Pakistan’s parliament becomes first in world to run entirely on solar power

Solar panels on Pak parliament (Credit:
Solar panels on Pak parliament

Pakistan’s parliament has become the first in the world to run entirely on solar power.

Known as the Majlis-e-Shoora, the seat of the government in the country’s capital, Islamabad, is now wholly powered by the sun.

First announced in 2014, the venture has been funded by the Chinese government as an act of friendship, with the solar power plant costing around £36.5 million.

The project was officially launched during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit last year.

Now complete, it produces 80 megawatts of electricity, 62 of which are consumed by the national assembly with the remainder going to the national grid, according to Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

Members met in the house for the first time on February 12 as it was being powered by sunshine.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to formally ‘switch on’ the program later this month.

Special secretary at the National Assembly, Munawar Abbas Shah, previously commented: “This is the first project of its kind [in a public building] in Pakistan, and later more public buildings will be converted to solar power to overcome the energy crisis.”

“The consumption of electricity in the parliament even jumps over two megawatts in summers when the house is in session.”

The move is expected to save around £689,369 ($1million) a year in bills.

India enjoys on average eight hours of sunshine 320 days a year, providing ample opportunity to harness the sun’s power.

The current electricity infrastructure is inadequate across the whole country, with an estimated 44 per cent of households not connected to the national grid.

The sub-continent suffers rolling blackouts and power outages, and solar home systems have been mooted as a possible solution to the problem.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, generates 10 per cent of its electricity from solar power.

195 Nations Seal Climate Deal

LE BOURGET, Dec 13: To rousing cheers and tears of relief, envoys from 195 nations approved Saturday an accord to stop global warming, offering hope that humanity can avert catastrophic climate change and usher in an energy revolution.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ended nearly a fortnight of grueling UN negotiations in Paris with the bang of a gavel, marking consensus among the ministers, who stood for several minutes to clap and shout their joy.

“I see the room, I see the reaction is positive, I hear no objection. The Paris climate accord is adopted,” Fabius declared.

Turning to a little green hammer with which he formally gave life to the arduously-crafted pact, he quipped: “It may be a small gavel but it can do big things.”

The deal, to take effect from 2020, ends decades-long rows between rich and poor nations over how to carry out what will be a multi-trillion-dollar effort to cap global warming and deal with consequences already occurring.

With 2015 forecast to be the hottest year on record, world leaders and scientists had said the accord was vital for capping rising temperatures and averting the most calamitous impacts from climate change.

Without urgent action, they warned of increasingly severe droughts, floods and storms, as well as rising seas that would engulf islands and coastal areas populated by hundreds of millions of people.

The crux of the fight to limit global warming requires cutting back or eliminating the use of coal, oil and gas for energy, which has largely powered prosperity since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s.

The burning of those fossil fuels releases invisible greenhouse gases, which cause the planet to warm and change Earth’s delicate climate system.

Ending the vicious circles requires a switch to cleaner sources, such as solar and wind, and improving energy efficiency. Some nations are also aggressively pursuing nuclear power, which does not emit greenhouse gases.

The Paris accord sets a target of limiting warming of the planet to “well below” 2.0 degrees Celsius compared with the Industrial Revolution, while aiming for an even more ambitious goal of 1.5C.

To do so, the emissions of greenhouse gases will need to peak “as soon as possible”, followed by rapid reductions, the agreement states.

The world has already warmed almost 1C, which has caused major problems for many people around the world particularly in developing countries, such as more severe storms, droughts and rising seas, according to scientists.

Environment groups said the Paris agreement was a turning point in history and spelt the demise of the fossil fuel industry, pointing particularly to the significance of the 1.5C goal.


Pakistan facing climate ‘calamity’ if warnings go unheeded

Floods ravage Pakistan (Credit:
Floods ravage Pakistan

KARACHI, Dec 10: Karachi, 2050: The sprawling megacity lies crumbling, desiccated by another deadly heat wave, its millions of inhabitants suffering life-threatening water shortages and unable to buy bread that has become too expensive to eat.

It sounds like the stuff of dystopian fiction but it could be the reality Pakistan is facing. With its northern glaciers melting and its population surging — the country’s climate change time bomb is already ticking.

In a nation facing militant violence and an unprecedented energy shortage slowing economic growth, the environment is a subject little discussed.

But the warning signs are there, including catastrophic floods which displaced millions, and a deadly heat wave this summer that killed 1,200 people.

Three of the world’s most spectacular mountain ranges intersect in Pakistan’s north: the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush and the Karakoram, forming the largest reservoir of ice outside the poles.

The mountain glaciers feed into the Indus River and its tributaries to irrigate the rest of the country, winding through the breadbasket of central Punjab and stretching south to finally merge with the Arabian Sea near Karachi.

The future of Pakistan, a Muslim giant whose population the UN predicts will surge past 300 million people by 2050, can be read in part by the melting of glaciers like Passu, at the gateway to China.

From its magnificent rocky slopes, the glacial melt is obvious.
“When we would come here 25 years ago, the glacier reached that rock up there,” explains Javed Akhtar, indicating an area some 500 metres (1,600 feet) from the tip of the ice.

Akhtar, his face bronzed by the sun, is a villager who has been employed by a team of glaciologists measuring the impact of climate change.

Temperatures in northern Pakistan have increased by 1.9 degrees Celsius in the past century, authorities say, causing “GLOF” — glacial lake outburst floods, where the dams of such lakes abruptly rupture, sending water cascading down the slopes.

Today, thirty glacial lakes are under observation in the north. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), such mass loss of water is “projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by melt water from major mountain ranges”.

In Pakistan, most of the country is fed by the lush, fertile plains of one such region: Punjab.

Despite its growing population, Pakistan remains self-sufficient in agricultural terms, largely thanks to the rich Punjabi soil.

But in recent years the region has seen unprecedented, deadly floods that wipe out millions of acres of prime farmland.

The disasters are caused by monsoon rains, but are a bellwether for the havoc that melting glaciers could cause, with any variation in water levels threatening farmers’ crops.

“When there is too much water it’s not good for rice, and when there is not enough, that’s also bad. And it’s the same for wheat,” says farmer Mohsin Ameen Chattha during a walk through his family land just outside the Punjabi capital of Lahore.

Surplus monsoon water is mostly stored in Pakistan’s two large reservoirs, the Tarbela and the Mangla dams — but, warns Ghulam Rasul, director general of Pakistan’s meteorological department, the supply would hardly last 30 days.

“That is not sufficient,” he says.

Throughout the rest of the year, farmers rely on the rivers, primarily the glacier-fed Indus, to irrigate their land.

For now, the production of rice and wheat is still rising.
But if the glaciers were to one day disappear, “we would be totally dependent on the monsoon. And already it varies,” says Rasul.

“All this has an impact on food security” for the country, he added.
If its daily wheat production should no longer suffice, Pakistan would have to begin importing the grain — driving the price of bread up.

Like the Indus, the ominous warning signs all culminate around Karachi.

The city draws almost all of its water from the river and already fails to meet even half of the four billion litres a day its inhabitants require, in part because of its inadequate pump network.

By 2050 the IPCC predicts a decrease in the freshwater supply of South Asia, particularly in large river basins such as the Indus.
That means Karachi will somehow have to manage its growing population with even less water — a population with a significant poverty rate that will also struggle should food prices rise.

“In the long term, it is a huge challenge,” says Syed Mashkoorul Hasnain of the Karachi Water Company.

To make matters worse, the meteorologist Rasul predicted changes in atmospheric pressure over the Arabian Sea that could reduce the breezes that currently temper the sweltering heat of the port.

In June an unprecedented heat wave took 1,200 lives, mostly in poor neighborhoods of Karachi — heat traps with their massive concrete buildings, lack of shade, and the absence of aqueducts.

Could it have been a taste of the future? Back on the Passu Glacier, the research assistant Javed Akhtar is unequivocal.

“A calamity is coming,” he warns.

Water insecurity

Water is considered as one of the most curcial non-conventional security drivers that can have potentially devastating implications for inter-state and intra-state relations. Pakistan, with its shared water lines across and within the borders has endured onerous challenges on both fronts. This explains the paramountcy of water security for Pakistan.

With rapidly multiplying population and unabated urbanisation, water will remain at the centre of internal and external conflicts and will continue to draw country’s political fault lines. The sensitivity attached with water puts the national and communal harmony to the test every year. Water and power development authority (WAPDA) recently held a series of consultative meetings to kick off the prime minister’s initiative on water security. As reported in newspapers, the initiative takes a panoramic vista of water challenge covering both demand and supply side aspects.

According to newspaper reports, the initiative follows a report “understanding Pakistan’s water-security nexus” issued by the US Institute of Peace in 2013. The report was yet another reminder of chronic water woes of Pakistan and made a portentous forecast that “because of overuse and misuse, Pakistan is headed toward a serious water crisis. The UN is expected to downgrade Pakistan from ‘water stressed’ to ‘water scarce’ country by 2030.

While issues between India and Pakistan often draw attention, water conflicts within Pakistan’s borders have the explosive potential to poison inter-ethnic and inter-provincial relations and turn simmering tension into violence. In a country where livelihoods depend heavily on reliable access to water, effectively managing water resources can transform a common lightning rod for conflict into an opportunity for building intra-communal cooperation and trust.”

If the aforementioned report inspired this initiative, one wonders why it took more than two years to contemplate the initiative, whereas the report surfaced in 2013. Nevertheless, the initiative has its own value if it does not remain limited to consultations only. Mercifully, the ingredients of the initiative involve wider perspective of the issue and not confined to a date-expired antibiotic of new dams, yet the votaries of Kalabagh dam did not miss this heaven sent opportunity to remind everyone about the panacea of all water related problems of Pakistan.

The initiative encompass population control, water efficiency, water pricing, cropping pattern and policy reforms, storage, conservation of water resources, public awareness etc. While the doomsday prophets construed the aforementioned report as an urgent call for new storages, they deliberately glossed over the key message of the report. Interestingly the report skirted the dam mania and ascribed the crisis to “overuse and misuse” of water rather than hysterical ad nauseam of storage deficiency. The attributed cause unambiguously emphasizes on efficient management and use of water to swat the looming crisis of water insecurity.

Whereas storage is an important contributing factor, it is not the only solution on earth as conjured up by certain damo-phobic vested interest. Considering the fact that large reservoirs entail inflammatory political and socio-environmental repercussions, it would be pertinent to decipher the riddle of “overuse and misuse” in the local context to find solutions leading towards convergence and consensus.
Water bureaucracy of Pakistan has an inherent propensity of suggesting new dams, particularly Kalabagh dam as an open-sesame to all water problems of Pakistan.
Water bureaucracy of Pakistan has an inherent propensity of suggesting new dams, particularly Kalabagh dam as an open-sesame to all water problems of Pakistan. Always starting the debate with a non-starter has kept us moving in circles, exchanging stale arguments, stoking acrimonies, trampling trust and widening crevasses among the people and provinces. This explains the frustration of the chairman Wapda that he expressed during the consultation in Hyderabad by lamenting that “unfortunately, there is no harmony among provinces on water issues”.

Achieving the fervently desired harmony needs a process of meaningful engagement with all federating units without smacking premeditated solutions. Disharmony on water issues is rooted in decades of inapt and partisan policies of water bureaucracy nestled in Wapda itself. Over the years, Wapda arrogated itself to janitor and guardian of the interest of one province only. Wapda, rather than acting as a professional entity to safeguard genuine interests of all federating units, emerged as a proxy representative of Punjab province on the most contentious issue of water.
As a national entity its prime responsibility was to stay neutral on controversial projects and uphold higher standards of professional values and competence.

In a fit of becoming pennant bearer of sanctified Kalabagh dam project, it obliterated its integrity and credibility earned during its formative years. Heavily dominated by Punjab-based officials, it produced contradictory and dubious data to justify a dam that is resented and rejected by elected assemblies and people of the three provinces.

Wapda’s relentless pontification on the project not only brought ignominy for the organisation and discredited it as a premier water development entity, it also cultivated a profound distrust among federating units and effectively slammed the doors of a constructive dialogue to find rational solutions. Wapda merits a critical introspection and objective stocktaking of its institutional conduct. Its tainted past has made it a major barrier in fostering consensus and harmony on water controversy in Pakistan.

Water problem of Pakistan is akin to multi organ failure and cannot be cured with the pill of storage alone. There is any array of issues associated with water security of the country that needs multi-disciplinary measures to secure water future of Pakistan. If today Pakistan’s per capita water availability has perilously tumbled from 5294 cubic metres per person in 1951 to little over 1000 cubic metres today; it is not because water has been siphoned out of our system but mainly because our population has bloated from 34 million during the corresponding years.

Similarly, Pakistan’s ageing irrigation infrastructure and obsolete irrigation practices are another major area of concern. Official data shows staggering loss of 65 million acre feet (MAF) in the system. It includes 32 MAF seeping down in the saline water pockets, rendering it unrecoverable for any other use. This amounts to storage capacity of nearly five Kalabagh dams.

Water bureaucracy never concentrates on conserving these five Kalabagh dams being lost to nowhere but keeps clamouring against water flowing below Kotri barrage which is a prerequisite for ecological health of flood plains, wetlands, riverine forest, communities and Indus delta eco-system. This idiosyncrasy stems from an unremitting obsession with new dams and has served only one purpose of vitiating relations between embittered provinces and federation.

Interestingly, the five key recommendations mentioned in the aforementioned report do not include new storages and dams; it rather underlines policy oriented solutions to address water challenges faced by the country.

Water productivity is another missing dimension of the water discourse. Pakistan consumes 90 per cent of water for irrigation/agriculture purpose. Irrigation depicts only input aspect, which dominates the whole debate on water, leaving more critical aspect of output and productivity completely unquestioned. Amid this ruckus, the real point of discussion i.e. output of water has been completely obscured.

Water is a key ingredient of the value chain of agriculture. Since water has remained a priceless commodity therefore the debate remained centred only around supply augmentation of water. Myopic water bureaucracy remains unfazed on dismal water productivity in the country. Pakistan’s productivity per unit of water is only 0.13 kg per cubic meter, which is almost one third of neighbouring India where water productivity is 0.39 kg/m3. China’s productivity is even higher i.e. 0.82 kg/m3. Likewise productivity per unit of land is another ignored parameter. Pakistan produces 2.65 metric tons of wheat per hectare which is lower than 2.91 MT/hectare of India. Ukraine and Uzbekistan produce 3.09 and 4.43 metric tons of wheat per hectare respectively. Pakistan produces 3.64 MT/hectare of rice compared to 4 MT/hectare in Bangladesh and 4.73 in Indonesia.

A similar scrutiny of cropping pattern is also much desirable.
Pakistan grows rice on 2.8 million hectares and sugarcane on 1.1 million hectares. Both are water greedy crops requiring 1500 mm and 1800 mm of water compared to only 480 mm consumed by wheat. Ultimately water is an input ingredient, therefore its value should be measured with its output. The whole debate of new dams becomes futile in absence of discussion on more fundamental issue of productivity of water and land. Pakistan can achieve the end objective of higher yields by enhancing output of water rather than an endless battle over new dams.

Politically inflammable stuff like water needs diligent handling. The prime minister’s water security initiative ought to be liberated from the clutches of rhetorical platitude of supply side solutions that generates only an endless inconclusive debate.

The initiative should focus on non-controversial and non-conventional aspects of water security with an ultimate objective of increasing yield per every drop of water and per acre of land. The initiative can make some meaningful contribution only if it shuns obduracy of past and desist from taking tunnel-view of the multi-dimensional challenge of water security.

Afghanistan-Pakistan earthquake: Village leaders warn children unprotected from freezing conditions

Oct 2015 quake victims (Credit:
Oct 2015 quake victims

Earthquake survivors in Pakistan and Afghanistan have emerged from a third night without shelter, as village leaders warn they have nothing to protect children from the freezing conditions.

Desperate victims have appealed for blankets, warm clothes and food after Monday’s magnitude-7.5 quake ripped through the region, killing nearly 390 people and levelling thousands of homes and forcing many to camp out in the open.

Rugged terrain, severed communication lines and an unstable security situation have impeded relief efforts since the disaster, and local officials said they had few supplies to hand after the region was devastated by floods just three months ago.

“We usually have our own stock but we already consumed it during the floods so we were running out of stock during this earthquake,” said Muhammad Bahadur, an official in the village of Darosh in Chitral, part of the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Mr Bahadur’s village had just 70 tents on hand when the quake struck, he said.

“Around 2,500 houses have been completely destroyed… Imagine how we can satisfy the need with only 70 tents?” he said.

Hundreds of children are now sleeping under the open sky with little protection against sub-zero night-time temperatures, he said.

“We are trying to mobilise NGOs to help them because winter is approaching and it would be unbearable,” he said.

Pakistan’s confirmed death toll so far stands at 267, with more than 1,800 people injured and 11,000 homes damaged, and authorities warn that number could spike with many isolated regions still cut off.

Afghan officials said 115 people were confirmed dead and hundreds more injured, with casualties reported from around half a dozen of the country’s 34 provinces, and more than 7,600 homes reported damaged.

‘Children won’t survive cold’

Aid agencies have warned that shelter and hygiene will be the most pressing needs for survivors in the coming days, with the UN saying children in particular face deadly conditions.

The Pakistan Red Crescent said snow was already falling in some areas across the region, forcing them to wait for the weather to clear before being able to reach out to those communities.

“Winter is coming and soon there will be snow everywhere, the children won’t survive the cold,” Shahroon, a resident of Usiak village in Chitral, told AFP.

Shahroon, who goes by one name, said children in his family as young as four were sleeping outside.

“If we stay here the kids will die… we have lost everything already and can’t afford to see these children die in front of us, they are the only valuables we have now,” he said.

Western charities said the Taliban presence in Afghanistan was hindering relief efforts.

The militants on Wednesday claimed to have overrun the remote district of Darqad in the quake-hit northern province of Takhar, underscoring the fragile security situation facing relief workers.

The insurgents have vowed their fighters would provide “complete help” in affected areas.

Desperate survivors were left marooned on mountaintops in Badakhshan, the remote Afghan province where the epicentre of the earthquake was located and where much of the territory is controlled by the Taliban.

Aid agencies have stressed the need for greater disaster preparedness in war-torn Afghanistan — but it has been a low priority for the nation as it struggles to end a 14-year war against the Taliban insurgents.

The military has been leading Pakistan’s rescue efforts, but residents in Chitral said that with winter fast approaching, they could not afford to waste time.

“We won’t wait for authorities to come,” said 29-year-old driver Lal Jan.

“People here are helping each other… people whose houses survived in the quake provide food and shelter to those who are affected. We all are helping each other to clear rubble from our houses.”

Other survivors are already planning to leave if they do not receive help soon.

Shahroon in Chitral said if the government could help them rebuild before the snow came they would stay, but “otherwise we will go to Rawalpindi or Peshawar or any other city and spend our lives begging on the roads”.

Huge quake jolts north Afghan range

KABUL, Oct 26 — A massive earthquake rocked northeastern Afghanistan on Monday with devastating tremors rippling across the region, leaving more than 145 dead amid collapsed buildings, panicked stampedes and fears of landslides. Officials braced for even more casualties.

The full extent of damage and human toll was not immediately clear as rescue teams tried to assess areas hardest hit by the quake, which had a preliminary magnitude of 7.5 and was centered in a remote area of the Hindu Kush mountains.

Among the victims were 12 students at a girls’ school in northern Afghanistan who died in a frantic dash from shaking buildings.  

“They were not killed by the collapse of the wall or rooms, but died trying to get out under the feet of the others,” said Mohammad Dawood Agha, a senior police official in the Takhar province.

The bulk of the deaths appeared to be in Pakistan, where the army said at least 123 people perished and more than 950 were hurt. Afghanistan officials placed the death tally at about 23 several hours after the temblor.

But the collapse of phone lines and cell phone networks prevented officials from getting details from remote areas under the shadows of summits reaching more than 20,000 feet. Previous major quakes in the region have caused extensive deaths or injuries. The worries include landslides on slopes soaked by recent rains.

“Initial reports, unfortunately, speak of high material and human losses” in northern province and the capital, Kabul, said Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, whose position is equivalent to prime minister in the power-sharing government.

In Pakistan’s scenic northern Gilgit-Baltisan area, there were concerns of widespread damage. Residents reported numerous landslides and avalanches during the quake. One man photographed a huge chunk of rock and ice crashing down into the Hunza Valley, which is surrounded on all sides by snow-capped mountains.

TheU.S. Geographical Survey , which monitors earthquake patterns, put the quake’s preliminary magnitude at 7.5 and placed its epicenter in the mountains of Badakhshan Province, about 160 miles northeast of Kabul near the Afghan-Pakistan border. The area, known as Jurm, is believed to be relatively sparsely populated. It’s also a district where the Taliban have a big presence and has engaged in battles with Afghan security forces this year.

“Yes, the Taliban have presence in Jurm,” said Badakhshan’s governor, Shah Waliullah Adeeb. “But I do not think they will deter any emergency work or rescue operation.”

Death toll mounts after Afghanistan earthquake

A massive earthquake in northeastern Afghanistan caused causalities across the southeast Asian region. Reports of injuries and deaths in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan are mounting in the aftermath of the 7.5-magnitude quake. (Reuters)

Adeeb said more than 1,400 houses have been partially destroyed in his province, including 70 in one village.

“One of the scariest experiences,” tweeted Bilal Sarwary, a freelance Afghan journalist. “Was stuck inside a building during this massive earthquake.”

Afghanistan has long been prone to earthquakes. The last major one struck the nation in March 2002 in Baghlan Province in the north, where more than 1,500 people died. In remote mountainous areas, such has Badakhshan, most Afghans live in mud houses that easily crumble during large quakes. Landslides are also quite common, and in recent weeks there has been much rainfall in the region, exacerbating the impact of an earthquake.

In a statement, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, said he had ordered the country’s armed forces to start carrying out rescue operations “without caring or waiting for orders.”

In Islamabad, the earthquake was felt in two sharp, back-to-back jolts that lasted for about 30 seconds each. There were no immediate reports of damage in the Pakistani capital, but terrified residents ran out in the streets when the shaking began.

“The first shock was mild, but then came the big one, and I screamed, ‘God, Help us.’ I thought it was the end of everything. The house was shaking, the trees and even the earth were shaking,” said Zafar Iqbal, who was working as a supervisor at a local restaurant. “I am still terrified.”

Arifullah, a teacher in Islamabad, said he immediately had a flashback to the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit northern Pakistan in 2005. That earthquake killed 70,000 to 80,000 people.

“We ran outside, and the students ran, too, and turned pale with fear,” said Arifullah, who has only one name. “We kept reciting the verses of the Holy Koran and asked for God’s help and his forgiveness . . . I heard a loud sound, and then all the earth was shaking.”

The U.S. Geological Survey said seven other quakes of magnitude 7 or greater have occurred within 150 miles of Monday’s epicenter, the most recent in March 2002 just 12 miles west of the latest quake zone. More than 150 people died in the 2002 quake.

One factor that could limit the damage was the relative depth of Tuesday’s quake — estimated at about 125 miles below the surface — that may lessen ground shaking, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

In northern India, tremors were felt throughout the region — most severely in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, where widespread power and telephone outages were reported. The national capital region temporarily suspended Metro service in New Delhi as a precaution in the quake’s aftermath.

“I pray for everyone’s safety,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in a Twitter message.

“I have asked for an urgent assessment and we stand ready for assistance where required, including Afghanistan & Pakistan,” Modi said in his second tweet. The Indian military had responded in force after the Nepal earthquake earlier this year, assisting with helicopter rescue missions and providing humanitarian aid.

In April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal claimed more than 9,000 lives and left some mountain villages cut off from aid for days.

Sayed Salahuddin and Mohammad Sharif in Kabul, Annie Gowen in New Delhi and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

Ten years on…

Balakot after quake (Credit:
Balakot after quake
October 8, 2005 evokes poignant memories of a devastating earthquake that jolted northern parts of the country early morning. Ten years on, thoughts of that day continue to shake millions of hearts of those who lost their loved ones in the tragic incident.

The jolt measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale catapulted the Himalayan region of northern Pakistan and Kashmir. The area was also hit by more than 1000 aftershocks of varying intensity. Its epicenter was located approximately 19 km north-northeast of the city of Muzaffarabad. The heavily shaken areas include Muzaffarabad, Neelum, Bagh, Poonch, Shangla, Abbottabad, Mansehra, Batagram, Balakot, Allai, Besham and Kohistan. The official death toll stood at 73,350 whereas approximately 138,000 were injured and over 3.5 million were affected, including 2.8 million rendered homeless.

According to official figures, 19,000 children died when school buildings collapsed. The earthquake affected more than 500,000 families. The total area affected was 30,000 km, including a range of unprecedented damage and destruction, including half a million houses, 782 health facilities and more than 6,298 schools and colleges. Approximately 90 per cent of the destroyed or damaged housing were located in rural areas. The total estimated cost of losses was around US$ 5.2 billion, including immediate relief, death and injury compensation, emergency medical care, reconstruction and restoration of livelihoods.

Although a range of variables determine the scale of destruction, colossal losses inflicted on life and property cannot be simply attributed to a natural phenomenon. A deeper analysis of death and destruction caused by this earthquake unmasks human factors responsible for the intensity of the disaster.

Numerous incidents have proved that actually human factors convert a natural hazard into a disaster.

Several studies conducted after the disaster examined the failed buildings and other public structures. All these studies verified that substandard and seismically insensitive construction resulted in the massive catastrophe. Most of the buildings were built in contravention to basic prerequisites of a seismically active zone.

The area has a history of earthquakes and vulnerability of such structures was glaringly obvious. Over the time, indigenous lighter weight, timber-laced structures were replaced by heavier masonry and reinforced concrete buildings. These structures though provide better insulation against harsh weather, they make the people more vulnerable to earthquakes, if built recklessly.

Most of the so-called modern structures failed miserably whereas traditional local structures like dhajji-dewari, beetar and batar performed far better and suffered far less damage. Modern RCC structures, if not built diligently prove to be more lethal than traditional structures. Lack of affordability and knowledge, terrain-bound limitations of transporting material from other areas and modern construction methods sans seismic-sensitive treatment result in hazardous construction practices.

Dry stone masonry and mud mortar is more common in rural areas. Since kiln backed ‘A’ class bricks are not available, locally found polygonal semi-dressed stones with pebbles as cavity-fill material are widely used as building material in rural areas of the affected region. Even in the case of reinforced concrete structures in urban areas, fine details of reinforcement were generally ignored.

Apart from construction practices and quality, location of structures on precarious slopes also caused severe damages due to land sliding, rock sliding and subsidence.

In Muzaffarabad, major concentrations of damage were noticed in the areas of deeper alluvial deposits along rivers Jhelum and Neelum. In Balakot and some other towns, the damage was directly related to fault rupture. Reasons of damage varied with the location (slopes, valleys), construction methods and use of material.

In the post-earthquake reconstruction, Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) preferred embedding risk reduction techniques with local construction methods and materials rather than introducing completely alien structures. Local labour was trained to mesh risk reduction techniques with traditional structures and it worked well. Post-earthquake construction merits a comprehensive research to assess the efficacy of the approach and construction techniques. This learning can be useful for future incidents of similar nature.

A comprehensive research paper “General observations of building behaviour during the 8th October 2005 Pakistan earthquake” authored by Jitendra K Bothara and Kubilây MO Hiçyılmaz provides copious evidences of building failure ascribed to flagrant violation of construction standards.

The authors very succinctly narrate the cause of devastation by concluding that “the root causes of the disaster were a failure to appreciate the earthquake hazard in the area, the techno-legal regime, lack of dissemination of earthquake-resistant knowledge, poor quality control mechanisms, and blind trust in certain construction materials and structural systems. Often, there was no real understanding of the sensitiveness to quality for the various construction methods (and, in particular, for the more recent methods of construction), nor was there any real evidence of an understanding of how structures behave during earthquakes. Socio-cultural and economic reasons further exacerbated the problem. It was a classic/tragic case of total failure of knowledge dissemination on earthquake-resistant construction through virtually all levels of society and, in particular, the engineering community.”
In Pakistan, construction industry in rural areas is generally bereft of any regulation. Whereas in urban areas building standards are sufficiently delineated yet are conveniently evaded by individuals as well as construction contractors. Negligence, corruption, cost saving and profit maximisation mania have allowed the risky structures to proliferate.

Sprawling slum areas in urban centres are controlled by an array of mafia that enjoys complete impunity. Prohibitively expensive land is a major cause of rampant vertical growth in urban areas. These tall structures with sheer imbalance of height-width ratio are often erected without proper examination of soil behaviour coupled by a foundation incommensurate with live and dead load of structures.

Building control authorities in cahoots with builders wring every inch of a structure to extract money. This unscrupulous business is the hallmark of urban construction industry in the country. Experience has abundantly proved that neither building codes nor capacity of engineers and masons but refractory corruption is the principle cause behind failure of modern reinforced concrete structures in the country.

Governance in an ever growing construction sector is almost non-existent.
Islamabad, the federal capital, is no less victim of this menace. In 2005, famous Margalla tower caved in due to the earthquake that originated 100kms away from the site. A dream housing tower, one of the most expensive in the city, proved to be a brazen failure of construction standards. Evidences are in abundance that the main culprit — the builder — was able to manipulate everything while working inside the development agency responsible for the capital territory. The reprehensible deed was exposed only after the earthquake shook the ground. Had the epicentre been closer, disaster could have been manifold in the illusory safe city.

In cities like Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Multan and Hyderabad such deadly towers pervade the skyline. Similarly unsafe medium and low rise structures are a norm dotting every city map in the country. All these badly engineered structures can become a potential source of havoc in case of any earthquake or other hazard. Cities like Karachi and Quetta located in the proximity of fault lines are exposed to a perennial risk of earthquake. Karachi is additionally vulnerable to tsunami and cyclones as well.

The fatal earthquake exhorted authorities to revisit the building codes in vogue. A major learning ushered in the revision of seismic zoning of country and supplanting building codes with seismic provisions. The erstwhile seismic risk map of Pakistan divided the whole country into four zones (Zone-1 to Zone-4, representing low to high seismicity). However, most of the areas obliterated by earthquake were marked in Zone-3. ERRA revised risk zoning in accordance with new seismic grid for the country.
Concomitantly the Pakistan Building Code (PBC, 2007) was also improvised to feature seismic factors.

Bespoke seismic zones and building codes will serve the purpose only if regulatory regime is made stringent. Building standards cannot be improved only by introducing laws and codes unless the same are practiced with perfection and diligently monitored by the concerned authorities.

Pakistan has a pathetic track record of land use planning and quality of public and private housing. Corrupt regulatory bodies are not only incapable of executing their functions, they are also rendered paraplegic by debilitating external interference. Regulating land and builder mafia is not just a matter of institutional capacity but more of a conspicuously absent political will. If past cannot be corrected, future can at least be prudently adjusted for posterity

In Karachi, a Fatal Mix of Heat and Piety

KARACHI, Pakistan — WHEN I go to buy my drinking water, I don’t ask for water. I ask for Nestlé. Then I drive home with five 20-liter plastic bottles and make sure that we make every cup of tea, and all our ice, from this water. Like other people in this city, I believe the tap water is poisonous. During the summer, many of us follow the practice of putting out a water cooler on the street for passers-by. There are chic restaurants, cafes and art galleries in my neighborhood, but not a single public source of clean drinking water. Street vendors, security guards, trash pickers and maids rushing from one job to another often stop by to have a drink from this cooler. Like most such water coolers, mine is secured with a padlock; even the plastic tumbler is tied to it with a small chain.

Ramzan, the holy month of fasting known as Ramadan in the Arabic-speaking world, started last week, and like everyone else, I stopped putting out the water cooler. I did think about the people who wouldn’t be fasting and the non-Muslims not obliged to fast. But I didn’t think much. I removed the cooler because everyone does. There is the Respect of Ramzan Ordinance, which says you may be sent to prison for a few months if you eat or drink during fasting hours, or if you give someone something to eat or drink. I don’t really think I removed the cooler for fear of the ordinance: God knows, like every middle-class, privileged Pakistani, I flout enough laws. I did it because it would hurt the sensibility of those who fast.

Many of the 1,000 people who have died in the recent heat wave in Karachi died because of this sensibility: Some people were reluctant to ask for a drink of water, others were reluctant to offer it to them. You can’t blame them. Even if they could get past their inhibitions, there was no water to be had. All the little tea stalls, roadside restaurants, small juice or snack vendors disappear from the streets during fasting hours. In this month you can walk miles without finding a sip of water. And Karachi has developed in a way that you can also walk miles without finding any shade to cool down. Trees have been cut down to widen roads, overpasses have gobbled up footpaths; there are few shaded bus stops. Without water and without shade, while fasting or pretending to fast, people going to and coming back from work just fell on the streets and died.

Karachi is known for killing its residents, but weather had never been its weapon of choice. It is the world’s third-largest city, and its population has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, to 20 million. People come here to survive even though they know it can be a dangerous place. They leave bombed-out villages in the tribal north or parched hamlets in South Punjab to come settle at the edge of sewers in unplanned slums and make a living, mostly in daily wages, building malls or guarding them. Karachi hosts refugees from countries as diverse as Afghanistan and Myanmar. One reason so many have flocked to the city is that the weather has always been hospitable. You can sleep on the streets year round. Winter is only a rumor. Summer is hot and humid, but usually bearable out in the open with the breeze from the Arabian Sea.

The highest recorded temperature during the current heat wave in Karachi was 45 degrees Celsius, or 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Other towns in Pakistan have recorded temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, without ever suffering the kind of catastrophe that struck here. The victims, mostly poor and working class, needed some shade, a drink of water and a bit of time to slow down. But shade and a respite from work are hard to come by in Karachi — even in the month of Ramzan, the work of being a megacity must go on.

Thousands of construction workers dangle from high-rises. Traffic constables stand on city squares. Private security guards sit outside banks and offices. All in the heat, with no shade. When it is not Ramzan, these workers usually carry a bottle of water. When it is Ramzan, they don’t. When it is Ramzan, the eateries where they could score a free drink are shut. And when it is Ramzan, all the kindhearted people take away their coolers.

Since an overwhelming majority of those who died were poor, nobody is calling for an investigation or rethinking how the city is growing. The victims were just dehydrated and not sensible enough to protect themselves against the harsh weather. They don’t count as martyrs, according to religious authorities, even though they died during the holy month, many of them while fasting. The media express indignation, but over power breakdowns: the assumption being that with enough electricity these people wouldn’t have left their air-conditioned rooms and would have had chilled water to drink. Just as we kindhearted people do.

But it really wasn’t the lack of electricity or even the heat that killed these 1,000 people. What killed them was the forced piety enshrined in our law and Karachi’s contempt for the working poor. These people died because we long ago removed any shade that could shelter them from the June sun and then took away their drinking water. When they were about to die, we rushed them to hospitals in ambulances paid for by charities and gave them medicines paid for by charities. We gave them white sheets to recuperate in if they survived, and when they didn’t, those white sheets became their shrouds. Karachi’s hospitals are now awash with chilled bottles of Nestlé water donated by the kindhearted people of the city, but you still can’t get a drink of water on the streets.

Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.”

Karachi Heat Wave Death Toll Tops 650, Officials Say

Karachi heat wave kills hundreds (Credit:
Karachi heat wave kills hundreds

KARACHI, June 23— Karachi’s poor have long learned to cope with the many adversities that afflict Pakistan’s most crowded and chaotic city, including flooding, street violence and political crises. But since a suffocating heat wave descended on Karachi three days ago, killing at least 650 people, they have found no respite and no escape.

“It’s so hot,” said a security guard, Shamim ur-Rehman, 34, as he sat on a cot, beleaguered. “There is no fan, there is nothing. I can’t sleep at night or during the day.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared an emergency on Tuesday as the death toll from the heat wave soared, with overwhelmed hospitals struggling to treat a surge of casualties and morgues filling to capacity. The army set up emergency treatment centers in the streets and the provincial government closed schools and city offices.

The Edhi foundation, which runs an ambulance service and Karachi’s largest morgue, said it had collected over 600 bodies in recent days.

“The first to die were the people on the streets — heroin addicts, beggars, the homeless,” said Anwar Kazmi, a spokesman for the service. “Then it was the elderly, particularly those who didn’t have anyone to take care of them.”

In many ways, the emergency is the product of a perfect storm of meteorological, political and religious factors in Karachi.

Chronic shortages of water and electricity have exacerbated the impact of the heat wave, which has brought temperatures up to 45 Celsius, or 113 degrees Fahrenheit, in a crowded city of 20 million people that is normally ventilated by a seabreeze.

The health dangers are further exacerbated by the demands of the annual Ramadan fast, when most Muslims abstain from eating or drinking water during daylight hours.

In Karachi, that means about 15 hours with no source of hydration — a factor that has particularly affected manual laborers and street vendors, who work outside under the sun.

Dr. Seemin Jamali, head of the Jinnah hospital’s emergency wing, said 272 people had died there from heat-related conditions, including dehydration. The smaller Abbasi Shaheed Hospital said 56 bodies had been brought in since Monday night.

Officials said the majority of the victims were men over the age of 50, especially day laborers from lower-income groups.

Although Karachi residents are used to dealing with other emergencies — stockpiling groceries, for example, during bouts of street violence — they seemed at a loss for how to manage the extended heat wave.

The electricity shortages are the product of decades-long mismanagement of Pakistan’s national grid, and are often worse at dusk when many people are cooking in preparation for the end of the fast.

Not only do the power cuts make air-conditioning units and ceiling fans useless, they also reduce the water supply by shutting down pumps. Ice is in short supply and being sold for a premium in many neighborhoods.

As the death toll rose over the weekend, many residents opted to stay indoors or congregate at centrally air-conditioned malls. But that wasn’t a choice for manual laborers, who make as little as $10 a day and try to keep themselves cool as they work by wrapping wet towels around their heads to stave off the sun.

Political anger over the crisis focused on the government of Mr. Sharif, who had pledged to reduce the energy crisis when he came to power two years ago.

Syed Qaim Ali Shah, the chief minister of Sindh Province, which includes Karachi, blamed Mr. Sharif for failing to get better results from K-electric, the private company that runs the city’s electricity supply.

Addressing Parliament in the capital, Islamabad, Mr. Sharif’s officials dismissed the criticism, instead blaming Mr. Shah’s administration for failing to manage its affairs. Khawaja Asif, the national minister for water and power, said he had no direct control over K-electric.

On the streets, people blamed politicians of all stripes. Over the past year, Mr. Sharif’s government has frequently appeared impotent during moments of crisis. By contrast, the powerful military, led by Gen. Raheel Sharif, has become an increasingly assertive force in public life.

Amid the political finger pointing, some media commentators called on politicians to voluntarily cut off their own electricity and experience the hardship endured by ordinary people. Some journalists fell victim to the heat, too, like a cameraman iwho fainted during an official news conference in Karachi on Tuesday afternoon.

Most residents, meanwhile, concentrated on escaping the suffocating heat. Television coverage showed residents fleeing their flats and houses to seek shelter in the open streets.

“We try and sit in the shade,” said Mohammad Yusuf, 32, a laborer who works on a moving crew with a pickup truck. “We went all the way near the port today and sat under a tree for three hours.”

At the Jinnah hospital, Dr. Jamali said her staff had treated over 5,000 patients between Saturday and Monday. The heat, not the fasting, was the principal factor in the deaths, she said.

Although many continued to fast, others quietly admitted that they were unable to cope with the demands of their faith. Subah Sadiq, a fruit vendor and father of seven, said it was impossible to stand in the street all day without drinking anything.

“This is the only way to survive,” he said.

Even for those not fasting, staying hydrated is a challenge: under Pakistani law, eating and drinking in public places are illegal during Ramadan, although some clerics said their followers could break the fast if their health was in danger.

Mr. Rehman, the building watchman, was refusing to give up.

“As long as I have some life in me, and strong intentions, I will fast,” he said.

One small glimmer of good news came from the weather service. Although hot weather is due to continue through this week, officials said, a small amount of rainfall was predicted for Karachi and surrounding cities for late Tuesday night.

Delhi Wakes Up to an Air Pollution Problem It Cannot Ignore

Pollution on Indo Pak border (Credit:
Pollution on Indo Pak border (Credit:

NEW DELHI, India, Feb 14  — For years, this sprawling city on the Yamuna River had the dirtiest air in the world, but few who lived here seemed conscious of the problem or worried about its consequences.

Now, suddenly, that has begun to change. Some among New Delhi’s Indian and foreign elites have started to wear the white surgical masks so common in Beijing. The United States Embassy purchased 1,800 high-end air purifiers in recent months for staff members’ homes, with many other major embassies following suit.

Some embassies, including Norway’s, have begun telling diplomats with children to reconsider moving to the city, and officials have quietly reported a surge in diplomats choosing to curtail their tours. Indian companies have begun ordering filtration systems for their office buildings.

“My business has just taken off,” said Barun Aggarwal, director of BreatheEasy, a Delhi-based air filtration company. “It started in the diplomatic community, but it’s spread to the high-level Indian community, too.”


The Delhi skyline is hidden on a November morning. A study will look at reducing exhaust from trucks, a major source of pollution. Credit Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The increased awareness of the depth of India’s air problems even led Indian diplomats, who had long expressed little interest in climate and pollution discussions with United States officials, to suddenly ask the Americans for help in cleaning India’s air late last year, according to participants in the talks. So when President Obama left Delhi after a visit last month, he could point to a series of pollution agreements, including one to bring the United States system for measuring pollution levels to many Indian cities and another to help study ways to reduce exhaust from trucks, a major source of urban pollution.

One driver for the change is a deluge of stories in Indian and international news outlets over the last year about Delhi’s air problems. Those articles, once rare, now appear almost daily, reporting such news as spikes in hospital visits for asthma and related illnesses. One article about Mr. Obama’s visit focused on how, by one scientist’s account, he might have lost six hours from his expected life span after spending three days in Delhi.

“We felt this was an issue we should take up, and we have taken it up,” said Arindam Sengupta, executive editor of The Times of India, whose campaign against air pollution has helped give prominence to the problem.

But Nicholas Dawes, a top editor at The Hindustan Times, said the media coverage was just one reason for the attitude shift. “I think the people of Delhi are increasingly unwilling to tolerate tough circumstances,” he said.

At least so far, that has not translated into much meaningful action by the government. In fact, the problem is likely to get worse as the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi works to reboot the economy. His government recently promised to double its use of coal over the next five years.

But Dr. Joshua S. Apte, an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, who has studied Delhi’s air pollution since 2007, said recognition was a start. “The thing that gives me greatest hope is the huge increase in awareness that I’ve seen in Delhi just in the past year,” he said.

Delhi’s air is the world’s most toxic in part because of high concentrations of PM2.5, particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that is believed to pose the greatest health risk because it penetrates deeply into lungs. While Beijing’s air quality has generated more headlines worldwide, scientists say New Delhi’s air is often significantly worse, especially during the winter, when choking smog often settles over the sprawling city.

Four city monitors found an average PM2.5 level of 226 micrograms per cubic meter between Dec. 1 and Jan. 30 — a level the United States Environmental Protection Agency calls “very unhealthy” and during which children should avoid outdoor activity. The average in Beijing for the period was 95, according to the United States Embassy monitor there.

Indeed, there has not been a single 30-day period in Beijing over the past two years during which the average PM2.5 level was as bad as it was in December and January in Delhi.

Worse yet, the numbers tell only half the story because Delhi’s PM2.5 particles are far more dangerous than those from many other locales because of the widespread burning of garbage, coal and diesel fuel that results in high quantities of toxins such as sulfur, dioxins and other carcinogenic compounds, said Dr. Sarath Guttikunda, director of Urban Emissions, an independent research group based in Delhi.

“Delhi’s air is just incredibly toxic,” said Dr. Guttikunda, who recently moved to Goa to protect his two young children from Delhi’s air. “People in Delhi are increasingly aware that the air is bad, but they have no idea just how catastrophically bad it really is.”

Already, an estimated 1.5 million people die annually in India, about one-sixth of all Indian deaths, as a result of both outdoor and the indoor air pollution, a problem caused in part by the widespread use of cow dung as cooking fuel. The country has the world’s highest death rate from chronic respiratory diseases, and more deaths from asthma than any other nation, according to the World Health Organization. Air pollution also contributes to both chronic and acute heart disease, the leading cause of death in India.

Delhi residents attribute their longtime stoicism about the city’s pollution to a combination of fatalism, loyalty to their city and a sense of immunity.

Veena Dogra, 65, notices that family members who visit from abroad snuffle and sneeze, and she is aware that her usual black nasal discharge stops when she leaves India, and returns when she does. But she said she eventually forgets the contrast between Delhi and everywhere else, which is why she resists her daughters’ suggestions that she buy air purifiers or wear masks.

“Am I going to shut myself into just one room in my house?” Ms. Dogra asked. “You have to be tough to live in Delhi. If you’re not, you should leave. And I have too much family here to think about doing that.”

Dr. Anupama Hooda Nehra, director of medical oncology at Max Cancer Center in New Delhi, said she joined a morning cancer fund-raising walk this month even though she ended her own morning walks last year because she decided they were doing more harm than good and could encourage a cancer’s growth. “But I had to go to the fund-raiser because it was supported by my hospital,” she said. “And I worried that if I wore a mask, I would scare everyone since I’m an oncologist. It’s hard to know what to do.”


Dr. Nehra said her greatest worry is that her daughters, ages 14 and 8, will suffer lifelong effects from living in Delhi, a concern that has increasingly spooked Delhi’s expatriate community.

After Dr. Apte gave a presentation about Delhi’s air pollution to a hall packed with anxious parents recently at the American Embassy School, the administration invested in indoor air filters and increasingly restricts children’s outdoor activities when pollution levels are especially high. Even so, the sidelines during school soccer games are lined with players’ medicinal inhalers.

“I’m surprised kids there can even play soccer,” said Dr. James Gauderman, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California and an author of a landmark 2004 study on the effects of air pollution on children’s lungs.

In his study, Dr. Gauderman found that children raised in towns with PM2.5 levels of 30 had substantial reductions in lung function compared with those raised in towns with levels of 5. In the decade since his study was published, “we don’t see any evidence that functional loss is reversed,” Dr. Gauderman said. “The deficit appears to be permanent. I can’t imagine what that deficit would be with pollution levels almost 10 times higher. No one has studied that.”