A Family Ski Adventure in the Himalayas

Last winter, as I was riding in a car with my family through the Kashmir Valley, the driver’s phone rang. He listened carefully before frowning.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Man killed in avalanche.”


“A Russian, skier, went by helicopter.”

“Where?” I asked
“Where else?’’ The driver shrugged. “Gulmarg.”

Gulmarg. That’s exactly where I was taking my family for a ski trip. Gulmarg is Kashmir’s underdog ski resort, tucked in the snowy Himalayas, a place of magnificent skiing and no frills. Few foreigners visit, for reasons I will get into, and as we drew closer, I began to wonder if this was such a great idea. I looked out the window. It was now dark and snowing, and we were winding our way up a narrow road into the mountains. After we passed another military checkpoint, the driver nodded to me.

“You see that spot?’’ he said, pointing into the woods. “We saw a bear there last week.’’
My wife, Courtenay, who was sitting in the back, tapped me on the shoulder.

“Why can’t we go skiing in Austria like everybody else?”

I laughed.

“No,” she said. “I’m serious.”

I had always dreamed of skiing in Kashmir. That name alone conjures up adventure: white-toothed mountains and deep green valleys, wide open slopes and tough highland people. Draped in a mysterious beauty, Kashmir is one of those places most of us have heard of, but know little about. And I had a personal agenda. My children are among that strange breed of Americans who have never lived in the United States. They were born in Kenya, raised (so far) in Africa and India, products of the tropics who go to school all year round in shorts, and I wanted them to experience snow.

So one weekend about a year ago, while we were sitting around our apartment in New Delhi, I suggested a trip to Kashmir’s winter wonderland.

“Are you kidding?” Courtenay said. “Isn’t there an active conflict up there?”

“I wouldn’t necessarily call it a conflict,” I said.

“What would you call it then?”

“A dispute, maybe?

I’m an average skier, trained on the snowy pimples of the Midwest, with a few lucky trips to Vail and the Alps. But I love skiing, and the thought of plunging down the Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountains, fired me up. I soon learned that Kashmir’s ski spot, Gulmarg, is huge (about seven times the size of Jackson Hole), with some runs so long they take all day to ski. I also learned that Gulmarg is cheap, never crowded and blessed with perfect high-altitude, inland snow. One experienced skier described it as being so soft and feathery that skiing through it was like floating through a forest. I wanted to float through that forest.

But before getting more excited, I needed to check out the safety of the area. This was a family trip, after all, and my wife was right: Kashmir is contested territory, torn between India and Pakistan. It’s a long story, flaring up in the 1940s, when the British divided the subcontinent into Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. The people of Kashmir fell in between, religiously and geographically. They were ruled by a Hindu maharajah, though the population was mostly Muslim. And their area, with its fertile orchards, deliciously cool climate and legendary scenery, lies right between what is now India and Pakistan.

After the British left, India and Pakistan fought three wars over Kashmir, and today the conflict has settled into a thorny standoff, with India controlling most of Kashmir and Pakistan a smaller slice.

Many Kashmiris don’t want either country controlling them: They want independence, and a small, dogged separatist movement operates in Kashmir, attacking police posts and civilians believed to be collaborators. Gulmarg, however, is rarely affected; it lies in a nook of the Kashmir valley tightly controlled by the Indian military.

I was obsessed with getting us there, but had no idea how to pull this off. As luck would have it, right when Courtenay and I were haggling over the trip, we were invited to a dinner party in New Delhi where I was seated near a charming, fit-looking Indian with a bald head and handlebar mustache. His name was Akshay Kumar and he was a former champion skier. He had skied Gulmarg countless times, ever since he was a child, and he and his wife, Dilshad Master, run an adventure tour company,

When I asked him if Gulmarg was safe, he said: “Very. I’m taking some families up there in a couple of weekends. Want to come?”

I now had the necessary cover.

Akshay offered to do all the hard work: organizing ski rentals, lift passes, hotel bookings and, most important, the seamless string of large bearded men who would schlep us around. He made what could have been a complicated trip simple and safe. He also made it inexpensive. The kids’ lift tickets were less than $3 (that’s not a typo). A gondola day pass was $25. Equipment rental was about the same and the gear was solid: parabolic Atomic skis and Salomon boots. A ski trip to Austria, for example, would have cost us thousands of dollars.

I cover South Asia for The New York Times, and I was working on a story in Kashmir that same week on the life and times of a young militant named Sameer Tiger. Like many others, Sameer Tiger had been pulled into the insurgency by a mix of anger, naïveté and lack of economic opportunity. And, like many others, he went down in a hail of bullets, cornered by security forces. I had spent weeks researching him and was familiar with flying in and out of Srinagar, Kashmir’s biggest city. I also knew that the hot spots where the militants conducted their attacks tended to be in southern Kashmir, miles away from Gulmarg.

“Like ice, Daddy, like ice”

As I waited at the Srinagar airport for my family, I was giddy with excitement. It had just snowed and the trees were delicately coated, the roads wet and shiny. When I picked everyone up, Asa, our 7-year-old, pointed to a lumpy bag tied to the taxi’s roof and asked, just as I knew he would, “What’s that?”

I untied the bag and told him to put his hands in. “Ooh, that’s cold,” he said, turning over his first clump of snow. “Like ice, Daddy, like ice.”

I would have loved to linger in Srinagar, an old town built on a lotus-covered lake, where you can stay in a gorgeous houseboat, wake up with kingfishers plunging into the lake next to you, and then stroll through rose-filled gardens sculpted by Moghul emperors hundreds of years ago. But we only had the weekend to work with, so we had to skip all of this.

It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive from Srinagar to Gulmarg, and Courtenay was quiet the entire way. I did not blame her. Kashmir isn’t a war zone, but everywhere you look, you see Indian soldiers running checkpoints, patrolling the markets and peeking their helmeted heads out from the turrets of scarred-up gun trucks. The American government warns citizens to stay away, though I feel that’s overblown. I’ve been to Kashmir now more than half a dozen times and I’ve never heard a single gunshot. The Indian troops exert control in just about all parts of the valley, especially in Srinagar, and I know several other expat families who have visited, and all said they felt safe.

With evening approaching, we left the city on a smooth highway running west. The long shadows of minarets fell across the road. The men in the villages we passed were bundled up in heavy woolen cloaks called pherans. When we stopped to buy water, I noticed one man with a large round bulge under his pheran. When I asked him what it was, he lifted up his cloak to reveal a small pot of burning coal he was cradling to keep himself warm.
This is what I love about Kashmir. While India is such a feast of the senses — the food, the fashion, the colors, the deities, the clanging of brass bells and the constant whiffs of incense and fragrant oils — Kashmir radiates its own distinctive charm.

We crossed a river. This is when the driver’s phone rang, and after we heard about the deadly avalanche and then the bear in these same woods, the car fell silent.

The mood brightened when we pulled into the Khyber hotel, Gulmarg’s fanciest. It was a supersize ski chalet, and its green pointed roofs were dusted with snow. The kids’ eyes were peeled for bears. But as soon as we stepped into the lobby, with its dark, gleaming wood and fine carpets, I spotted what I really wanted to see: children. Packs of them.

Clearly this was a family destination, and in the Khyber’s downstairs rec room, Asa and our other son, Apollo, 9, instantly bonded with their Indian comrades over foosball and air hockey. I had to pry them out of there. There aren’t any bars in Kashmir (it’s dry) or anything resembling an après-ski scene, so we went to sleep early.

The next morning we mustered outside in the hotel’s portico, waiting for our skis to be delivered. I thought we’d just slap them on and slide the couple of hundred yards to the base of the slopes, but no, a Jeep dispatched as part of Akshay’s operation zoomed up with three men inside. Kashmiris are some of the warmest, most hospitable people, and before we climbed into the Jeep, the men greeted us with big hugs. When we climbed out, they insisted on putting on our skis. I had one guy on my left, another on my right and a third young man kneeling in the snow at my feet.

“Guys, guys, guys,” I said, trying to wiggle free. “I can put on my own skis.”

But the young man at my feet either didn’t understand or didn’t care. And for the first time since I was about 5, I watched someone untie my shoes and carefully pull them off.
The sky was a flawless blue, the air peppermint fresh. It wasn’t even that cold — maybe 30 degrees. Kashmir rarely gets bitterly cold; Gulmarg lies at the same latitude as Atlanta. All around us, the white teeth of the Himalayas gleamed, and from nearby chimneys I smelled wood smoke. It was the most romantic alpine scene I had ever entered, and part of it was the scale. Behind the mountains that stood in front of me were even higher mountains, and behind them, the real titans. On a clear day, from the top of Gulmarg, you can see into Pakistan and glimpse K2, the second tallest mountain in the world after Everest.
Gulmarg doesn’t feel like a ski resort; it feels like a village. At the base of the gondola, men with wooden boxes strapped to their shoulders sold chocolate bars, selfie sticks and cigarettes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pack of cigarettes on a ski slope.

Others wielded silver samovars and poured steaming cups of kahwah, a light Kashmiri tea, made from saffron and other spices, that carries a delightful aroma. Of the several hundred people on the mountain that day, most were not skiers but Indian families content to pay a few rupees for a ride on a sled. I watched the sled wallahs — a string of young Kashmiri men with battered toboggans — begin their long trudge uphill. They were working for the equivalent of a few dollars a day and didn’t have the money to take the lift. They slowly made their way up the mountain, heads down, bodies leaning forward, the wind tugging at their pherans.

Akshay arranged for my sons to take lessons with a Kashmiri skier named Ishfaq. He told them to call him Eeesh. We waved to Eeesh and the two roly-poly shadows beneath him as they tramped off to the bunny hill.

Courtenay and I hired our own guide, Wali. Wali was in his late 40s with curly gray hair and orange mirrored shades. He wore no hat. He had been working on these slopes since he was 8, beginning as a sled wallah. He had never been to school. When I asked Wali what he loved about skiing, he looked off into the hills and smiled.

“I love it for the money,” he said.

It wasn’t exactly the poetic answer I was looking for, but fair enough. In strife-torn Kashmir, where there aren’t many jobs for an athletic, adventurous man, this was a good one.

Gulmarg’s slopes cover everything from green to double black diamond, but few are marked. Part of the mountain is groomed, but advanced skiers love the ungroomed, backcountry skiing. The gondola reaches around 13,000 feet, one of the highest in the world. Some skiers hike up even higher or take helicopters to virgin spots. Gulmarg’s vertical drop, a measure of the altitude from where you start to where you finish, can be as much as 6,000 feet. With good snow, some runs stretch more than four miles. They can take the better part of a day and end in the woods, near some old temples.

We started with a medium-difficult run, taking the gondola to the middle of the mountain (Gulmarg has one gondola, one chair lift and several tow ropes). We stepped off into thick snowpack. This was mid-February, the best time for snow; sometimes the area gets eight feet of powder.

Wali led the way, dropping into a wide track that ran through Himalayan cedar trees. He stopped intermittently to look back at Courtenay and me.

“Up and down, up and down,” he shouted as we made our turns, trying to keep our skis together. “Yass, yass, that’s it. Good, good!”
As my skis cut through the snow, I felt the air against my cheeks and that addictive sense of speed. My thighs burned and occasionally I heard the sssh, sssh of a better skier descending past me, though there were only a handful of us on the slopes. It had been nearly 10 years since I had last skied, and bombing down the mountain felt as pure and intoxicating as galloping on a horse.

Courtenay agreed it was thrilling. But she was more distracted than I was by Kashmir’s misfortune of lying between two rival nations. Her take on Gulmarg was that it was “a stunning ski resort in the middle of a zone of sadness.”

We skied around some low-slung houses made of wooden planks. “What are those?” I shouted to Wali.

“Gujjar houses!” Wali shouted back.

Hmm, I thought. This place doesn’t just feel like a village — it is a village. Seminomadic Gujjar herders live here in the summer, when the slopes are carpeted with grass and wildflowers; the name Gulmarg means meadow of flowers. Just as I was thinking “How sweet is this?” — observing some culture while working on my parallel — I dug in too deep on a turn and face-planted. Courtenay and Wali didn’t hear me wipe out and kept going, leaving me in the snowbound Gujjar village by myself.

A bear of a man appeared out of nowhere. He ripped me up from the ground. After I got my hands through straps in my poles and could stand up without falling on my face again, I said, “Shukria” — thank you.

“Where from?” he asked.




His bristly face broke into a huge smile.

“Welcome, brother, welcome.”

Paradise on Earth

For lunch, we met up with our children at Hotel Highlands Park on the slopes. Again, this was not a Western imitation. We didn’t thump along in our ski boots in a packed cafeteria, pushing a tray along a track for a $10 cup of cocoa and a $25 hamburger. We sat down at a proper table in a proper restaurant and polished off a feast: naan bread, curried vegetables, fresh yogurt and an exquisite lamb dish of tender meat hammered flat and rolled into a baseball-size meatball. The hotel felt like a hunting lodge; deer heads and bearskin rugs hung on the walls.

I hadn’t seen any other foreigners, so when I heard an American accent down the hallway, I was curious. I wandered through the lodge, pushed open a door and found three rugged, sun-tanned guys sitting on cushions in a cozy, wood-paneled room heated by wood-burning stoves.

“What do you guys do here?”

“We’re the ski patrol,” said one.

His name was Luke. He was 39 years old. He grew up in Alaska, became an avalanche forecaster and a paramedic and came to Gulmarg seven years ago to run the ski patrol.
“It’s the warmth of the people,” he said. “That’s what drew me here.”

He explained that Gulmarg has 17 ski patrollers with snowmobiles to rescue injured skiers. Avalanches were always a risk but only in the off-piste areas, he said, like where the Russian tourist was skiing on the day we arrived.

After lunch, I watched my sons ski. Eeesh had taught them well. Asa turned back and forth, carving large S’s and ending with a confident snowplow. Apollo was less orthodox. He shot down the bunny hill like a bullet.

“Stop! Stop!” Courtenay yelled as he approached the bottom.

I doubt he heard but somehow, right before he was about to crash into us, he stopped.
The next morning was sadly our last. I persuaded Wali to take me higher on the mountain. When we got off the chair lift, we were by ourselves. The views were breathtaking. It was so bright, so clear, so crisp, so still. I just wanted to stay up there and stare at the jagged white mountains and etch those images into my brain.

I was reminded of a Persian couplet inscribed long ago on a pavilion in one of Srinagar’s majestic gardens: “If there is a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.”
I gazed across the valley.

“You go first,” Wali hollered. “I want to watch your form.”

I didn’t know where to start. We were poised on the lip of an enormous bowl. In front of me, for as long as I could see, the snow was untrammeled. There wasn’t a single track.

Storm Florence: Heavy flooding cuts off Wilmington

The coastal city of Wilmington, North Carolina, has been cut off from the rest of the state because of heavy floods following Hurricane Florence.

Officials say all roads in and out are now impassable and have warned evacuated residents to stay away.

About 400 people have been rescued from flood waters in the city, described as an island within the state.

Two of the first known fatalities – a mother and her seven-month son – were reported in the city on Friday morning.

At least 15 other people are reported to have died in storm-related incidents across North and South Carolina since Florence made landfall on Thursday.

In Wilmington, with its population of about 120,000, some 400 people have had to be rescued from flood waters, and most of the city remains without power.

The National Weather Service has warned of at least two further days of possible flash flooding in the area before conditions are forecast to improve.

“Do not come here,” New Hanover County Commission Chairman Woody White said.

“Our roads are flooded, there is no access into Wilmington…We want you home, but you can’t come yet.”
House is open is one of the indicators FEMA uses to determine the scale of a disaster.

The area is usually best known as a filming location for US dramas One Tree Hill and Dawson’s Creek.
US basketball legend Michael Jordan – who is fundraising to help residents affected by the storm – also grew up in the city.

Many roads inside Wilmington are still passable for residents who defied evacuation orders to ride the storm out.

But a city-wide curfew has been extended after five people were arrested on suspicion of looting from a store in the city on Saturday.

What is the latest on the storm?

Florence has now weakened into a tropical depression with winds of 30mph (45km/h), according to the National Hurricane Centre.

Some parts of the Carolinas have seen up to 40in (100cm) of rain since Thursday – and officials have warned river levels are yet to peak in places.

On Monday, the National Weather Service announced that the Cape Fear River near Fayetteville, North Carolina, is expected to reach the major flood stage – levels over 60ft (18m) – by this evening.

“At this stage, numerous structures and roadways are flooded and lives are put at risk,” the agency said.

Gusts & floods: the impact of the storm
“The storm has never been more dangerous than it is right now,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Sunday.

“Wherever you live in North Carolina, be alert for sudden flooding.”

As of Monday morning, there have been several tornado warnings across North Carolina.
One tornado touched down in Elm City, causing some damage to buildings and power lines, according to local media reports.

The governor also warned of the potential danger of landslides once the weather system reached more mountainous areas.

In South Carolina, the state’s emergency management division reminded residents: “It’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.”

The US coast guard and volunteer boats have been helping people left stricken by rising flood waters across the states.

Officials in North Carolina have said about 900 people have been rescued from floodwaters there, and about 15,000 people are still in emergency shelters.

Authorities are encouraging residents to stay where they are until conditions improve, as many roads across the Carolinas are impassable in some cases due to flooding and debris.

US President Donald Trump has declared a disaster in several North Carolina counties – a move that frees up federal funding for recovery efforts.

Power companies are working to restore power to the almost 502,000 homes and businesses in both states that are still without electricity.

The storm has begun to move into Virginia and West Virginia, and is expected to turn toward New England on Tuesday.

What do we know of the victims?

Eleven deaths were reported in North Carolina, and at least six have been reported in South Carolina.

A mother and her seven-month child who died when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington were the first known deaths reported.

Among the other fatalities were two men in their 70s who died in Lenoir County – one had been connecting extension cords and another was blown by high winds when checking on his dogs.

Four road deaths in South Carolina have been blamed on the storm, and two people died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator inside their home.

Parched for a Price: Karachi’s Water Crisis

KARACHI, Pakistan – Orangi is a maze, a spider’s web of narrow, winding lanes, broken roads and endless rows of small concrete houses. More than two million people are crammed into what is one of the world’s largest unplanned settlements here in western Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

But Orangi has a problem: it has run out of water.

“What water?” asks Rabia Begum, 60, when told the reason for Al Jazeera’s visit to her neighbourhood earlier this year. “We don’t get any water here.”

“We yearn for clean water to drink, that somehow Allah will give us clean water.”

It is so rare for water to flow through the taps here that residents say they have given up expecting it. The last time it flowed through the main pipeline in Begum’s neighbourhood, for example, was 33 days ago.

Instead, they are forced to obtain most of their water through drilled motor-operated wells (known as ‘bores’). Ground water in the coastal city, however, tends to be salty, and unfit for human consumption.

“When we shower, our hair [becomes] sticky [with the salt], our heads feel heavy,” says Begum.

The only other option for residents is to buy unfiltered water from private water tanker operators, who fill up at a network of legal and illegal water hydrants across the city. A 1,000-gallon water tanker normally costs between $12 and $18. Begum says she has to order at least four tankers a month to meet the basic needs of her household of 10 people.

Farzana Bibi, 40, says she has to ration out when she showers and washes her family’s clothes, because she can not afford to buy enough water every month.

But not everyone in this working class neighbourhood can afford to buy water from the tankers or to pay the approximately $800 its costs to install a drilled well for non-drinking water.

“I’m piling up the dirty clothes, that’s how I save money,” says Farzana Bibi, 40, who manages a household of five people on an income of roughly $190 a month. “We bathe two days in a week.”

Asked how she gets by, with so little water coming via the taps and no access to a saltwater source to clean dishes or laundry, she seems resigned.

“I lessen my use. Sometimes I’ll take my clothes to my cousin’s house or my sister’s house to wash them. Sometimes I’ll get drinking water from them. One has to make do somehow.”

When she washes her clothes, she says, she makes sure not to leave the tap on. She’ll fill a basin with water and wash her dishes in that, rather than under running water. She waits until there is at least a fortnight’s worth of dirty clothes before beginning to wash them. Every drop of water, she says, needs to be accounted for.
But despite all this rationing, the water tank at her home is almost dry.

“There is a small amount of water,” she says. “I am saving it to drink. When I have money in my hands, I’ll get a tanker.”

Orangi’s problems, while acute, are not unique in Pakistan’s largest city. Karachi’s roughly 20 million residents regularly face water shortages, with working class neighbourhoods the worst hit by a failing distribution and supply system.

Areas such as Orangi, Baldia and Gadap, some of the most densely populated in the city, receive less than 40 percent of the water allotted to them, according to data collected by the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), an NGO that works on civic infrastructure and citizens’ rights in the area.

On average, residents in these areas use about 67.76 litres of water per day, according to data collected by Al Jazeera. That includes the water they use for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, bathing and sanitary uses.

So what is going on here? How is it possible that in one of the largest cities in the world, there simply isn’t enough water being supplied? Is it because the reservoirs and water sources supplying Karachi just aren’t large enough for this rapidly expanding megacity?

The answer to these questions is somewhat surprising.

Karachi draws its water mainly from the Keenjhar Lake, a man-made reservoir about 150km from the city, which, in turn, gets the water from what’s left of the Indus River after it completes its winding 3,200km journey through Pakistan.

Through a network of canals and conduits, 550 million gallons of water a day (MGD) is fed into the city’s main pumping station at Dhabeji.

That 550MGD, however, never reaches those who need it. Of that water, a staggering 42 percent – or 235 MGD – is either lost or stolen before it ever reaches consumers, according to the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB), the city’s water utility.

Karachi’s daily demand for water should be about 1,100 MGD, based on UN standards for water consumption for the megacity of more than 20 million. If that estimate – considered generous by local analysts – were to be pared down, however, Karachi’s current water supply should still be adequate to service most of the city’s needs.

“If 550GMD of water actually reaches Karachi, then right now, with conditions as they are, we would be able to manage the situation very well and provide water to everyone,” says Ovais Malik, KWSB’s chief engineer, who has been working for the utility for more than 12 years.

So where is it all going?

Malik complains that the water supply infrastructure in the city is aged, parts of it running for more than 40 years, and that the funds simply are not there to fix the problems.

KWSB is, by any standard, a sick institution. This fiscal year, it estimates that it will be running at a deficit of 59.3 percent. Only about 60 percent of consumers pay their bills, with the biggest defaulters being government institutions themselves, which owe KWSB about $6 million in arrears.

Moreover, Karachi has expanded in a largely unplanned fashion over the last several decades, with informal settlements ‘regularised’, but not properly brought under the ambit of civic services, he says.

“Our [settled] area has grown too much. Our…system has not been able to bear it,” says Malik.

Farhan Anwar, an architect and urban planner, told Al Jazeera that KWSB was almost bankrupt.

“There is nothing left for any kind of maintenance or capital investment.”

That lack of capital investment affects not just the ability to provide water, but to make sure that it is clean enough to be consumed, Anwar argues.

“The water is obviously contaminated,” he says. “There are discharges, there are cross-connections of water, where sewage lines are leaking into supply lines. Construction practices are such that…often sewage lines are side by side with water lines, or even above them.”

And KWSB never seems able to get around to addressing these problems, several analysts said.

“There is corruption, inefficiency, political interference, so it’s an organisation rooted in a number of problems.… You need institutional reform, to begin with. Instead of starting by fixing the pipes, you need to fix the institution that fixes the pipes,” says Anwar.

The problem, however, is not just leakages and inefficiency in the system: it is theft.
The bulk of Karachi’s ‘lost’ water is being stolen and sold right back to the people it was meant for in the first place.


Akhtari Begum, 48, has to manage a household of five people on her husband’s income of $160 a month.
She ends up spending more than a third of that on water.

“Water does come [in the main line], but it gets stolen before it gets to us,” she says. “So we don’t get any water, we have to get tankers.”

A typical 1,000-gallon water tanker costs anywhere between $12 and $16, depending on where you are in the city, what time of year it is, and how desperate you might be.

Water tankers have been a part of Karachi’s water supply landscape for decades. Initially introduced as a stop-gap measure while the KWSB was meant to be expanding the city’s water supply infrastructure, they have grown to dominate the sector.

Today, there are more than 10,000 tankers operating across the city, completing roughly 50,000 trips a day, according to Noman Ahmed, the head of the architecture and urban planning department at Karachi’s NED University. They are meant to fill up at 10 KWSB-operated hydrants, but the business is so lucrative that more than 100 illegal hydrants operate across the city, tapping into the city’s mains to steal water.

“There are more than a hundred of them [illegal hydrants], and those are just the ones that have been identified. Every day there’s a new one being made somewhere,” says Anwar Rashid, a director at the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), which tracks the tankers’ illegal activity.

“They’re visible easily. They tap into the bulk mainline. They syphon off the water. And then there are tankers standing there, and they’ll fill up directly from the [illegal hydrant] and then drive off.

“When they take from the bulk, then that means that the water that was meant for residential areas will be reduced,” says Rashid.

The scale of the theft is staggering.

If tankers in Karachi are making 50,000 trips a day, with each trip priced at an average price of Rs3,000 (prices vary between Rs1,200 to Rs7,000), that amounts to an industry that is generating Rs150,000,000 a day.
That’s $1.43 million, every day. In a month, that adds up to $42.3 million. By the end of the year, stealing water in Karachi is an industry worth more than half a billion dollar.”

“We have carried out more than 400 operations against illegal hydrants in recent years,” Rizwan Hyder, a spokesperson for the KWSB, told Al Jazeera. “We are acting against these things … and working with the police …. We have lodged scores of cases against people operating illegal hydrants.

The local police station chief in the area where [there is] a hydrant is the one who is responsible for acting against them. The moment they inform us, we act against it. In the last few days, we have taken action against three illegal hydrants in Manghopir [near Orangi Town].”

But the people who are meant to be controlling the theft are the ones cashing in, tanker operators, analysts and former KWSB employees told Al Jazeera.

“Unauthorised hydrants are run with the connivance of the water board and the police,” claims Hazoor Ahmed Khan, the head of one of the city’s main water tanker unions. “There are about 100 illegal hydrants still operating in the city…most of them are in Manghopir, in Baldia, in Malir, in Landhi, and Korangi. They’re running in Ayub Goth on the Super Highway.”

“[Illegal hydrants] can only be run by people who are in the government, or in the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, the police, or the revenue department,” claims the OPP’s Rashid. “And they all have the share in it.
His view is borne out by a former KWSB chief, who spoke to Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity, given the sensitivity of the subject.

“The mafia is very strong …. There is no doubt that the illegal connections that are made, our KWSB man knows about it. Even if it is an [illegal] connection within a building, he will know that a connection has been installed in the night,” he says.

“The valve man takes his money, the assistant engineer takes his money … I could never say that there is no corruption in the KWSB. But I also know that the builder has so much influence, that no matter who [the KWSB chief] is … he will get a call from [a] minister [or senior bureaucrat] to just do it.”

The ex-chief said he had himself received phone calls of this nature. Another current senior KWSB official who asked to remain anonymous confirmed that he, too, had received such phone calls from members of the government, asking him to curb operations against illegal hydrants.

The result is a system where water is being stolen, commodified and then sold to citizens through the free market. A market, analysts say, that inherently favours the rich over the poor.

“The social contract, regarding what is the role of the state vis-a-vis the people, that is now mediated through the medium of money and privatisation,” says Daanish Mustafa, a professor of geography at Kings College London who studies the sector. “The rights-based approach to water, that water is a fundamental right of the people and a fundamental responsibility of the state, that has ended.

“Who is going to make money getting water to a poor man? Where there is money, the water will reach very quickly, and very easily.”

When asked about KWSB personnel being involved in the theft of water, the KWSB’s Hyder told Al Jazeera, “It has never been our position that no member of our organisation is involved [in the theft of water]. But the moment someone is found [to be] involved in this, they are fired and charged under the law. We have charged our own staff … we have zero tolerance for this.”

There are periodic drives to shut down these illegal operations. But none last for long.

“If there is ever a crackdown, if there is pressure, they do not cut the [hydrants] on the bulk mains, they just demolish a little bit of the infrastructure [of theft], and then four days later it’s back up and running,” says Rashid.

“The illegal hydrants are still running. They can never be shut,” says the former KWSB chief.

If the very people responsible for shutting down the illegal theft of water are the ones benefitting from it, who will watch the watchmen?

“If I fix the water system in an area, then no one will take a tanker. If we fix the system, whatever illegality is happening will [be] finished,” says the current senior KWSB official.
“These things are possible. We can do them,” he adds. “But we don’t want to do them.”

For 16 years, Ali Asghar, 75, tended to his small herd of cows and buffalo on a small plot of land behind his cramped four-room house in Orangi. Four years ago, when the water supply to his area began to suffer, he had to give them up.

Today, his entire household of 17 people is dependent on water bought from tankers.

The biggest injustice, he says, is that he is still paying his bills to KWSB, for water that never comes.

“The [mains] pipe is lying out there, completely dry,” he says. “This is how it is in this whole neighbourhood.”
“The people of the water board are the ones who are doing this. They are the ones who create the water crisis, and they’re the ones who don’t provide the water, and take the bills,” he says, his voice rising in exasperation. “For every job, there is a price. And if you don’t have money, you won’t get anything done.”

Ali Asghar, 75, says he still has to pay bills to the utility company for water that never comes in the pipes
A few streets away in Orangi’s spider web, Rabia Begum says the city’s poor are trapped because no matter what the price, people need water.

“We cannot tolerate the expense of water … and we cannot live without it,” she says.

In March 2013, four gunmen on motorcycles boxed in a car near the Qasba Mor intersection in Orangi. They proceeded to spray the car with bullets, killing its occupant, Perween Rehman.

Rehman was the director of OPP, and had worked tirelessly for the rights of Karachi’s working class communities, particularly when it came to land titles and access to water. Much of her research focused on documenting the locations of illegal water hydrants, for which she received several death threats.

Shortly before her murder, Rehman spoke to a documentary crew, who were making a film about her work. Her words ring as true today, four years later.

“It is not the poor who steal the water. It is stolen by a group of people who have the full support of the government agencies, the local councillors, mayors and the police; all are involved.”

Who will watch the watchmen, while the poor remain parched – for a price?

Opinion | Editorial Choking on Air in New Delhi

One year after a record-breaking toxic haze blanketed New Delhi, prompting school closings, car pileups and flight delays, the smog is back and it’s worse than ever. It has reached levels nearly 30 times what the World Health Organization considers safe, or the equivalent of smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.

On Tuesday, the Indian Medical Association declared the situation a “public health emergency.” The current haze comes on top of air pollution so bad it killed 2.5 million people in India in 2015, according to an article published last month in the medical journal The Lancet — more than in any other country.

The main culprit that turns New Delhi, already one of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, into what Delhi State’s chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, called “a gas chamber,” is the annual burning of crop stubble by farmers in nearby states who are too poor to clear their fields for replanting by less polluting means. But rather than help farmers afford the equipment they need to clear stubble without burning it, turn it into compost or use it to generate biogas, state governments simply issue bans that nobody pays much attention to.

The visibility is so poor it’s hard to make out the colors of traffic lights at intersections. The deputy chief minister of Delhi State, Manish Sisodia, ordered the closing of some 4,000 schools after seeing children vomiting out the window of a school bus ferrying them through the acrid air on Wednesday. While wealthier citizens can afford indoor air purifiers and masks to filter bad air when they venture outdoors, there is no relief for the poor.

A ban by India’s Supreme Court on firecrackers during the Hindu festival of Diwali last month brought temporary relief. To further reduce the dust, Delhi’s government has reintroduced an alternate day limit on the use of private cars, prohibited heavy trucks from entering the city and halted some construction projects. But it is crop burning that has pushed the area’s already high pollution level off the charts.

A hodgepodge of stopgap measures is clearly not up to the task of checking this spiraling air-pollution crisis. India’s gasping millions need Prime Minister Narendra Modi to demonstrate some of the strong leadership he promised when he was elected in 2014. In this case, he could and should swiftly launch an emergency national action plan that includes funds for state governments to help farmers move quickly to other means of disposing of crop stubble.

In coal-focused Pakistan, a wind power breeze is blowing

ISLAMABAD (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Pakistan is beginning to reap the benefits of Chinese investment in renewable energy infrastructure, with the opening of the first wind power project constructed as part of the huge China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, aimed at overhauling the country’s transport and energy systems.

The nearly 50 megawatt wind farm is located on over 680 acres (275 hectares) of land in Jhimpir, near the shores of the picturesque Keenjhar Lake, around two hours’ drive from the city of Karachi.

Jhimpir is part of the so-called “Gharo-Jhimpir wind corridor” in Sindh province, a 180 km (110 mile) stretch of coastal land that the Pakistan Meteorological Department says has the potential to produce 11,000 MW of electricity through wind power.

The corridor is home to Pakistan’s earliest wind project, which began in 2009 with just a few turbines and was upgraded to an installed capacity of 56 MW by 2012.

The new wind farm, which opened last month, has been developed by Sachal Energy Development, with financing from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Pakistan and China have signed around $57 billion of energy and infrastructure projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Most of this investment is going toward coal-fired power plants, fueled both by imported coal and by coal mines in Pakistan’s Thar Desert.

The CPEC projects aim to boost energy production in Pakistan to reduce shortages that lead to regular power outages.

The country can produce as much as 23,000 MW of power, but experts say that there is a shortfall of as much as 5,000 MW during periods of peak demand – and demand is increasing by the day given the rapidly growing population.

CPEC energy projects are expected to add around 17,000 MW to the national grid in the next few years through what are being called “early harvest” projects to overcome the energy crisis.

Most of these are coal-powered plants, such as the 1,320 MW Sahiwal plant in Punjab, which was inaugurated this month.

But CPEC also includes some renewable energy projects. The Quaid-e-Azam solar park in Bahawalpur, in southern Punjab, is due to generate 1,000 MW, while a further 250 MW will come from the wind corridor in Sindh.

Zeeshan Ashfaq, a research analyst who works for the World Wind Energy Association, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview that Pakistan’s grid currently has more wind power capacity than solar power capacity.

“Today we only have 400 MW of grid-connected solar energy from Quaid-e-Azam solar park, whereas we have 640 MW of grid-connected wind energy already in Jhimpir”, including previously installed wind projects, Ashfaq said.

Room for Renewables
The Gharo-Jhimpir wind corridor, mapped in 2013 by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, contains vast stretches of saline land, unsuitable for agriculture and dotted only with a few bushes.

“Thirteen projects are already operational here and others are in the pipeline. By the end of this year, an additional 200 MW of energy will be added to the grid,” Ashfaq said.

In June, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, announced that it will provide $66 million, and mobilize a further $172 million, to help build three 50 MW wind power projects in the Gharo-Jhimpir wind corridor.

Triconboston Consulting Corporation, part of a Pakistani textile group that entered the renewable energy market in 2015, will operate the plants, which the IFC says will collectively form Pakistan’s largest wind farm.
The World Bank has now started mapping Pakistan’s entire wind potential, looking at wind corridors in Punjab as well.

“With global pricing coming down, the market for renewables is kicking off. There is a lot of interest from investors,” explained Shabana Khawar, the IFC’s principal country officer in Pakistan.

Khawar said the IFC is the largest private-sector investor in power in Pakistan and is focusing on hydro, wind and solar projects. She estimates that there are more than 2,000 MW of mid- to large-scale wind and hydro projects in the pipeline.

The wind projects include feed-in tariffs, which make them attractive to investors by guaranteeing payments for the electricity produced. In March, the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) set the benchmark tariff at 6.7 U.S. cents per unit of power produced.

Amjad Awan, chief executive officer of the government’s Alternative Energy Development Board, said that because wind power production depends on the strength of the wind at any time, it is important to create an energy mix, such as of wind and solar power or wind and natural gas.

“We are entertaining hybrid arrangements and will be able to manage intermittence soon,” Awan said. “In Pakistan we have more than sufficient solar and wind potential to transform into energy. And with a 20 percent decrease in prices since 2014 the notion that wind energy is costly is a myth.”

Ashfaq, of the World Wind Energy Association, said that “in some countries solar and wind energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels. We too can leapfrog and move toward decarbonizing our energy sector,” he said.

“It took seven years for Pakistan to commission its first big wind project in 2012 after introducing its renewable energy policy back in 2006. Now the market is gaining momentum,” he said.

Too Much Coal?
However, Ashfaq is concerned that the government’s focus remains largely on expansion of fossil fuel power, which is helping drive climate change and worsening extreme weather in Pakistan, including more droughts and floods.

“The government’s focus has shifted to coal power and liquefied natural gas (LNG) based generation. The world is moving toward renewables but (Pakistan is) finding solutions in dirty fossil fuel generation,” he said.

Although Pakistan used to rely on oil-powered generation, Jamil Masud, an energy consultant who works for Hagler Bailly Pakistan, a consultancy group, said that coal is cheap at the moment, and new plants can be put up quickly with a predictable output.

Pakistan’s first power plant fueled by domestic coal will become operational by June 2019, and once its second phase is completed in mid-2020 it will generate 1,300 MW. It has been fast-tracked due to financing available under the CPEC.

Reporting by Rina Saeed Khan; editing by James Baer and Laurie Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate

‘Horrible Tragedy’ as Fuel Tanker Fire in Pakistan Leaves at Least 150 Dead

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A tanker truck caught fire and exploded after overturning on a road in eastern Pakistan on Sunday, killing at least 150 people and seriously injuring at least 100 others after they rushed toward the vehicle to collect spilled and leaking fuel.

The authorities were investigating what had caused the driver to lose control, leading the tanker to overturn and creating the conditions for the inferno. One official suggested that a spark from a passing vehicle had probably caused the blast, but news media reports quoted witnesses blaming a lit cigarette tossed by a passer-by.

The tanker overturned in Ahmedpur East, a small city in Punjab Province, as it was traveling from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the province’s capital. It was believed to be carrying 5,500 gallons of fuel, officials and the state-run news media reported.

At least 73 motorbikes and several cars were destroyed in the blast, which occurred the day before Pakistan celebrates Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday at the end of Ramadan.

Fuel is a high-value commodity in Pakistan, so even for those aware of the risks, the prospect of obtaining it for free was too powerful a lure to ignore for many. Ahmedpur East has long suffered from poverty illiteracy and a lack of modern facilities, and local residents have blamed the provincial government for spending money on urban areas at the expense of rural regions.

“It is a horrible tragedy,” Makhdoom Syed Hassan Gillani, who represents Ahmedpur East in Parliament, said in an interview. With a heavy voice, he said, “You can blame poverty 100 percent,” and added, “It was poverty. It was greed. It was ignorance.”

The blast occurred about an hour after the tanker crashed, Mr. Gilani said. By that time, hundreds of people from surrounding neighborhoods had rushed to the site, and people driving by in cars and on motorbikes stopped and joined them in scooping up the fuel.

Pakistani television networks broadcast images of dozens of people collecting the fuel in bottles and buckets, and thick plumes of smoke enveloped the area after the explosion.

“People brought bottles, pots, buckets and other home utensils,” Mr. Gilani said. “Many people made several rounds and urged others to do the same.” He said people had planned to use the fuel for themselves and also to sell.

He said the devastation had swept through several poor settlements near the crash site. “In one house, all eight men of the family died due to the fire,” he said.

Muhammad Rizwan, a police official, said that the police had “kept on telling people to leave the crash site, but people wouldn’t listen and more kept coming.”

“We knew it was dangerous,” he said, “and if there were more cars and bikes, the casualties would have been much higher.”

The injured were taken to the district hospital and Victoria Hospital in neighboring Bahawalpur, but the response was hindered by a shortage of facilities to treat burn victims.

The seriously injured were ferried to a hospital in Multan, about 80 miles to the north, which has a burn treatment unit. The Pakistan Army said it had sent two helicopters to help with the rescue efforts.

Abdul Rashid, 30, one of those injured, said he and a friend had joined in collecting the spilled fuel after passing by the area and seeing others trying to scoop it up from the overturned tanker.

“I parked my bike by the road and waited while my friend went to collect the fuel,” said Mr. Rashid, who had burns on one hand and a leg. “We did not have any bottles, so we asked people and got one. The bottle was small, so my friend went thrice to collect the fuel.”

Mr. Gilani said that even though the word danger was clearly written at the rear of such tanker, people did not take heed. “Many were not even aware of the risk they were putting themselves into,” he said.

There was no immediate information about what had caused the tanker to overturn: speeding at a sharp turn, a burst tire or something else.

Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, expressed his grief over the loss of life, said an aide, Salman Sufi.

“The chief minister is monitoring the situation and has directed the authorities to provide the best medical facilities to the injured,” Mr. Sufi said.

He said the fire had probably been started by an engine spark that caused the fuel tanker to explode, though he noted that the exact cause was being investigated.

Mr. Sufi said the driver of the tanker had escaped serious injury because the crash had taken place “long before” the explosion, and a provincial government spokesman said the driver had been taken into custody, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was in London on a private visit, cut short his stay and was returning to Pakistan, officials said. Imran Khan, the country’s most prominent opposition politician, called the accident “a national tragedy of epic proportions.”

Abdul Malik, a local police officer who was among the first to arrive, said he had “never seen anything like it in my life,” The Associated Press reported. “Victims trapped in the fireball. They were screaming for help.”
When the fire subsided, he said, “We saw bodies everywhere, so many were just skeletons.”

Daniyal Hassan contributed reporting from Lahore, Pakistan

First Pakistan-owned wind power project starts operation

BEIJING, Jun 24: The first Pakistan-owned early-harvest wind power project constructed under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) framework has started commercial operation after passing required assessments.

The 49.5MW facility developed by Sachal Energy Development (Private) Limited over 680 acres of land in the Jhimpir Wind Corridor in Sindh province was wholly financed by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Tariffs for solar, wind power projects set to fall further
The success of the project sets a good example for the construction of CPEC and the “Belt and Road” initiative, according to Global Times. Sachal Energy is a wholly owned subsidiary of Arif Habib Corporation Limited, one of the largest private sector conglomerates in Pakistan.

It has received formal notification from the Central Power Purchasing Agency (Guarantee) Limited. The company is committed to supplying electricity to the national grid through the National Transmission and Dispatch Company for 20 years under an energy purchase agreement.

The project comprises 33 wind turbine generators manufactured by Goldwind of China whereas HydroChina is the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) as well as operation and maintenance (O&M) contractor of the project.

It is the first project that has received Sinosure-backed financing and has been 100% financed by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.

Pakistan and China have signed $57-billion worth of energy and infrastructure projects under the CPEC framework. The bulk of the investment is going to the energy projects, including renewable and clean energy to bridge the energy shortfall.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2017.

Drink to death – By: Naseer Memon (The News, 5th Feb 2017)

Only two days after the Chief Minister Sindh, sitting inside a cozy drawing room near Manchar Lake, rhetorically claimed that supply of safe drinking water to the people of Sindh is being ensured, a flabbergasted head of the judicial commission on drinking water wondered how people of Sindh are alive after drinking sewage every day.

The Supreme Court constituted one-member judicial commission in December 2016 to investigate the causes of poor sanitary conditions and the shortage of potable water in Sindh. While hearing a petition at its Karachi registry, a two-judge bench mandated the commission to find faults within the system leading to the lack of a safe drinking water supply, and sewerage and solid waste management services, and to recommend remedies.

The SC constituted this commission while hearing a constitutional petition filed by Advocate Shahab Usto seeking directives to the authorities to provide safe drinking water and a clean environment to the people. Advocate Usto belongs to once known as Paris of Sindh, Shikarpur town. He also writes in Sindhi and English newspapers. He filed this public interest petition on this much neglected aspect of governance as a gesture of his responsibility and service to the people of Sindh.

Advocate Usto, in his petition, submitted that the Sindh government had established the North Sindh Urban Services Corporation (NSUSC) in 2009-10 for delivering clean water supply, and sewerage and solid waste management services in eight districts of upper Sindh including Sukkur, New Sukkur, Rohri, Khairpur, Larkana, Shikarpur, Jacobabad and Ghotki but the same has not benefited the public at large in these districts.

He submitted that the organisation was established by obtaining a loan of 500 million dollars from the Asian Development Bank. The provincial government failed to provide safe drinking water to the public. Instead, subsoil water, which the locals of these districts had to consume, is contaminated and not fit for human consumption.
Successive governments obsessed with erecting monuments of roads, flyovers, buildings and modern transportation have flippantly ignored safe drinking water as a worthwhile political priority. A service that is globally considered a fundamental right has been converted into a luxury for millions of impoverished citizens of the country.

The Supreme Court observed that the issue raised was directly concerned with the provision of fundamental rights of the people living not only in the eight mentioned districts but also in lower Sindh. The apex court directed the chief justice of the Sindh High Court to nominate a sitting judge to head the commission. The commission has been tasked to complete its proceedings and submit its findings within six weeks. Subsequently, the commission, headed by Justice Muhammad Iqbal Kalhoro, issued notices to the various provincial authorities and also visited several cities and towns of Sindh to witness an awful state of the water supply and sanitation system in the province.

Without any strenuous mental effort, a lay person knows two things that the right to life is inalienable and water is life. Nexus between the two is glaringly obvious and does not require much of a cerebral exercise. Pitiably, this universally recognised supreme human right is flagrantly trampled in numerous ways and with complete impunity in our country.

Denial to safe drinking water is perhaps the most insidious manifestation of asphyxiation of millions of compatriots on a daily basis. Slow poisoning of people through supplying contaminated water is ubiquitous and indiscriminate in Pakistan, not even sparing those who procure exorbitant bottled water. A slouchy regulation has allowed substandard bottled water brands to flourish and swindle citizens unimpeded. Even in the capital city of Islamabad, public taps of drinking water installed by the Capital Development Authority are found gushing polluted water. The water quality control cell of the civic agency in its report submitted to the city Mayor in August 2016 conceded that 53 per cent of the samples of water collected from various parts of the city were found unfit for human consumption.

Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources (PCRWR) has also been frequently releasing reports of substandard bottled water brands doing roaring business unfettered. An official of PCRWR, while speaking at a seminar in October 2015, admitted that 80 per cent of the drinking water samples across the country were found microbiologically contaminated.

Successive governments obsessed with erecting monuments of roads, flyovers, buildings and modern transportation have flippantly ignored safe drinking water as a worthwhile political priority. A service that is globally considered a fundamental right has been converted into a luxury for millions of impoverished citizens of the country.

Sindh is perhaps the most excruciatingly governed province these days, where a meritless society is thriving on cronyism leading to a complete collapse of public service structure. The commission received shocking information in Sukkur when the NSUSC senior officials informed it that out of the 29 water treatment plants installed in the city, 26 were lying out of order. The officials also admitted that the hazardous water being discharged from hospitals, high-rises, households and factories was not treated before its ultimate disposal into the river. They further admitted that the civic agency could not efficiently fulfil its responsibilities over the last seven years.

During its visit, the commission witnessed that barring few exceptions in Karachi, no filter treatment or chlorination plant is working in Sindh and people are consuming water heavily contaminated with industrial, municipal and hospital waste. Most of the river inlets, canals and distributaries are being used as sewage conduits rendering water injurious for the downstream consumers.

This is, however, not a surprising information for people of Sindh who have become immune to such pervasive callous treatment by successive governments. PCRWR conducted a technical assessment of water supply schemes in Sindh in 2010. The research report made startling revelations unmasking the poor condition of water supply schemes in Sindh.

The assessment team examined water supply schemes in 22 districts of the province. The results revealed that out of a total of 1247 water supply schemes, 718 (i.e. 58 per cent) were non-functional and every fourth non-functional scheme was permanently closed. Some of the key reason attributable to the non-functioning of the water supply schemes included paucity of funds, mechanical and electrical faults, missing/damaged links between the source and mainline of water, incomplete/inadequate pipe fittings causing leaks etc.

The rickety water supply network was also found ageing. Some 25 per cent of the schemes were 20 to 25 years old. Another 28 per cent schemes were 15 –20 years old.

Analysis of water samples revealed that 95 per cent of the total collected samples were unsafe for drinking purpose mainly because of microbiological contamination. Shockingly no water treatment was being practiced in 408 (i.e. 77 per cent) functional schemes and raw water was being supplied to communities. The analysis of water samples collected from the houses of consumers of the functional water supply schemes reveals that 98 per cent of the total collected samples were unsafe for drinking purposes.

The alarming quality of drinking water is a silent havoc in the country. According to a civil society organization, Water Aid-Pakistan, some 16 million people are using drinking water from unsafe sources and around 39,000 children under five die every year from diarrhea caused by unsafe water.

According to a report, about seven million cases of Hepatitis B and C were registered in Pakistan during 2004. Sindh province is the most affected by this chronic disease while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces rank second and third respectively (Jang, July, 2004).

In Karachi, more than 10,000 people die every year because of renal infection caused by contaminated water (Dawn, April, 2004). UNICEF (2004) has reported that in Pakistan 20 to 40 per cent of the beds in hospitals are occupied by patients suffering from water related diseases. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis and guinea worm infection are about 80 per cent of all diseases and cause 33 per cent of deaths (Tahir et al, 1994).

Not only that the Sindh government has failed to supply potable water to consumers, it has also turned blind eyes to a widespread criminal act of releasing highly contaminated effluent into freshwater bodies. A chronic example is Phuleli canal in Hyderabad. According to a study conducted by Dr. Muhammad Saleh Soomro and Muhammad Ismail Kumbhar, around 0.53 million cubic meters of sewage per day is being discharge into the canal. The effluent is a mix of industrial effluents, municipal wastes, cattle farm wastes, slaughterhouses wastes and hospital wastes.

Disaster unleashed at Manchar Lake is a classic study of how freshwater lakes are devastated by callous policies of decision makers. Once a source of livelihood for several hundred thousand people, the lake has been degenerated into a toxic water bowl by the Right Bank Outfall Drain (RBOD) project of WAPDA.

The judicial commission’s fiat is expected soon. It is, however, difficult to speculate if the Supreme Court would be able to enforce some credible mechanisms to ensure supply of safe drinking water to millions of residents of Sindh.

Scores dead in heavy snowfall in Afghanistan, Pakistan

Scores of people have been killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan by heavy snow and avalanches that hit mountainous areas in the region, officials said.

More than 100 people have been killed across Afghanistan, including 50 in Nuristan province, officials said Sunday, warning the death toll could rise still further.

At least 54 people were killed in northern and central Afghan provinces, officials told AFP news agency, with massive avalanches destroying 168 houses and killing hundreds of cattle.

Dozens more remain missing, provincial governor Hafiz Abdul Qayum told Al Jazeera on Sunday.

“Most affected are women and children,” he said, adding that many houses collapsed, killing at least five people and leaving many families without shelter.

“The area is completely blocked because of snow so it is very difficult for us to send support, but we are trying our best.”

Qayum said local rescue operations continued at the site, adding the death toll might increase.

The government declared Sunday, a normal working day in Afghanistan, to be a public holiday to deter non-essential travel and ensure schools were closed.

Avalanches in Pakistan’s Chitral
In neighbouring Pakistan, at least 13 people, including three children, were killed early on Sunday morning when an avalanche in the northwestern Chitral district destroyed 22 houses, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said in a statement.

“Rescue operations at the site have finished for now,” Gul Hammad Farooqi, a local journalist in Chitral, told Al Jazeera.

“They were carried out by the local population, because no one was able to reach the site, even by helicopter.”

Roads to the remote Shershal village, where the avalanche occurred, remained blocked due to the snowfall, and rescue crews were forced to rush to the surrounding areas by helicopter, the NDMA said.

In a separate incident in the Chitral region, a paramilitary soldier was killed and six others were injured when their post collapsed under an avalanche in the Pisotan area, Pakistan’s military said in a statement.

The surviving soldiers had been rescued, it added.

Parts of the Chitral valley received more than five feet of snow in the previous 24 hours, Pakistan’s Meteorological Department said in a statement on Sunday, with scattered snowfall forecast for Monday.

Transport networks affected
The snow also wreaked havoc on major roads in Afghanistan, including the main Kabul-Kandahar highway, where police and soldiers rescued passengers in about 250 vehicles trapped by the storm, said Jawed Salangi, a spokesman for Ghazni province.

The Salang pass, north of Kabul, was also closed under as much as two and a half metres of snow, officials said.
In Pakistan, all inter-district roads in Chitral were closed, while a major highway linking Chitral to the Dir district, and another linking parts of the upper Swat valley were only open to traffic under restrictions, NDMA said.

With additional reporting by Al Jazeera’s Asad Hashim in Islamabad

Trump meets with Princeton physicist who says global warming is good for us

Yes, Donald Trump met with Al Gore. But on Friday, according to the Trump transition team, the president-elect also met with William Happer, a Princeton professor of physics who has been a prominent voice in questioning whether we should be concerned about human-caused climate change.

In 2015 Senate testimony, Happer argued that the “benefits that more [carbon dioxide] brings from increased agricultural yields and modest warming far outweigh any harm.”

While not denying outright that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels will warm the planet, he also stated that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide would only cause between 0.5 and 1.5 degrees Celsius of planetary warming. The most recent assessment of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts the figure much higher, at between 1.5 degrees and 4.5 degrees C.

“All trees, and many other plants, wheat, rice, soybeans, cotton, etc., are handicapped because, by historical standards, there currently is too little, not too much, CO2 in the atmosphere,” read a slide contained in Happer’s testimony.

“A dispassionate analysis of the science indicates that more CO2 will bring benefits, not harm to the world,” he also said in the testimony.

Happer did not answer questions on his way into the elevator to meet with Trump, according to pool reports. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Post.

E&E News, which was apparently first to report on the meeting, noted that it was “unclear” whether Happer might be under consideration for energy or science positions in the administration. There certainly remain many of those to fill.

Happer is not wrong that carbon dioxide appears to bolster plant growth — the greening up of the Arctic has, indeed, been observed. But that comes with many other consequences, including melting of glaciers and thawing of permafrost, which can emit still more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

“While we are perhaps lucky that CO2 has this effect on plant physiology, in addition to being a greenhouse gas, it is not our ‘get out of jail free’ card when it comes to our ongoing emissions of CO2,” climate scientist Richard Betts of the U.K.’s Hadley Centre wrote on the subject recently.

Happer is an eminent physicist who held prominent positions at the Department of Energy, as well as at his university, and has 200 scientific publications to his name. But in 2009 testimony, he went even further in countering the scientific consensus on climate change, asserting that “the current warming also seems to be due mostly to natural causes, not to increasing levels of carbon dioxide.” Most scientists have been plain and very clear that carbon dioxide is indeed the cause of most of the current warming.

In a 2011 essay in the journal First Things, Happer further argued that “the ‘climate crusade’ is one characterized by true believers, opportunists, cynics, money-hungry governments, manipulators of various types — even children’s crusades — all based on contested science and dubious claims.”

The essay triggered an in-depth rebuttal from Michael MacCracken, a climate scientist who formerly directed the U.S. Global Change Research Program in the Bill Clinton administration, and who characterized it as “so misleading that, in my view, it merits a paragraph-by-paragraph response.”

The meeting may be most noteworthy as an example of how Trump plans to get scientific advice — through meetings with people whose views are not necessarily part of the mainstream. It’s not a model that most scientists will approve of.
Trump has met individually not only with Happer, but also with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose views on the safety of vaccines have been rejected by scientific authorities. The meeting has caused alarm in the medical community.

The president-elect has not yet named a presidential science adviser.