The Whatsapp messages were not too much of a shock for Fahad Rizwan as he moved towards the exit gate of Islamabad International Airport after returning from a brief visit to an international youth festival in Moscow. It was very much clear that the friction between him and his socialist political party has reached to its highest ebb. The messages indicated that the disagreements have come to the point that there was nothing left other than parting ways. The bespectacled activist was left with no choice but to say Khuda Hafiz for good. The years long journey and affiliation with the leftist romance ended. But in reality that was indeed a beginning.
The beginning of Green Squad – an environmental conservation group of committed volunteers involved in plantation drives, trashing plastic waste and setting up botanical garden – in the adjoining areas of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
“I am an activist by passion. I am not the kind of a person who can be happy with an eight hour job. So the moment I left the party I started considering what next,” the 29-year-old said assertively while walking at the hiking trail behind the federal capital city’s landmark, Faisal Mosque, in an expectedly pleasant evening. “And that’s where the Green Squad came. A non-political environmental group taking people across the board to play their role for environment in the wake of rising climate change threats to the country.”
Pakistan, indeed, is at the receiving end in perspective to climate change. The Germanwatch Global Climate Risk Index which looks on the impacts of extreme weather events listed Pakistan among countries most affected by extreme weather events between the years 1998 -2017. The country has suffered $3826.03 million with a loss of 0.567% in GDP due to its environmental vulnerability in last two decades. But where the country has started to feel the heat of the devastating climate change threat, at the very same time, the state and society is yet to halt the large scale deforestation and particularly in the urban centers of the country due to rapid urbanisation.
“In the name of development trees are cut down and are replaced by plazas, shopping malls, parking zones and residential areas all over the country, without taking into account any environmental consideration,” said journalist Bilal.
Mughal, who has recently shifted from Karachi to Islamabad for work, believes that the federal capital is relatively better environmentally than the rest of the country but surely the axe has also fallen over the trees there too.
Enter Fahad Rizwan again. The young activist kicked off Green Squad’s first activity of tree plantation in 2017. The organisations’ record suggest that within two-year time it has planted nearly twenty thousand saplings all over the country with the assistance of over 100 volunteers. “At first the biggest challenge we faced were the response from the people. It took us a time to make people take the ownership of the saplings,” Rizwan said, “You know you can plant thousands of trees but if there is no care for them. The plantation has no utility.”
However, the young environmental activist is happy to observe that all the hard work his team has put is yielding results now as not only the trees have grown but also the people all across the board are taking interest in plantation drives. But Rizwan believes that his initiatives may have put a positive contribution in the society but still a lot needs to be done in the country to tackle the massive climate change.
“The biggest problem is deregulated industry in the country. The contaminated waste, carbon emission, plastic consumption and deforestation have put the country in alarming situation. And the worst part is that the state doesn’t seem to be serious yet on the issue.” Najam Suharwardy, a Karachi-based journalist affiliated with The News, dilated on the issue by saying that a public-private partnership over environmental issues are a need of the hour.
“Today Lahore stands with second worst in air quality ranking. The children and elderly are breathing poison. Hence it’s an understatement to call it alarming,” he wrote in an email to the correspondent. “A collaborative effort between groups like Green Squad, government of Pakistan and international environmental agencies are a need of the hour.”
Rizwan plans to take the Green Squad to the southern part of the country where heat waves have become regular occurrence during April-June. “I know right now I am short of funds and there are huge logistical issues at hand. But the team has given me a go-ahead, we will launch a massive drive in Sindh and Balochistan soon. This is where we are most needed. It will be great if the government and international agencies accommodates us but irrespective of it, we will be putting our expertise into action soon,” he said while touching a tree sapling planted a few hours back.
Zartaj Gul, the minister of state for Climate Change, when asked to comment on the initiatives taken by Rizwan and the team, appreciated the voluntary action taken by the young activist. “It’s great to see that the young people taking charge and making this work. The state of Pakistan promises to support such environmental groups with the available funds.” But will her promise walk the talk? Rizwan smiled and said nothing on it.