land over the next decade – an area almost the size of China. “We can, for sure, deliver huge benefits for people and the planet, provided that we together restore the degraded land of one billion hectares,” Malik Amin remarked. He suggested launching smart land-based restoration initiatives in regions of the world hit by desertification and droughts, saying that such initiatives would benefit women and youth, who are often the last to receive help in times of crisis. “As we enter the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, we have a real chance to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. If countries can restore the nearly 800 million hectares of degraded land they have pledged to restore by 2030, we can safeguard humanity and our planet from the looming danger,” Malik Amin stressed. Talking about the state of desertification in Pakistan, the PM’s aide said that the country is predominantly a dry country, with about 80 percent of its area falling in semi-arid and arid regions. About 68 percent of the country’s geographical area lies under an annual rainfall of an average of 250 mm; whereas, about 24 percent of the geographical area lies under annual rainfall measuring between 250- 500 mm. He said further that due to expanding aridity charachterised by adequate rains, aridity-hit areas in southern parts of the country are in extreme poverty, which presumably results from resource constraints and inadequate opportunities for environmentally-resilient sustaining life-livelihoods such as agriculture. About 58 percent of the country’s population lives in dryland areas suffering from inadequate or declining rains, Malik Amin highlighted. However, the country took a major lead in the region under the leadership of Minister Imran Khan and restored degraded forest lands by planting trees on 600,000 hectares in a short span of 4-5 years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province under the Billion Tree Afforestation Project, Malik Amin recalled. He said further that experiences gained from the Billion Tree Tsunami Programme encouraged Pakistan to launch a national level programme to plant/regenerate 3.29 billion plants over an area of one million hectares under the Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Programme, the country’s largest-ever afforestation programme. The target of one billion tree plantations and natural regeneration of forests in various parts of the country has already been achieved, which led to 100,000 green jobs, the PM’s aide elaborated. He also highlighted that another Climate Smart Agriculture initiative is also being implemented in support of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Programme in desertification and drought-hit areas to enhance the sustainability of the agriculture sector in arid areas and secure farm-related jobs livelihoods. Malik Amin Aslam also highlighted that the country’s flagship Ecosystem Restoration Initiative has also hit the ground, focusing on restoring degraded natural ecosystems and biodiversity nature-based solutions. Through this initiative, efforts are being taken to establish Ecosystem Restoration Fund to support activities related to curbing desertification, land degradation, and droughts, he added.