Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pakistan's media under siege: 34 killed since 2008

Sarfraz ali
As many as 34 Pakistani journalists have been killed and dozes more have received death threats, abduction, torturing and assassination attempts from all sides including intelligence services, political parties and armed groups like the Taliban since the democracy was restored in 2008, Amnesty International said in a new report today.
In only one case those responsible have been brought to justice. A bullet has been chosen for you’: Attacks on journalists in Pakistan, describes how the Pakistani authorities have almost completely failed to stem human rights abuses against media workers or to bring those responsible to account.
Amnesty International has documented 34 cases of journalists being killed in Pakistan in response to their work since the restoration of democratic rule in 2008, but only in one case have the perpetrators been brought to justice.
But these killings are just the most brutal statistic – many more journalists have been threatened, harassed, abducted, tortured or escaped assassination attempts in the same period.
“Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege. Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.
“The constant threat puts journalists in an impossible position, where virtually any sensitive story leaves them at risk of violence from one side or another.”
The report is based on extensive field research into over 70 cases and interviews with over 100 media workers in Pakistan. It examines several recent cases where journalists have been targeted for their reporting by a range of actors.
Numerous journalists interviewed by Amnesty International complained of harassment or attacks by individuals they claimed were connected to the feared military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). While some are featured in the report with names changed, others could not be included even under a false name because they feared for their lives.
The spy agency has been implicated in several abductions, torture and killings of journalists, but no serving ISI officials has ever been held to account – allowing it to effectively operate beyond the reach of the law. Human rights violations against journalists by the ISI often follow a familiar pattern that starts with threatening phone calls and escalates into abductions, torture and other ill-treatment, and in some cases killings.
Journalists are also victims of human rights abuses by non-state groups across the country. Aggressive competition for media space means that powerful political actors across the country put severe pressure on journalists for favourable coverage. In Karachi, supporters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) religious group and others stand accused of harassing or killing journalists they consider critical.
In conflict-ridden regions in the northwest and Balochistan province, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and ethnic Baloch armed groups openly threaten reporters with death and attack them in retaliation for seeking to highlight their abuses or not promoting their ideology. Journalists in Pakistan’s heartland of the Punjab have also faced threats from the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi-linked groups.
Despite the wave of violence and attacks, the Pakistani authorities have largely failed to hold perpetrators to account. In the overwhelming number of cases researched by Amnesty International, authorities rarely adequately investigated threats or attacks or brought those responsible to justice.
Only in a handful of high-profile cases have more thorough investigations been carried out, and only after public outrage has made it impossible for authorities not to act.
“The government has promised to improve the dire situation for journalists, including by establishing a public prosecutor tasked with investigating attacks against journalists. But few concrete steps have been taken,” said David Griffiths.
“A critical step will be for Pakistan to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice. This will send a powerful signal to those who target journalists that they no longer have free reign.”
Media enterprises operating in Pakistan must also ensure they provide adequate training, support and assistance to journalists, in an important, practical step towards addressing the risk of abuses while they are at work.
“Without these urgent steps, Pakistan’s media could be intimidated into silence. The climate of fear has already had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the broader struggle to expose human rights abuses across Pakistan,” said David Griffiths. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Youth come up with solutions to address global challenges

More than 60 youth from diverse backgrounds came together in Kathmandu, Nepal, over the weekend to compete in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) International SpaceApps Challenge. The two-day Kathmandu Hackathon was organized the other day by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and YoungInnovations in collaboration with CSIT Association of Nepal (CSITAN) and Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN).
The challenges provided by NASA were divided into five categories: Technology in Space, Human Space Flight, Asteroids, Earth Watch, and Robotics. The participants included developers, students with knowledge of Geographic Information System (GIS), engineering students, and entrepreneurs. They were divided into 16 teams and used publicly available data to design innovative solutions to address global challenges.
On the second day the teams presented their applications to a panel of four judges who selected team G10E with the project ‘Clean City’ as the winner of the SpaceApps Challenge 2014. The team was awarded a cash prize of NPR 30,000.  Team Cool Nepal, the first runners-up, and Team the Maker, the second runners-up, were awarded NPR 20,000 and NPR 10,000 respectively. Based on votes on social media, team Geo Trackers won the popular choice award.
Team G10E and Cool Nepal will now join the global International SpaceApps Challenge and will compete against 180 teams from around the globe.
Opening the event, the Director of SERVIR-Global, Dan Irwin, said the event offered bright young minds an opportunity to work with others from around the world to come up with innovative applications.
Speaking at the closing event, ICIMOD’s Director Strategic Cooperation Basanta Shrestha talked about the role of space technologies in forecasting natural disasters and reducing their impact.
Basanta Shrestha announced that in due course of time ICIMOD will select three innovative applications that link to ICIMOD’s thematic areas and extend financial support to develop them further.
The event, organized within the framework of SERVIR-Himalaya – an initiative supported by NASA and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), aimed to improve environmental decision making in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. The event attracted aspiring developers from colleges and organizations who were building both software and hardware-related applications.
“It was exciting and fun for me, it gave me opportunity to discuss my problems with other developers, and what I have learned here will be useful for me in the future,” said Ashim Sitoula, an 18-year old student from Universal College of Preparatory School in Kathmandu.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Pakistan get minor aid for water and sanitation

Sarfraz Ali

Water aid disclosed in a report that only $0.53 has been received in water and sanitation aid for each person in Pakistan on average for the years 2010-2012”, unveiled a startling new report, Bridging the Divide, released by the international development charity WaterAid on the eve of World Water Day.
This is despite, 15.1 million people in Pakistan (8% of the population) not having access to clean drinking water and 92.8 million (53% of the population) going without basic access to sanitation.
The report argues that international water and sanitation aid is failing to reach those in greatest need, exacerbating global inequalities rather than reducing them.
Overall, Pakistan has received on average $94.15 million per year in water and sanitation aid, for the years 2010-2012. While Mauritius, which has a smaller population of just 1.3 million, received a comparable $73.8 million on average over this period, even though its rates of access to basic sanitation is over 90% and access to clean drinking water is above 99%.
Mr. Siddiq Ahmed Khan, Country Representative, WaterAid in Pakistan said: “The stated aim of international aid is to help the world’s poor break out of poverty and to live healthy and productive lives – and to positively address our fundamentally unequal world. With over 40,000 children under the age of five dying every year in Pakistan because of a lack of access to clean drinking water, basic sanitation and hygiene why is not more water and sanitation aid being targeted at those who are desperately waiting for these essential services in our country?” Over 400 people take part in World Walks for Water and Sanitation events in Lahore Pakistan on World Water day in solidarity with the people who are still forced to walk for water. During the side events with Legislators where 20 Parliamentarian of Punjab Assembly participated, they also wow to work to end water poverty and also supported in demanding universal and sustainable access to water and sanitation.
Despite globally 1 in 10 people lacking access to clean drinking water, and more than 1 in 3 without access to basic sanitation, most donors still allocate relatively low priority to aid spending to tackle this crisis, accounting in 2012 for just 6% of overall donor aid.
In addition, much of the promised aid fails to be delivered. Over the past decade donors have failed – for reasons unclear – to pass on a third of the money they pledged to spend on water and sanitation aid, or US$27.6 billion out of the US$81.2 billion since 2002 that has been committed.
The WaterAid report comes ahead of crucial discussions at the World Bank in Washington in April (10-11) where the Sanitation and Water for All partnership will hold its third High-Level WaterAid in Pakistan is calling for a dedicated goal on universal access to water and sanitation, as part of the new global post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals so that everyone, everywhere has access to these life giving necessities no later than 2030.
Meanwhile, “Bridging the Divide-using aid flows to tackle extremes in global water and sanitation scarcity”, the analysis highlights six countries that fall into all six categories, which includes DR Congo, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Niger and Tanzania. Seven countries are in five of the categories: Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda and India, and a further ten are in four of the six categories of need: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
The report adds: “Safe drinking water and sanitation are human rights and critical determinants of development prospects, yet they remain distant, unattainable luxuries for hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest citizens. Although World Water Day 2014 sees over six billion people enjoying daily access to improved drinking water and the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target for water achieved ahead of schedule, the overall picture is one of a major divide: abundance, even excess for some, yet scarcity or complete absence of safe water for others”. Global report stated that the inequality of access is one of the enduring characteristics of the sector. A typical person among the 768 million trapped in water poverty in developing countries is forced to rely on five litres of unsafe water a day, yet her counterpart in a high-income European country is likely to consume up to 30 times that amount of clean, safe water. This in turn leads to wide differences in the prevalence of water-related disease: diarrhoea is the second largest cause of child mortality in developing countries, responsible for over 800,000 deaths a year, yet it represents minimal risk and threat to children in high-income countries.
India, the legacy of discrimination and funding shortages has left scheduled castes and tribes disproportionately affected. In Nepal, certain remote villages in the Himalayan region receive no funding for water and sanitation from the government, donors or non-governmental organisations. There is a major gender divide too. Women and girls bear the main responsibility for collecting water in Sub-Saharan Africa, shouldering over 70% of the burden.
The global report also carries recommendations, which include: Commit to achieving universal access to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030, with a dedicated goal in the post-2015 development framework: Water, sanitation and hygiene are essential for health, welfare and livelihoods. Yet too many people do not have these basic human rights. After 2015, we must do better, and the international community should commit to a dedicated goal on universal access to water and sanitation in the post-2015 development framework.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Groundwater depletion: another crisis looming in Pakistan

LAHORE: The depletion of groundwater in Pakistan is likely to set an alarm bells ringing in the newly elected government which is already hit hard by massive power shortage, terrorism and economic downturn.
The underground water in is running out on fast pace as per capita availability of water drops to 990 cubic meters in 2013 as compared to 5,650 cubic meters in 1947. While India has 1,600 cubic metres of water per person per year while major European countries have up to twice as much ranging from 2,300 cubic metres in Germany to 3,000 cubic metres in France.
Owing to lurking water crises, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has placed Pakistan in red zone categorizing it as water-stressed country which is likely to face an acute water shortage over the next five years due to the lack of water availability for irrigation, industry and human consumption. If the downward trend prevails, it is likely that ground water table will nosedive more and in the result per capita availability will touch 800 cubic metres by 2020.
Moreover, the United Nations has lined up Pakistan among the “water hotspots” of Asia-Pacific Region, saying that the country faces major threats of increasing water scarcity, high water utilisation, deteriorating water quality and climate change risk.
According to Punjab irrigation department, Pakistan’s important government entity that monitors the level and quality of water before 1947, water table is going down 3 feet per year. Quoting the example of Lahore, most urbanised and densely populated city of Pakistan, it said that 20 years back water is extracted at 20 or 40 feet and now drilling has to be done at 800 feet to reach the water. Unchecked installation of tube wells aggravated situation.  As per estimates, there is a continuous increase in the development of groundwater irrigation by tube wells. In the country the numbers of public and private tube wells installed (as per the source of Economic survey of Pakistan) in 2000-01 were 659,278 while in 2012-13 the amount of tube wells installed rose to 1175,073.  With this phenomenon annual extraction of water has swelled up to 51 million-acre feet of water.
Irrigation Research Institute (IRI) deputy director Dr. Muhammad Javed said that multiple reasons accounted for the water depletion. “One of the major one is over-extraction or over-pumping of ground water. Water is being sucked out but recharge system that refill the ground water is not in place or mismanaged. Total discharge (withdrawal) of ground water is at 37 Million Acres Feet (MAF) against recharge (refilling) at 30 MAF, he added and said that it showed that a big gap is between discharge and recharge system.
Second vital cause for water scarcity is poor planning to store water. Pakistan has just 3 dams and scores of small barrages as compared to china having 22,000 and India 4,200 small and big dams. “Pakistan’s storage capacity is just for 30 days, whereas India has the ability to store water for 120-220 days,” Water and Power Development Authority Engineer Dr Rahim Buksh responded to a query. Meanwhile, Egypt has 1,000 days water storage capacity only on River Nile, America 900 days on River Colorado, Australia 600 and South Africa has the ability to store water for 500 days on River Orange.
“The per capita storage capacity in the United States stands at 6,150 cubic metres, in Australia 5,000 cubic metres but in Pakistan it is just 132 cubic metres that show how vulnerable 180 million Pakistanis are in terms of water availability,” he went on saying.
Sedimentation is also adding the existing problem. The WAPDA document discloses that Pakistan has also lost its capacity to store water by 27 percent (4.37 million feet of water) from 16.28 MAF to 11.91 MAF because of sedimentation, as 4.99 MAF gets stored in the Mangla Dam alone. Tarbela was built in 1974 with the storage capacity of 9.69 MAF, which has now reduced in 2011 by 31 percent (3.02 MAF) to 6.77 MAF. Mangla Dam that was built in 1967 with the capacity to store water of 5.87 million acres feet of water has witnessed reduction in its storage capacity by 15 percent (0.88MAF) to 4.99 MAF. Likewise, Chashma barrage was built in 1971 with the ability to store 0.72 MAF water but owing to the sedimentation, its storage capacity has dwindled by 65 percent (0.47MAF) to just 0.25MAF.
 The document also predicts that Pakistan will lose more capacity to store water by up to 37 percent (5.95MAF) in 2025, if water managers of the country did not correct the policies and built the dams on Pakistan rivers. “It is more unfortunate that the top political leadership and establishment are not paying heed towards improving the water storage capacity of the country,” Mr. Buksh added.
When talked to Director Rana Muhammad Iqbal at Directorate of Land Reclamation, part of Irrigation Department of Punjab, considered custodian of water strongly recommended the construction of Kalabagh dam as sole solution to resolve water storage and its infringe benefits in terms of rising groundwater table in Pakistan.
He said that cropping intensity was also another factor playing its role in drastic reduction of water table. “Earlier cropping intensity was 66 percent which means that we cultivate crop one time in a year and farmer needed average water to irrigate lands. Now cropping intensity rose up to 150 to 200 percent showing the fact that in one year more than 3 or 4 crops are cultivated and to meet growing demand of water, excessive water has to be extracted,” he added   In Pakistan Punjab, more than 50% of crop water requirement comes from groundwater, producing the majority of food in Pakistan. If  irrigated lands suffers water shortage, Pakistan will have to face massive food insecurity.
Most crucial reason for water table decrease is non-existence of legislation. Ground water makes up 55 percent and surface water accounts for 45 percent of total water. It is astonishing fact that there are lot of rules and regulation for surface water but to regulate ground water, no law does exist. None of successive government bothered to evolve even a basic infrastructure for groundwater, Environment department official Nasim Shah said.
Over extraction of ground water has caused fast depletion of aquifer which has raised alarming levels of bacterial contamination. Though, the surface water is available, but due to ill planning and mismanaging the cheaper sources of surface water. There is a dire need of switching from ground water to surface water, now with realization; Pakistan has been blessed with abundance of availability of surface and ground water resources to the tune of 128300 million m3 and 50579 million m3 per year respectively (The Pakistan National Conservation Strategy,).
Currently, over 45 percent of Pakistan’s population does not have access to safe drinking water. Since quality of drinking water supply is poor, with bacterial contamination, arsenic, fluoride and nitrate, incidence of water-borne diseases is increasing rapidly, Director Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) Lubna Naheed revealed. High population growth rate, urbanization, industrialization and new environmental constraints are aggravating the problem, she said.
Ministry of water and power report (2011-2012) pinpointed that in Pakistan, water was excessively wasted at houses, offices, markets and factories. Fresh and drinking water is used for washing, gardening and other non-drinkable purposes. “Besides wastage, burgeoning population, climate change, lack of water reservoirs and manipulation of Jhelum and Chenab rivers by India are other key factors squeezing water availability in Pakistan,” report claimed.
The Wapda official also said that in 2010-11, around 54.5MAF water went down to sea, which demonstrates the demand of the erection of huge dams on the River Indus. “The government needs to become proactive for timely required financial releases, he said, adding Wapda had placed the demand of releasing Rs100 billion for 35 water projects but it has been committed only Rs24.120 billion. This is the main reason that Wapda has failed to increase the water availability in the country, he said.
On the eve of the World Water Day to highlight significance of water resources and the challenges faced by the water sector in Pakistan, the Engineers Institution Pakistan (IEP) in collaboration with the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Pakistan (IEEEP) organised a seminar at WAPDA House. The seminar was chaired by WAPDA Member (Water) Hasnain Afzal. The WAPDA member said that the situation can only be improved by enhancing water storage capacity in the country.
Groundwater Monitoring and Management Cell, irrigation department Punjab, supervisor Tariq Yamin said that department was hiring a foreign qualified consultant to build a mechanism and design a practical model to regulate the groundwater. It will spotlight the pressing problems with pragmatic solutions. “We have already developed Term of Reference in this regard. GIS cell will give its inputs in making framework. We have also started outlining the legislation to check water depletion. After completing the paperwork, it will be sent to Punjab assembly and soon first law to regulate ground water will take its course. Department has installed a number of instruments to analyse level and quality of groundwater even with meagre resources and manpower as our aim is to serve the people to hold water,” he added
The world overdraws 200 km3 of its global groundwater 'bank account' every year. Probably more than 20% of this overdraft occurs in Pakistan placing this country's food and livelihood security at great risk. And if the situation continues, then the destiny of Pakistan will certainly be none other than the drought, hunger, poverty and darkness as the prosperity lies in building new reservoirs in the country.
The writer is Lahore based journalist and can be contacted at sarfraz1168@yahoo.com, sarfraz1168.blogspot.com

Friday, April 26, 2013

Banned outfits all set to contest Pakistan polls

Sarfraz Ali

LAHORE: Religious extremist groups and banned outfits have fielded 62 candidates for upcoming polls which considered ever high ratio in Pakistan's electoral history, facing charges of sectarian killings, terrorism and anti-state activities under 4th schedule of anti-terrorism act. They have kicked off their election drive after getting clean chit from election commission amid alarming concerns of international community fearing that Taliban like people might hold the atomic power country.
The electioneering, government inaction, election commission baptism and surprisingly complete silence by political parties specially Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People's Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-i-Azam (PML-Q) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are enough to validate the internationally-established dogma that the Pakistan state is itself patronizing the extremists elements and by the core of hearts it wants radicals to hold parliament in the results of 2013 elections.
The Ahle Sunnat Waljmat (ASW), a new face of Sipha-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Muttahida Deeni Mahaz, Tehreek-e-Jafria, Harkatul Mujahiden, Tehrik ul Nisar have placed their candidates in the constituencies of Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.
Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) sources revealed that four candidates of Ahle Sunnat Waljmat (ASW) including head Maulana Ahmed Ludhiyanvi, Maulana Mawiya (son of late Maulana Azam Tariq), Maulana Ashraf Hassiyanvi, Muhammad Yousaf Rahimi hit hard by 4th schedule of the ACT had made their way clear to reach the parliament as election commission had allowed them to contest the elections. 
Things are looking to be in complete disarray as on the one hand, election commission welcomed banned outfits for polls and on the other hand rejected nomination papers of merely 15 elections candidates due to their inclusion in 4th schedule of the Act. It seems to be eyewash to quell the voices of dissent and satisfy international community that caretaker government has sprung into action against extremists by busting and putting them in house arrest. But it avoided barring these element through constitutional embargo enforcing 62 and 63 clauses.
ASW central secretary general Dr. Khadim Hussain said that party members faced just charges which had yet to be proved and unless they stood guilty, constitution gave them right to contest the election. “We are trying to putting them on the path of political process instead of arming them with guns to help contribute for the development of country but government has launched ruthless crackdown against them,” he explained.
Former Supreme Court Bar Court Association (SCBA) General Secretary Qamar ul Zaman Qureshi said Returning Officers (ROs) accepted the nomination papers of the candidates of banned outfits as they feared that if rejected, they might be subjected to severe torture and killed. “Government’s writ fades in their domains so caretaker set-up has no courage and security paraphernalia to curb the radicals,” he said.
A senior bureaucrat spilled the beans that banned outfits, politicians and even previous governments had obvious friendly relationship. PML-N and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi close ties had already exposed. PML-N former Punjab Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi men found running by-polls campaigns in 2009. PPP previous regime also confessed to get the seats from north Punjab with the help of Sipha-e-Sahaba Pakistan in 2008 polls.
Deputy Secretary of defunct Sipah-e-Sahaba Punjab group Rao Javeed Iqbal had also joined  PPP at an electioneering rally in presence of late Governor Salman Taseer in 2008.
Laying bare the facts, US diplomat in Pakistan said that several terrorist and criminal groups are "backed by security establishment, the secret agencies and other armed bodies of the state". “We are observing the situation minutely how extremists qualified to contest the 2013 elections.”
Former president Pervez Musharraf said in his latest interview conceded that his forces trained militant groups to ″fight India″ in Indian-administered Kashmir. He confessed that the government ″turned a blind eye″ because it wanted to force India to enter negotiations.
After reports made some headlines that political parties are tightening their lips on fanatics’ inclusion in elections, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan has started blaming the federal government for providing “safe haven” to terrorists responsible for the rising sectarian violence in the country. Maintaining that there can be no future of the country if terrorism is not controlled, Khan said, “The people of Karachi should not vote for parties with militant, terrorist wings.”
However, a step has been taken by caretaker government as face-saving attempt that ministry of information and broadcasting has written letters to the media representative bodies and the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) asking private media to avoid carrying the statements of banned outfits in the light of the orders of the Balochistan High Court.
The concise statement has been submitted by the Ministry of Information in compliance with the BHC judgement dated April 9, 2013. According to the statement, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in consultation with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has issued a code of conduct for print and electronic media as well as for the political parties wherein a ban has been imposed on speeches and statements of outlawed organizations involved in sectarian and terrorists activities.
In this regard, PEMRA has specifically imposed financial penalties on a number of channels for violating the terms and conditions of their licences, whereby they are supposed to observe an acceptable code of conduct as per relevant law, the statement said. The ministry says it believes that the organisations banned under Section 11-B of Anti Terrorism Act-1997 should not be allowed to use print and electronic media for propagation of hate literature and negative material which is considered unlawful under the relevant laws of the land.
Under the critical situation, foreign election observers have arrived to have a close watch to endorse transparency and validity of elections process. And if these radicals are not stopped, these observers would definitely release reports to their countries and UN that radical are going to be new rulers of Pakistan so better to declare Pakistan a terrorist country in advance to save world from another Afghanistan and Iraq.
It may be recalled that 40,000 Pakistanis had been killed in terrorism related activities and government had closed down mobile phone service in 5 times.
The writer is Lahore based journalist and can be contacted a sarfraz1168@yahoo.com