The deserted community

Thar desert is known for its serene natural beauty, mesmerising sand dunes, fearlessly roaming peacocks, parched land, abject poverty and an impressive epitome of inter-faith harmony. During the recent years, Thar has emerged as the energy basket of Pakistan. Traces of carbonaceous material were detected when the Sindh Arid Zone Development Authority (SAZDA) and the British Overseas Development Administration (ODA) drilled exploratory holes for fresh water near village Khario Ghulam Shah in 1988.

It became prelude to Thar coalfield exploration and demarcation under the Coal Resources Evaluation and Appraisal Programme (Coal REAP) of the USAID carried out by the Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP) and the United States Geological Service (USGS). The prognosis was immensely promising that ultimately discovered the fortune of an estimated 175 billion tonnes of coal sprawled over 9,100 sq. kms. The area has been divided in 12 blocks. Mining and power generation at block-2 is currently under way.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) excavating 1.57bn tonnes of coal to build a 660-megawatt power plant is fast approaching a layer of water which requires safe disposal. As per the contractual arrangement, the government of Sindh (GoS) that own 54 per cent shares in the project is responsible for external components of the project including effluent disposal.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the mining projects was conducted by a renowned consulting concern Haigler Bailly Pakistan. However, scope of the EIA does not cover social and environmental impacts on the potential site for disposal of effluent to be pumped out during mining operation. EIAs normally cover the whole spectrum of activities of a project. Effluent disposal is a critical component of such projects and one fails to understand the logic behind excluding it from the scope of EIA.

The EIA report estimates that 990 liters per second water will be pumped out during mining. It proposed few options for effluent disposal including inter alia evaporation ponds, reinjection into aquifer and disposal to Rann of Kutch and salt lakes. Limitations of each option were also provided. SECMC is genuinely desperate for a functional effluent disposal arrangement so that mining continues without pause. However, a customary tardiness of the Sindh government ultimately culminated in the prevailing chaos.

The GoS identified a few locations to construct evaporation ponds for the effluent. It is claimed that the controversial site of Gorrano was identified after assessing comparative advantages and disadvantages of various disposal sites. The GoS claims that a separate EIA was conducted and a public hearing was held; yet no such study has been made public.

Only two studies are available that discuss the impact of effluent disposal. These studies were conducted by the Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) and the Engineering Associates (EA). The EA in collaboration with NED University conducted hydro-ecological impact of water disposal site for mining project. The RWE conducted feasibility study of overall project which did not mention any disposal site except salt lakes and the Rann of Kutch. The study did not recommend disposal of the brine at these locations due to a very high level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), 20,000 ppm against 500 ppm of fresh water.

The GoS initially decided to use Dhukar Chho village, a natural depression of 692 acres located 37 kms away from the mining site for effluent disposal. Maintaining its tradition of nepotism the contract was awarded to a private company to appease the party supremo. The company not only failed to construct the pond but also resorted to excessive methods to dislodge local community who owe their livelihood to this fertile piece of land. Later on the GoS consultants realised that the proposed site does not offer enough space to accommodate the effluent over longer period. Subsequently, the GoS and SECMC decided to use Gorrano village, located 26 kms away from the mining site as a natural depression of approx. 1500 acres for constructing effluent disposal pond.

Gorrano site has an advantage of being a natural depression surrounded by stable sand dunes from three sides making it almost a naturally constructed reservoir. Lesser cost of construction and minimum distance from the mining site made it a bewitching option for disposal. On the other side, inhabitants of 12 villages located in the immediate vicinity claim that the depression is one of the most fertile pieces of land in the locality with vast tracts of arable land, water wells and a large number of Kandi trees. The particular tree is a drought-resistant species providing rare forage for livestock, which is the nutrition mainstay for communities. A mature tree of Kandi and a goat are considered lifeline assets for a poor Thari as these two entities are key ingredients of community coping mechanism against elongated arid drought spans.

Although a small number of people possess titles of land ownership at the proposed site, a large number of villagers plough their land inherited from forefathers but not legally transferred to them as per the revenue record. Undocumented inherited land ownership is a common practice in Thar like many other parts of the country. Additionally, the area is a precious grazing land for thousands of cattle heads owned by the community. They also collect drinking water from dug wells located inside the pond area.

Outlandishly, the GoS did not conduct any social and environmental impact assessment and did not develop any comprehensive compensation plan for the affectees of Gorrano site. Bulldozers of the contractors rumbled the standing crops without negotiating any compensation plan and tried to expropriate land of the people not having registration documents. This atrocious and insolent behaviour sparked resentment among the local community who remonstrated and started hunger strike outside the press club of Islamkot town. A group of local activists supported these helpless villagers to amplify their voices.

Meanwhile, the GoS involved SECMC to supervise and monitor the construction of disposal reservoir. The company scrambled to engage the infuriated community with assurances of compensation but the damage done at the initial stage precluded any amicable solution. The community is not willing to subscribe to verbal guarantees in absence of a formally negotiated and a credible compensation framework. In a bid to ensure timely arrangement of effluent disposal, SECMC unnecessarily got entangled into a controversy and took a lot of flak for a task that is responsibility of the GoS.

The GoS is acquiring land under the Land Acquisition Act 1894 that bestows unbridled powers on the government to acquire land in the name of public purpose. The Act does not recognise rights of landowners without land title. Out of 1500 acres under the pond, only 532 acres are under private possession and the remaining 968 acres are under traditional collective community use. This makes life difficult for hundreds of landless people in the vicinity who depend on natural resources of the location for their sustenance.

Multilateral aid agencies, as against the aforementioned Act, also recognise the rights of landless people and give due consideration to livelihood rights. Section GN.3 of the guidelines of the International Finance Commission (World Bank Group) on Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement reads “the loss of access to common property resources and natural resources is an important consideration when evaluating a project’s impacts on affected communities’ and households’ livelihoods. The types of assets to which access might be lost could include, but are not limited to, pasture, fruit trees, medicinal plants, fiber, firewood, and other non-timber forest resources, croplands, fallow lands, woodlots, and fish stocks. Whilst these resources are, by definition, not owned by individual households, access to them is often a key component of affected households’ livelihoods, without which they will likely face the risk of project-induced impoverishment. Section GN.8 recognises affectees with customary claims to land and those with no legally recognized claims, as well as seasonal natural resource users such as herders, fishing families, hunters and gatherers who may have interdependent economic relations with communities located within the project area.”

Considering the fact that about a dozen of exploration blocks are yet to be developed, it is high time to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for macro-level planning before the impacts become irreversible. It is ironic that the government is not willing to recognise right of communities on their natural resources and agree on a compensation plan encompassing such claims. This obduracy of decision makers has resulted in a stalemate. Local community, political parties and civil society are opposing the construction of the pond and demanding to identify alternative disposal sites. This project will be a trailblazer for future interventions in the area and therefore it is pivotal to offer an altruistic compensation package in consonance with local social context. Amicably resolving this controversy will pave the way for greater ownership of the local community and set a healthy precedent for future projects in the area.

Chinese firm to start cleaning up Karachi by early February

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah met with chairman Fan Manguao of the Changyi Kangjie Sanitation Group, the firm recently contracted to provide garbage clean-up and disposal services in Karachi, in China on Friday

During the meeting, the company assured CM Shah that they would start their work in two districts of Karachi by the last week of January.

“[Our] machinery will reach Karachi on January 6 and within 10 days of its arrival, it will be cleared from the port,” said Manguao.

He added that his company will be able to start work most probably by the end of January or the first week of February.

“We will distribute dustbins home to home, and our lifting vehicles will collect them from the [designated] areas,” explained the chairman.

The Sindh government has been struggling to contain Karachi’s garbage emergency. In neighbourhoods across the city, mounds of garbage can be seen steadily piling up, often creating hurdles for foot and vehicular traffic.

There is no reliable data on the amount of solid waste the metropolis generates on a daily basis, though estimates suggest it runs into thousands of tonnes.

Much of the waste ends up in dumps, alleyways and open spaces, where it remains for weeks if not longer. Some of it is burnt in bonfires that are feared to create health and environmental hazards.

MoU to produce electricity from garbage signed
The Sindh government also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a Chinese company to produce electricity from garbage and agricultural waste in Karachi and other parts of Sindh.

The agreement was signed during CM Shah’s visit to the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) in Beijing.

Under the MoU, CSIC and its sister company Dewe Group Holding Co. Ltd (DGHOL) will produce electricity from garbage lifted in Karachi, a spokesman for the Sindh CM told DawnNews.

The Chinese company will also generate power from agricultural waste collected from rural areas of Sindh, he said.
Besides shipbuilding, the CSIC has expertise in producing electricity from garbage. It is also involved in producing wind power, the spokesman said.

The agreement was signed by Sindh Board of Investment Chairperson Naheed Memon, CSIC Vice President Qian Jianping and DGHOL Vice President Ji Yutao.

The two companies will send their experts to Sindh to asses the investment required and decide a way forward.

During the meeting, CM Murad also invited CSIC to initiate a wind power generation project in Sindh. A team from the Chinese company will visit Sindh to look into wind power, the CM’s spokesman said.

Why Astola is a Hidden Gem of Pakistan

Everyone is familiar with the beauty of Pakistan’s northern areas, but few have taken the time to discover the mesmerising charm of the country’s coast in the south.

I had never thought of exploring the coast either, until I met the famous British adventurer Tracy Curtin-Taylor who told me that she had never witnessed a coastline this beautiful.

I planned a trip with my friends to Astola Island, one of the many hidden gems of the part of the Arabian Sea that touches Balochistan.
We set off on our journey on a cool, November morning on a boat from Pasni, a fishing town 35km away from Astola. As we sailed and gained some distance, I looked back at the town: the Jabl-e-Zareen (Beautiful Mountain) was overlooking the pristine beach and the small buildings surrounded by golden sand dunes resembled something straight out of the Arabian Nights.

The golden sand dunes of Pasni in the distance as we were on our way to Astola.

The boat captain told us that the sea is calm during the winter season, making it the perfect time to visit the island.
Once we were in the open sea, we were welcomed by seagulls calmly flying above our heads and a fishing boat nearby, where a man was pulling up his net. The seagulls were silently observing, waiting for the right moment to dive in and steal a fish or two. A few of them succeeded, and it was exciting to see.

As we sailed further ahead, I saw larger fishing boats passing by. My friend Bakhshi, who works at the fishery department, told us that these boats are called “launches”.

Each boat is operated by a team of 15 to 20 men, who catch fish the whole day. The fish caught on the shores of Pasni is famous and is also exported.

As we neared Astola, my first sight of the island was of a tall, oddly-shaped rock standing in the middle of the sea. But as we inched closer, the crystal clear, turquoise water took my breath away and I had to remind myself that I was still in Pakistan and not at a beach on the Mediterranean.

Astola is also known as Jezira Haft Talar (Island of the Seven Hills) because of the small, rocky mountains that stretch across the 15sq km island.

The reason why the island’s exquisite beauty has remained untarnished is because of its remote location. From Karachi, it is a seven-hour drive to reach Pasni, from where you have to take a three-hour boat ride to Astola.

Once we reached the island, I wanted to see it from a height and so I hiked up one of the hills. The climb was tricky since the mud was soft and the rocks slippery.

After some struggle, I found a well-treaded path. The view was worth it when we reached the top as the island and its shores were even more alluring from above.

It was a thrilling experience climbing up and seeing this amazing view.

The colour of the water and pattern of the beach changes throughout the day depending upon the tide. The seabed is visible to about the depth of 20 feet.

There is no standing structure on the island except for the remnants of a lighthouse the government had built in 1983.

After a few hours on the hills, we climbed down and got on the boat to explore the other sides of the island. I found every side of the island to be different and more beautiful than the other. The southern side did not have a beach.

We went snorkeling and it was startling to see so many multi-coloured fish. When we went back on the boat, the fishermen showed us some of the fish they had just caught.

Since there are no facilities on the island, we had to pack everything from water, food, to camping supplies. We had lunch on our boat with jellyfish swimming around with their tentacles floating behind them.

One of my friends got stung and was in pain for the next 10 hours. People who are visiting for the first time should be aware that jellyfish only look pretty.

Vegetation on the island is sparse and consists of shrubs and large bushes that come to life when it rains. The island has no source of fresh water of its own. Keekar is the only tree which can survive the harsh conditions.

Astola is a tough yet popular destination for camping and eco-tourism. People usually set up camp at the beach and go snorkeling, deep sea diving and even hunt fish under water.

As Astola receives more recognition, the number of tourists will increase. Let’s hope that this doesn’t damage the island’s beauty.

Changing minds for climate change

Changing minds for climate change was the title of four day international conference organised by the Pakistan-US Alumni Network (PUAN) in Islamabad recently. PUAN is the alumni network of the students and professionals, who have participated in US government sponsored exchange programmes. With more than 19,000 alumni across Pakistan, PUAN is one of the largest alumni networks in the world. PUAN regularly organises events across Pakistan, including service projects, leadership training, roundtable discussions, and community engagement activities.
The conference brought together climate change professionals, activists, students, teachers, and policymakers, to share knowledge and experiences.

More than 250 alumni of US government-sponsored exchange programs from across Pakistan and South, Central and East Asia gathered in Islamabad for the event, which was jointly sponsored by the US Embassy in Islamabad, US Educational Foundation in Pakistan and PUAN. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Secretary Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change, Samina Baig, Pakistan’s first female to summit Mount Everest and the Seven Summits attended the conference’s opening ceremony to kick off a program of interactive workshops, panel sessions, keynote speeches, and community outreach events. Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed in his remarks said that, he is the voice of climate change in parliament. He suggested that “siachen should be converted into Peace Park, as both neighbouring countries are heavily spending their resources over there.”

American ambassador to Pakistan David Hale addressing the conference participants said, that “No country can tackle climate change alone, we must all work together. Governments and scientists, businesspeople and civil society must harness every aspect of a nation’s resources to address this global crisis.” The US, along with partner nations around the world including Pakistan, is working to reach common ground on the climate agenda. Notably, Pakistan has recently made great progress on the path to adopting the Paris Agreement, he said. Pakistan has also agreed to an amendment to curb greenhouse gases (hydro fluorocarbons/HFCs). Moreover, the US and Pakistan are working together to encourage private sector investment in new clean energy generation (such as wind, solar, and hydro) through technical assistance, grants for transmission infrastructure, and financing.

Pakistan’s vulnerability to adverse impacts of climate change is well established and widely recognized. Despite Pakistan’s diminutive contribution to global GHG emissions, it is among the top ten most climate affected countries of the world, as indicated by the Global Climate Risk Index developed by Germanwatch. Moreover, these adverse impacts of climate change are not in the distant future but are imminent. Indeed, these are already occurring as Pakistan has started suffering with ever-increasing frequency and ferocity of climate-induced catastrophes. Studies and assessments undertaken by the National Disaster Management Authority show that extreme climate events between 1994 and 2013 have resulted in an average annual economic loss of almost US dollars 4 billion. The last five floods (2010-2014) have resulted in monetary losses of over US$ 18 billion with 38.12 million people affected, 3.45 million houses damaged and 10.63 million acres of crops destroyed. Likewise, over 1200 people lost their lives due to the unprecedented heat wave in Karachi in 2015.

The conference coincided with ratification of the Paris Agreement by Pakistan. Adoption of the Paris Agreement has further reinforced the ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change and has provided a framework for its realisation in a more intense manner with a long term perspective. The global consensus on limiting temperature increase to below 2 degrees Centigrade is an endorsement of the scientific conclusions reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and provides safeguards for vulnerable regions and countries of the world from irreversible adverse consequences. In doing so, the urgent need for undertaking adaptation measures by all groups of countries has also been underscored. Moreover, it needs to be recognised that without provision of adequate finance, technology development and transfer and capacity building, the consequences for developing countries are likely to remain catastrophic.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, by 2040 up to ten per cent of Pakistan’s agricultural output would be affected by climate change. Global warming could not only make it more difficult to produce crops, the reduction in crop yields could also push food prices up, adding to the miseries of the bottom 40 per cent of the population. Besides disasters, unprecedented floods could play havoc with agriculture. Being one of the most climate change vulnerable countries in the world, Pakistan’s economy is already under severe strain from prevailing and likely future threats of climate change. Adverse climate related impacts are draining public funds from essential social requirements towards disaster management.

Climate change knows no boundaries. Changing minds of policy makers from Islamabad to Washington is imperative and no one can afford further delay to address imminent threat from climate change. Hence, the response has to be transnational. Learning from global and regional experience is crucial in this regard. For instance, Bangladesh is considered as adaptation capital of the world, which offers huge opportunities to region for climate change adaptation.

The writer is Executive Director at Centre for Environment and Development

Justice for Houbara Bustards

By the time this article appears in the press, some 1,000 Houbara Bustards will have been officially annihilated by our friends from the Arab world. These massacres, most obsequiously facilitated by the Pakistan government factually end up killing many more innocent birds than the permitted limit. Only two years ago, a prince went on a rampage killing 2,000 Houbara Bustards against his bag limit of 200. There are few who have the courage to stand up and take action, for the violators also happen to be the imaginary ‘pillars’ of our foreign policy.

Taxonomically classified as Chlamydotis Macqueenii, some 30,000 of these beautiful and peaceful birds arrive in Pakistan every year, enriching our harsh and arid ecosystem with their breathtaking beauty and joyful presence. Little do they know that for many of them this would be the last winter of their lives.The global population of this species has been estimated between 78,960 and 97,000, as reported by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. For Pakistan to knock out a few thousand of these birds every year is an unforgivable crime against the global ecosystem.

Loaded with contradictions and inaccuracies, the laws in Pakistan do more harm than good in protecting the visiting birds. Being a member of the IUCN and a signatory to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), Pakistan is bound to take necessary steps to conserve such dwindling species and their habitats. Notwithstanding the scientific evidence showing the vulnerability of the species, the governments of Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and Pakistan, contrary to their obligations, have taken measures that would hasten the extinction of the Houbara Bustard.

Taking full advantage of these self-designed legal loopholes, the government of Pakistan every year drops all fig leaves of self-respect, ethics and environmental concerns to manufacture scores of ‘killer permits’ for its Middle Eastern friends. A clever and convoluted system has been designed to dilute this crime. The prime minister gives his consent. The foreign ministry issues a letter to the concerned embassy, allocating areas and defining a code of killing. The wildlife departments use the foreign ministry’s letter as an excuse to look the other way.

It is against this background of continued killings that the August 2015 judgement of the three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) arrived like a breath of fresh air. It declared in no uncertain words that “neither the federation nor a province could grant licence/permit to hunt the Houbara Bustard”. The judgement also asked the provinces to “amend their respective wildlife laws to make them compliant with the CMS as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and not to permit the hunting of any ‘threatened with extinction’ and vulnerable species”.

The SC judgement provided a brilliant opportunity to explain and take a position on why Houbaras could no longer be hunted. Sadly, the government looked for a bypass arrangement to please the predators. The government now started issuing ‘partridge-hunting’ licences. But, according to a BBC report of Feb 11, 2016, several eyewitnesses said that bustard-hunting sessions had taken place even after the ban, in the remote desert town of Nurpur Thal and the village of Mahni, in the Bhakkar district.

Simultaneously, the government asked the SC to review its judgement that placed a ban on hunting of Houbaras. This was done by enlarging the SC bench, enhancing the scope of the review and replacing some of the original judges. The review court set aside the earlier judgement and asked for ‘hearing afresh’ of the civil and the constitutional petitions. This order was passed by a majority of four to one, with Justice Qazi Faez Isa dissenting.

The people of Pakistan have been deeply distressed by the unending killing of Houbaras, destruction of their eco-system, arrogance of the predators and submissiveness of the government. When asked under the Freedom of Information Act to give the number of hunting permits it had issued in the last five years, the Foreign Office blatantly denied having ever issued a permit.

Years of engaging in an unlawful activity had clearly taken a heavy toll on our institutional morals and attitudes. Our only hope is for the SC to redeem its promise and ‘hear afresh’ the Houbara case. At stake are the lives of diminishing Houbaras and our questionable commitment to international law and conventions.

Arab sheikhs banned from bustard hunts by Pakistani province

One of Pakistan’s four provinces has banned Arab sheikhs from hunting a protected species of bird, defying Islamabad’s longstanding policy of giving hunting licences to key regional allies.

Swaths of habitat used in the winter by the migratory houbara bustard are allocated in blocks to the some of the most senior people in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, who come armed with specially modified vehicles and radar systems to track the birds.

But an official in the government of the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said it had rejected a request from a party of Qatari princes to shoot houbara bustards and would no longer allow such hunts.

On Sunday the politician Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) partly runs the province, had said he would not allow anyone to hunt houbaras “as it is a protected bird and hunting them is illegal.”

Arab hunters first started coming to Pakistan in the 1960s after houbara stocks in the Arabian peninsula were decimated.

Pakistan’s three other provinces all permit hunting, in spite of opposition from conservationists who say the fast-dwindling houbara population will not survive the annual onslaught.

Although the hunters are only permitted to kill up to 100 birds each, it is difficult to control powerful visitors who reportedly hand out gifts of cash and jewellery to local notables.

More than 30 permits were issued to in 2014 to visitors including presidents, ambassadors and ministers.
In recent years there has been growing public and judicial criticism of the special dispensation given to rich and powerful Arabs to kill birds that Pakistanis have been banned from hunting since 1972. Last year the supreme court ruled that no more hunting licences could be issued.

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Officials at the foreign ministry argue the hunts are a longstanding tradition and that conservation policies must be balanced against Pakistan’s need for good relations in the region.

The Sunni kingdoms of the Gulf enjoy enormous influence in Pakistan given the millions of Pakistanis who work there and remit vital foreign currency to their home country.

Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, is especially close to Saudi Arabia, where he lived in exile after losing power in a military coup in 1999.

Houbara bustards, a small fast-flying bird, migrate each winter from the central Asian steppe to their breeding grounds in the deserts of Pakistan. Unfortunately for the houbara, its meat is prized in the Arab world for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities, which has led to the birds being almost wiped out in the Gulf.

Under the convention on international trade in endangered species they are considered to be at risk of extinction, and various countries in the region – including the UAE and Saudi Arabia – have set up breeding programmes to try to revive numbers.

The royal hunting expeditions can last for weeks and require extraordinary logistical operations to keep the sheikhs in the comfort to which they are accustomed.

In some isolated corners of Pakistan the Arab visitors have paid for their own roads and airports to bring in tons of equipment, including adapted vehicles and everything required for their luxuriously appointed camps. Some have built vast desert palaces that sit behind towering walls.

Defenders of the tradition point to the benefits to impoverished communities who have been rewarded by the hunters with new schools and hospitals. But in a rare outbreak of dissent last week, chickpea farmers in Bhakkar district of Punjab province fought with police when they attempted to protest against a group of Qatari houbara hunters who they said had damaged their crop.

People outraged as Karachi authorities poison at least 700 stray dogs

Pakistanis are shaming Karachi authorities over their poisoning of at least 700 stray dogs. City officials counter that the canines bite thousands of people yearly, and there is no other way to curb the problem.

The poisoning of dogs got a fierce reaction from social network users, with most of them being outraged at the authorities’ actions.
“Just bloody horrible”, “Spread the word. Shame on Karachi authorities!”, “No more cruelty” were just a few among the angry messages.
Dog corpses were lying along the streets of the 20-million city, and the city employees have been disposing of them.

“At least 700 dogs have been killed only in two areas of Karachi’s south in the last couple of days,” Sattar Javed, a spokesman for the municipal authority, confirmed to Reuters.

Here’s how the authorities kill the strays: they hide poison tablets in chicken meat, and give the meat to the animals.
The Pakistani animal rights activists have spoken out against the practice, but the city authorities said there is no other way to cope with the growing population of dogs, which attack the locals.

According to stats, last year, Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital treated 6,500 people bitten by dogs, and this year saw about 3,700 incidents, according to Dr Seemin Jamali, head of the emergency room, as quoted by Reuters.

Officials don’t have the exact estimates of the total number of strays killed at the moment. However, they say that thousands should be culled in total

Public Slaughter of Animals Gives Rise to Deadly Viral Infections

In most Western (and, in fact, Muslim) countries, it is unlawful to slaughter animals in homes, on roads, in public spaces or residential areas. This can be done only in designated areas approved as slaughterhouses and located well away from human dwellings. These purpose-built premises include facilities for the housing and movement of the animals; veterinary care; professional slaughtering equipment and methods; and the segregation and disposal of waste and body parts such as blood, hides, hooves, heads, horns, offal and other inedible parts. Many of these are sold and recycled.

Slaughter in places other than approved and licensed locations carries many hygiene and public health risks. Recently gaining prominence is Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF), having hit the headlines due to the growing incidence of this highly fatal disease. It is caused by a virus that is carried inside the Hyalomma tick, which lives on the skin of farm animals. Nonetheless, awareness of this risk has only reached a fraction of the people who are likely to acquire the infection. Thus, the vast number of adults and children who are in contact with cattle know or understand little — or wish not to know, trusting their lives to fate.

CCHF is just one of the many zoonotic diseases (infectious diseases transmitted from animal to man) commonly known to most lay persons or practising doctors. There are at least several dozen viral, bacterial, fungal and protozoal infections that are responsible for serious infections in humans. These infections are difficult to diagnose and even more difficult to treat. Unrecognised and misdiagnosed illnesses lead to mistreatment, complications, and prolonged chronic illness.

This year’s Eidul Azha has come and gone. The rivers of blood have been washed away or, rather, may have been absorbed by the earth. Stray cats and dogs, crows and kites will scavenge the leftover flesh, and one may get accustomed to the city’s perpetual stink. Days, weeks, even months later, diseases will begin to surface. Unreported by the press, many adults and children will enter hospitals’ and clinics’ outpatient facilities with fever and body pain, perhaps bleeding from internal organs. Others may suffer from fever and liver disease due to parasitic hydatid disease; prolonged, indolent fever from brucella; pneumonia from Coxiella; bovine tuberculosis; chronic intestinal infections from parasitic worms; and skin infections from anthrax.

In Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia — where animals are sacrificed on a massive scale, particularly after Haj — roadside slaughter is unheard of. Gulf countries do not have CCHF or zoonotic infections because they handle animal slaughter in a coordinated and hygienic manner. Pakistan, too, could learn from their examples.

Keeping, breeding, even entry, let alone slaughter, of farm animals in or around residential areas, roadsides or public spaces ought to be declared unlawful. This would, however, call for establishing organised, scientific, lice¬nsed and hygienic abattoirs in all cities and urban centres. If our government is prudent regarding the health and hygiene of its citizens it could build abattoirs close to all urban residential areas in a manner that caters to both public health and convenience.

Naseem Salahuddin is a specialist in infectious diseases. Naeem Sadiq is a freelance writer on social issues.

Indians demand government action after temperatures hit 51C

Heat in Indo Pak (Credit:
Heat in Indo Pak

Mumbai/Islamabad: Residents of a city in the north-west of India have called for government action as temperatures reached 51C (123.8F), the highest the country has experienced since records began.

Phalodi, in the desert state of Rajasthan, is suffering an unprecedented medical crisis as a result of the record temperatures, which are high even by local summer standards and which smashed the previous record, set in 1956, of 50.6C.

“[Thursday] was the hottest temperature ever recorded in the country: 51C in Phalodi,” BP Yadav, a director of India’s meteorological department, said on Friday.

In Phalodi, where the temperature can fall below zero in winter and reach extreme peaks in the summer, the local government hospital has seen patient numbers double in the last few days as people report more heat-related illnesses.

Shiv Prakash Chanda, who works as a nursing officer in the hospital, said: “It is incredibly hot. None of the air-conditioners or coolers are working. We have running water, but the water is stored in tanks on top the buildings, and when it comes out of the tap the water is so hot that you can’t even wash your hands with it. You can’t even go to the toilet.”

Ranjeet Singh, a local police constable, said: “The ground is so hot, you could cook chapatis on it.”

One man from the town died from heatstroke on Friday at a nearby railway station. Chanda said the heat was so extreme that the hospital was struggling to meet demand from patients. Children are particularly vulnerable to sunstroke, and the hospital has seen a rise in the number of cases of diarrhoea and vomiting.

“The government needs to do something – they need to put up tents and offer cold water in places like railway stations where people gather. The local administration has done nothing so far,” Chanda said. Last year, more than 1,500 people died in India because of heatwaves.


Ambitious scheme to channel water from regions with a surplus to drought-prone areas could begin in days, but Bangladesh has raised concerns.

Chanda has written a letter to the chief minister of the state urging the government to delay a national polio vaccination programme because of the temperature. “Going door todoor in this heat can be fatal,” he said. “The vaccines may be spoiled. Plus we need more people in the hospital here because so many people are coming in.”

The heat has disrupted the regular working day in Phalodi, where people say they are afraid to leave their homes. Residents start work at sunrise and come home at about 10am to protect themselves from the midday sun, before returning to work in the evenings.

However, the heatwave’s worst effects are not being felt as badly in the city – where residents know how to cope with the hot weather – as in the surrounding rural areas, where there is no infrastructure to protect people from the sun.

In a nearby village called Pratapgarh, Chanulal said the heat had devastated this year’s harvest. “The trees and saplings have all dried up,” he said. “We can’t even leave our homes. I am an old man, and I can’t do anything. I eat whatever my children bring home.”

There is no electricity in Pratapgarh and villagers have to walk miles to get drinking water. “There are no fridges or coolers here,” said Chanulal. “Only the wind – that’s your cooler.”

For the last few weeks, severe heatwaves have swept across India, and temperatures are expected to stay high in June. A devastating drought, which has left many villages and towns without a regular water supply is adding to the effects of the heat.

Schools have had to close down, and some hospitals have stopped performing surgeries. In some regions, cooking in the daytime has been banned because of the risk of starting fires.

Across the border, Pakistan is increasing its hospital capacity, digging more graves and consulting clerics about religious fasting guidelines as it, too, braces for another possible deadly heatwave.

Last year, more than 1,300 people died when temperatures soared to their highest summer levels in nearly 35 years.

Particularly badly affected was the southern province of Sindh and its capital, Karachi, which suffers from crumbling infrastructure and a punishing “heat island” effect in the most built-up areas.

In 2015, hospitals were overwhelmed by heat stroke victims, many of them labourers and slum dwellers, complaining of dehydration, stomach pains and low blood pressure. At one point, bodies were piling up so quickly authorities were forced to bury them before they could be identified by relatives.

This year, hospitals in the city have added extra beds and emergency response points have been set up on street corners.

In a perfect storm of problems, in 2015 the city was struck by record-breaking heat and power cuts caused by soaring demand for electricity. The power cuts were so bad that many people sought relief by sleeping outside in parks and on the city’s beaches.

The extreme temperatures struck in the middle of the fasting month of Ramadan when Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours.

This year, provincial government officials have promised they will consult religious scholars about the possibility of publishing reminders that people can break their fast for health reasons.

Presenting Thar’s case

Thar peacockOnce adored for its stunning landscape, dancing peacocks, serene wilderness, tapestry of colourful traditional attire, melody of Mai Bhagi, swirling sand, fascinating temples and majestic sand dunes, Thar has now emerged as an axis of hunger, malnutrition, abject poverty and unrelenting deaths of children.

Tune in to any Sindhi tv channel and death toll in Thar with heart-rending footage marks every hourly bulletin.

The piling dead bodies were initially ascribed to a drought and famine that prompted sympathetic responses. The tragedy was considered as an isolated incident of the wrath of the nature, triggered by scant rainfall and an ensuing drought.

Many still consider Thar as a remote inaccessible territory. However, the reality on ground has drastically altered during recent years. The bewitching reservoir of Thar coal has converted Thar into a favourite destination of investors and officials. Metalled roads snake through the parched land, connecting major towns and randomly sprawled hamlets. The social fabric is going through a rapid jolt, leaving the local communities disarrayed.

Awaiting promised prosperity, the people of Thar are witnessing an unprecedented rise of religious outfits, frequent congregations of the faithful, sprawling seminaries and mosques. This social upheaval is eclipsing the once-cherished communal harmony that dominated the social landscape of Thar where faith never became a fault line.
An insidious shift in demography is another perilous phenomenon which is yet to unfold fully. Physical and digital connectivity of the area has extricated it from forlorn isolation, and distance is no more a pardonable excuse to justify unrelenting deaths.

In short, the socio-cultural and economic setting of Thar is going through a phenomenal shift that merits separate comprehensive research. The state and government exist with full tentacles in Thar and it is no more a desolate nature-dependent territory. In this context, the tormenting situation in Thar ought to be understood with a fresh approach.

Bad governance and pervasive administrative lapses multiply the impact of a natural shock not alien to the area otherwise.

Three recent reports unveiled a complex blend of administrative, social and political dimensions of this human tragedy. On the recommendation of Sindh High Court, the Sindh chief minister constituted a four-member commission to probe the Thar drought issue. Excerpts of a yet-to-be made public report provide an insight to the human-induced disaster.

The commission observed that there was a lack of coordination among the government’s departments for carrying out relief activities during drought. It also found huge coordination lapses among Town Municipal Administrations (TMAs), special initiative department, NGOs and public health departments. It also found that departments like social welfare, agriculture, environment, forest, population welfare, transport and tourism were underperforming.

The commission recommended setting up a provincial monitoring team having the representation of departments including health, food, livestock, irrigation and meteorology to report to the chief minister after every quarter. The drought commission called for preparing a comprehensive nutrition and drought policy and the related sectoral planning for issues ranging from poverty to education. The commission also found that local population had been excluded from reaping the fruits of development schemes, and urged the government to provide employment to the local population while excavating coal reserves.

Identifying an important administrative lapse, the report revealed that 309 posts of specialists, medical officers and others of BPS-17 to BPA-19 were lying vacant. The commission in its report stated that there were 14 ambulances in the entire district, out of which six were being used by the Mithi Civil Hospital. There is shortage of doctors in the hospitals in Thar. The commission also observed that doctors with domiciles of Thar were not willing to serve in the area and recommended the implementation of the Essential Services Act in letter and spirit.

Similar observations were echoed by the Chairman National Commission for Human Rights, Justice (Retd) Ali Nawaz Chohan. Presenting his report on Thar calamity, he lamented that the government of Sindh and its departments of health, education and local administration were responsible for the Thar tragedy.

Recently, appalling details were presented before the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Members of the committee were told that 828 children had died in Thar over the past three years. Briefing the members of the committee, Fazila Aliani, a member of the committee from Balochistan, blamed corruption and lack of political will for the mounting deaths of children in Thar. Aliani further shared that the government decided to install 700 plants of reverse osmosis (water purification) but only 432 were installed and a number of them have become out of order.

The Senate’s committee was astounded while hearing from the Sindh government’s representative that the provincial government has spent more than 10 billion rupees during the last three years on public welfare. The situation on ground is different and one can hardly trace a fraction of the spending.

These reports show the political and administrative collapse in Thar that has intensified the impact of a natural calamity. A chronic deficit of human development and administrative neglect by successive governments has culminated in total chaos.

Droughts are not new to Thar. The Sindh Relief Department’s official data reveals that Thar witnessed five severe droughts, eight moderate and 11 mild droughts since 1965. Each time a fleeting response to the situation allowed it to perpetuate since the root causes were never addressed. Every drought was treated as an isolated episode and an integrated long term remedy was never contemplated. Free distribution of wheat was used as a magic wand to end the miseries of Tharis.

Seasonal migration has become an annual feature for the Thari community due to famine. The socio-economic indicators of Thar narrate the accumulated development deficit of the area.

An official document “Millennium Development Goals Report-2013” ranked Tharparkar as the second last in fully immunised children among the 23 districts of the province where 56 per cent children did not receive any immunisation doze. Similarly, the district was 20th out of the 23 districts on immunisation of children against measles, which shows only 61.7 per cent coverage. The district had 6th highest number of under five-year children who suffer from diarrhea. Only 13.6 per cent births were attended by skilled birth-attendants placing the district in the bottom within the province. Concomitant to that just 44.6 per cent pregnant women received antenatal care consultation.

According to the report, the district was the last on access to improved sources of drinking water and sanitation with only 17.2 and 7 per cent coverage.

The government of Sindh has shown little seriousness in addressing the root causes. Laying reverse-osmosis water treatment plants is being obsessively pursued. The idea was not bad had it been done with proper homework and due diligence. Plagued with customary malpractices, the project is set to become another scam marked with embezzlements and nepotism.

Thar does not need ephemeral charitable solutions it needs a well-meditated multi-sectoral long term strategy. One such promising project is extending Raini canal to Thar. The canal with the design discharge of 10,000 cusecs is currently under construction. The project has a design provision of an off-taking Thar canal with a capacity of 5000 cusecs.

The Sindh government has been spending billions of rupees on the lining of selected reaches of canals for inexplicable reasons. This amount can be diverted for betterment of millions of hapless communities of Thar. An immediate construction of Thar Canal can bring dramatic changes in the lives of Tharis.