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A tunnel without vision



The term ‘ tunnel vision’ has always been used as a pejorative. People accused of having it are also variously called myopic, short-sighted, shallow, etc. But when one hears of grandiose projects like Islamabad New City, to be made accessible to the old one through a tunnel to be drilled through the National Park in the Margalla Hills, one wishes to plaster all of the above words and more on those conceiving the project!

What goes on in the heads of the people who come up with these schemes? Are they still rooted in the infrastructure development model that now stands rejected everywhere because it was unmindful of sustainability? Do they get a high thinking of brick and mortar, steel and glass structures coming up at the detriment of the existing natural and social environment, disturbing the ecosystem and displacing communities? Or do they drool over the prospects of billions of rupees/dollars changing hands?

Is that what it is about? Building a shiny, new wide road to connect Islamabad to Haripur by shaving off 10 to 15 minutes off the existing road? Is that what their cost-benefit analysis justifies? Or will the real benefit come from the real estate bonanza this project will spin off?

These lop-sided priorities are not the only reason why Islamabad’s civil society has banded together, under the aegis of the Margalla Hills Society, led by the seasoned campaigner, former civil servant, Roedad Khan.

Members of the Islamabad civil society protesting against the tunnel project. -Photo courtesy of Kuch Khas.

Members of the Islamabad civil society protesting against the tunnel project. -Photo courtesy of Kuch Khas.

Luckily for them, they have found another champion for their cause in Senator Mushahid Hussain, who had moved an adjournment motion in the Senate, and highlighted the illegality of the intent in a forceful enough manner that made the Supreme Court take a suo moto notice.

The Supreme Court has also put on notice CDA, NHA, Cabinet Division and the provincial governments of Punjab and KPK, though this project had to have the buy in from the Planning Commission, ECNEC and the Environment Protection Agency.

What is extremely interesting is that this is proving to be quite a cloak and dagger game, with authorities publicly denying that any such project is in the offing and Roedad Khan adamant that those in the know have assured him that it is going ahead.

Former bureaucrat, Roedad Khan addressing the protestors. -Photo courtesy of Kuch Khas.

Former bureaucrat, Roedad Khan addressing the protestors. -Photo courtesy of Kuch Khas.


Now that the matter is before the Supreme Court hopefully it will become clearer. What also needs to be made clear is why this tunnel is such a bad idea.

The environmentalists think it is a bad idea, and rightly so. The area Margalla Hills (12605 hectares) the Rawal Lake, andShakarparian Sports and Cultural complex was declared as a National Park in 1980.

This is one of the 29 National Parks in Pakistan, which fall under the category of Protected Areas. As of 2012, 22 of these are under supervision of respective provincial governments and remaining are in private care. Legislation giving them this status enshrines in itself the intent to conserve the flora, fauna and biodiversity in its natural state.

However, they can be made accessible to the public for recreation, education and research. The latter has been more than taken care of through access roads into the Park. It is the former, the natural assets that stand threatened by development, in a manner that can be described as unsustainable.

A member of the Steering Committee formed by the concerned citizens, with the assistance of the Margalla Hills Society, Bilal Haq said:


Ostensibly the reason of the tunnel is to reduce travel time from Haripur to Islamabad so as to facilitate the people of that area. This can be done by making the existing road infrastructure better, making it signal free. An arrangement like this would reduce only 15-20 minutes from a total of about an hours travel time compared to a direct tunnel.

This incremental improvement is not worth destroying the natural Margalla habitat. And if the proposed tunnel is part of a corridor to connect Rawat then it will have to be close or on the existing residential areas of Islamabad (F-6/F-7). However, if the intent is to get the value of the already acquired real estate near and on the Margallas then this purpose will be served by the tunnel.”

Dr. Farrukh Chishty, also a member of the Steering Committee cautioned that; “The proposed Margalla tunnel has the potential to cause significant and irreversible environmental damage. This includes loss of biodiversity, unmitigated air and water pollution due to crushing of rocks and emission of harmful gases from heavy machinery.


The risks of quarrying in a seismic zone should also be considered, as mining and quarrying blasts generate ground motion which resembles natural earthquakes – this could lead to unintended consequences as Islamabad is on five major fault lines. Further, a great amount of resources, including water and fuel will be spent on creating this tunnel, which ultimately will benefit only a few in the short term and harm all in the now and the future.

Their call to attention is now attracting the notice of the authorities, who can sense a fight on their hands, and by the Islamabad civil society, which will have to come up and show that a segment of the society is willing to own this city as its own! There have been protest meetings and walks at the park to raise the issue, and the above mentioned Steering Committee is a result of these collective efforts.

Members of the Islamabad civil society protesting against the tunnel project. -Photo courtesy of Kuch Khas.

Members of the Islamabad civil society protesting against the tunnel project. -Photo courtesy of Kuch Khas.

Dr. Jawad Chishty, of Subh e Nau, an organisation that has been in the forefront of environment, and a member of the Steering Committee puts forward many arguments against this tunnel project:

He says the first argument is moral. This is a protected piece of land that the Government itself set aside for conservation. Do we want to allow the rape of this pristine land for profits that line a few pockets? Whatever the economic argument for it, the ethical/moral argument is the strongest. It is based on health, social, environmental and countless other impacts. There is no way to size up nature, and therefore, it is not possible to humanly calculate the costs of this project.

The second is on the basis of environmental, social and health impacts. Pollution of all types, air, water, land and noise is going to increase and cause irreparable damage to the health of the populations on both sides of the tunnel.

The area is meant for conservation, and Monal, La Montana, street lights and rabid commercialisation have and are seriously damaging the eco-system of the area. The Rawal Lake area has been destroyed in the name of the Lake View Park.

The Biodiversity argument is also extremely important. The MHNP is a sanctuary for wildlife and plants, including birds and animals such as the grey goral, the barking deer and the leopard, many of which are becoming extinct, or are threatened.

Many do not know that Islamabad is a wild bird sanctuary, and many migratory birds from different regions of the world stay here. This is mainly because of the MHNP. Poor air quality because of the transportation and road building has reduced these populations. Implementation of planned mass transit schemes are the need for Islamabad, not a tunnel that brings in unimaginable and unaccountable damage for decades to come.

Dr. Chishty is a strong advocate of the ‘precautionary principle’ of not undertaking any step that can threaten the environment as it directly or indirectly hurts our health and interests. If people want to make money there is always the option of developing eco-tourism, but then of course, the monetary windfall will not be comparable.

So, while the ‘stakeholders’ trudge off to the court to explain the pros and cons of this project, or even the fact whether it is a figment of the imagination or a clear and present danger, there is a need for the civil society to act as a watchdog to safeguard this national, natural asset.

Ladies try to rescue our threatened forests, but timber mafia still active!

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I want to thank some lady Parliamentarians. Yes I am being gender biased by making a distinction here but deliberately so. Kudos to Senator Saeeda  Iqbal and MNA Maryam Aurangzeb for the spunk they have shown in getting the order of former PM, Raja Pervez Ashraf of removal of ban on timber movement from Gilgit-Baltistan reversed.

This order had been passed by him on his last day in office, despite forests being a provincial subject and outside the purview of the Prime Minister. The seemingly innocuous order ‘allowed’ for the transportation of the illegally and legally cut timber that had accumulated there to lower down the country, but resulted in indiscriminate felling of trees in Diamer and the upper reaches by the timber mafia, which made a huge killing, to the tune of 8 billion rupees.

This fact was recorded by environmental activists and community stewards who were up against a powerful adversary and a powerless administration. No one wields greater power in those areas than the timber mafia that has been responsible for denuding our already meager forest cover, standing at a shameful 4.8 % as against the internationally recommended 25%. Of course the government claims it to be 5.3%, which is neither here nor there!

While friends of the environment, which are few and far between in this country anyway, learnt of the order, they immediately lodged protest. They know that the ‘movement’ would not be confined only to the existing stockpile. But their protests were slow to gain traction, especially as the timber mafia moved en masse to Islamabad to lobby.

However, thanks to activists like Khan Mohammad Qureshi, Ali, community members and friends in the media, the issue never really went away. They were hoping to raise enough of a hue and cry to bring it to the notice of the Chief Justice so he would take notice of this rape of Pakistan’s natural resources. The were also exploring the possibility of filing a petition and dragging Raja Pervez Ashraf to court to answer for this loot and pillage. Here it goes to the credit of the PPP Senator Saeeda Iqbal, who not only took notice of the issue, but asked for a summary to be moved against the order of the Prime Minister who belonged to her party. The Senate Standing Committee on Climate Change instructed the Secretary MoCC to move the summary for overturning the former PM’s order, despite the fact that this was a provincial matter.

The efforts started in April, but the slow pace of the due process has allowed for the indiscriminate felling of trees continued until again in June, another lady lent her strength to the cause. Marriyam Aurangzeb of PML-N and her colleague Junaid Anwar Chaudhury brought the issue to the floor of the National Assembly through a call to attention notice. Finally, the efforts bore fruit and the ban on transportation of timber has again been imposed w.e.f July 07, 2013. However, the delay in notifying this is alarming.

The latest pictures of just two days ago show that in the absence of the authorities receiving notification, timber is still being moved. This needs to be stopped right away. While the damage has been done, it is hoped the lead provided by these two ladies will be followed by others who can become champions of the country’s natural resources, and we hope to witness such cooperation across party lines, as these are our shared resources. We must also get over the folly of considering these matters to be contained within the provincial domain. Deforestation in the North does not only mean a reduced forest cover in that particular area, that lines the pockets of a certain mafia.

It portends disaster right down to the edge of the Arabian Sea in the form of floods waters that rage unchecked downstream, as they did in 2010. In these last four months of activism to stop the denudation of these forests, the one issue that surfaced in the discourse was of deforestation resulting in silting up of the Tarbela Dam. This is only a part of the problem.

We may be known internationally as a disaster prone country, but unfortunately have not really made a name for ourselves in disaster resilience. Deforestation in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kyber Pakhtunkhwa have disastrous effects on Punjab, parts of Balochistan and vast tracts of Sindh. One hopes we will be spared a rerun of what happened in 2010 after the monsoon deluge, but if any kind of disaster does strike due to this current deforestation spree, the timber mafia that has made billions should be made to foot the bill for relief and rehabilitation!

Written by afiasalam

July 14, 2013 at 2:50 am

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April, 2013

Climate change: change we can?

Content-wise, the National Climate Change Policy is welcome even though a mixed bag. But what about implementing mechanisms?

Afia Salam

A large body of people, including scientists in the West, especially the U.S., is still debating the veracity of warnings pertaining to the rise in earth’s temperature and the resultant disasters clubbed under the term of Climate Change.

 On the other hand, countries that have been listed in the category of ‘threatened’ or ‘vulnerable’ have already started taking measures to deal with the threat, which has, in the recent past, proven to be a clear and present danger for them.

Small island nations like the Maldives, Bangladesh, India and even the UAE are far ahead of Pakistan in taking measures to combat the effects of Climate Change. They have put themselves out there for the world to notice and assist them in combating climate change through mitigation and adaptation measures.

They are rapidly turning to alternate energy, green buildings and zero carbon areas, even cities, something Pakistan probably needs to do on a day-before-yesterday basis!

Until now, Pakistan’s response, despite being ranked the highest on the global vulnerability index, had been sporadic and disjointed, and was more ‘project-oriented’ than planned.

The Ministry of Environment, which stood devolved in the aftermath of the 18th Amendment, was going through a crisis of identity. Not only was it divested of its powers, it also lost its name, and after a while morphed into the Ministry of Disaster Management, and has now finally evolved into the Ministry of Climate Change.

While Climate Change may not cover everything that falls under environment, at least it spurred efforts to finally come up with a plan to deal with it. This led to the unveiling of the National Climate Change Policy which was the culmination of the effort of the Task Force constituted in 2008 for its formulation by seeking inputs from stakeholders drawn from the scientific community, academia, NGOs and the civil society.

The areas of focus, especially in an under-developed country like Pakistan, of course, were water, food and energy security. It also talks about the conservation of the Third Pole, the glaciers in the Hindukush-Karakoram areas.

Disaster resilience and disaster risk reduction also had to be factored in due to the incontrovertible evidence of increase in extreme events impacting millions of lives as in the floods of 2010. The lean economy, too, has no cushion against the losses amounting to billions of dollars in the wake of such disasters.

Such events not only create environmental, human, economic, and social stresses, they set the country back on the achievement of development goals as it does not have the coping mechanism to absorb such repeated shocks.

This is exactly what has happened in Pakistan and our poor development indices are proof.

A World Bank report rings another warning bell for all countries falling within the South Asian region, of which Pakistan is a part.

It states that: ‘In the South Asia Region (SAR), the number of disasters per year has quadrupled over the past four decades. Resulting damages have accumulated to over US$25 billion in the past five years alone. Despite increasing disaster risk in SAR, awareness and understanding of this risk among individuals and governments remains low. As an emerging topic, exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards and their consequential impacts are not yet at the forefront of development agendas.’

So what does the National Climate Change Policy entail and how will it change the situation. It touches on all of the aforementioned issues, along with the conservation of biodiversity and issues related to the forest cover.

It adds to Pakistan’s collection of very well made policies, something the country is famous for. Its policies have even been adopted by other countries, like South Korea, which peaked as an economic power through its implementation.

Implementation at home, however, has always been the weakest link in the chain. The fears cited by those who have gone over the NCCP are no different. An important subject like the environment has been devolved, much against the reservations, and recommendations of the experts in the field.

It is now a provincial subject and in the hands of ministries and departments, who fall way short of the capacity to implement or govern this agenda or the vision contained within this agenda.

While critics of the devolution process have been saying it in other instances, too, here it has been pretty much a case of putting the cart before the horse. If even while the debate on the 18th Amendment was ongoing, and an effort had been made to upgrade and upscale the capacity of the provincial ministries, the situation may not have been so depressing.

However, in the current scenario, there is no answer to the question as to how the National Climate Change Policy will be implemented by the provinces when all related sectoral functions are also devolved, and disconnected; like agriculture, food, water, forestry, transport, which impacts the air quality, disaster management, etc. They do not fall under one umbrella.

On the governance front, too, while Punjab has functioning green courts, they do not exist elsewhere, and the writ of the EPAs has been flouted and violated in instances that are too many to recount!

Then, again on a broader level, the vision for the conservation of the glaciers is commendable but that transcends the borders of the country. That is a regional issue. How can a policy that has to be implemented by the provinces extend its writ to regional issues?

Then again, the issue of generating adequate financing for achieving all that is contained within the policy has not been clearly spelled out. Pakistan needs huge financial assistance to develop climate resilience.

At a recent forum, The Director General of Environment, MoCC informed the audience that at the U.N. Conference on Climate Change that was held in Doha in November-December 2012, Pakistan succeeded in the establishment of funding mechanism for preparation of National Adaptation Plans through special Climate Change funds operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Pakistan also successfully pursued the formation of an international mechanism for addressing the issue of “Loss and Damage” caused due to floods, sea level rise, Cyclones and other Climate related disasters.”

This is an encouraging move. But not enough is said in the policy about generating financing through Clean Development Mechanisms, or about emissions curbing through reforestation despite being a signatory of REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestations and forest Degradation).

The effects of Climate Change on heritage sites and the changing pattern of monsoon and its severity on aviation has also not been looked into adequately, despite the unfortunate crash of Bhoja Airlines which, in the opinion of aviation experts, as well as environmental experts, had all the elements of an unexpected weather phenomenon hitting the aircraft, causing it to crash.

Climate change’s impact on gender, health, and rapid urbanization, an increase in the number of cli-migrants or climate refugees has not been extensively dealt with either. And to reiterate, even if all these issues had been highlighted, one wonders what the implementing mechanisms were.

The fear is that like many other policies that spell out a vision without a clear roadmap with goals for implementation, this will remain a document that will become obsolete because of the lack of an action plan that needed to be rolled out in tandem.

What we have to wait and see at this juncture in our history is that with political parties readying themselves for elections and unveiling their manifestoes, how many have an understanding of critical national issues like these.

Commendably, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf got a head start by adding environment to its list of other policies for the electorate to ponder. What makes one sit up and take notice is the fact that it was prepared by Malik Amin Aslam, former minister of state for environment and current Global Vice Chairman of International Union for Conservation of Nature, and Climate Policy Advisor to the UNDP.

He is one of the few persons in Pakistan who command knowledge about how the carbon market works and how Pakistan can generate finance through the CDMs.

As far as our National Climate Change Policy is concerned, we really need to figure out how a global, transboundary issue can be tackled by implementers who are going to be largely provincial in focus!



Beware The Elements

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Changes in precipitation and drought cycles, humidity, water-table levels and ensuing soil chemistry will impact archaeological sites




Granted that a country, which is not able to take care of its living, is hardly likely to put its archaeological heritage on top of its priority list. However, it is about time attention was diverted towards this important issue.

To be fair, there was a time when Pakistan showcased its heritage for the world to see. And very proudly so. Over the years seven of its sites were included in the Unesco World Heritage site list:

• Archaeological Ruins at Mohenjo-Daro

• Buddhist Ruins of Takht-i-Bahi and Neighbouring City

• Remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol

• Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore

• Historical Monuments at Makli, Thatta

• Rohtas Fort

• Taxila

Their unique importance in world history has been the reason for their inclusion. They are monitored carefully by the world body. Even the global importance of the other remains of previous civilizations has kept many international organizations and scholars interested in them and they and their state of preservation have been well documented.

Before the confusion created by the half-baked 18th Amendment kicked in and made a mish mash of the devolved, capacity-challenged provincial set-up, the Federal Archaeology Department under the Ministry of Culture, was taking care of all sites and explorations. Now, it is scratching its head trying to ensure that this heritage does not just crumble away.

However, the vagaries of time and weather are not the only phenomenon that one needs to worry about. There is also the looming specter of climate change that must be factored in all future plans for renovation and preservation of these sites.

Pakistan is already facing the impact through shifting monsoon patterns and frequent flooding and other natural disasters like cyclones. But are we looking at how these will impact monuments and ancient settlements? How can we help save our history from being wiped out?

When the Director General of Archaeology, Dr. Fazal Dad Kakar was asked about this, he said:

“The Department of Archaeology and Museums has not yet made any baseline study of the impact on climate change on the archaeological heritage of Pakistan. However, the Unesco World Heritage Centre (Paris) has made considerable progress in this regard. Unesco Expert Missions in collaboration with the State Parties to the Unesco World Heritage Convention is closely monitoring the impact of climate changes on World Heritage Sites. Reports of the Unesco Expert Missions about World Heritage sites and their suggestions for taking preventive measures on World Heritage Sites, against the adverse impacts of climate changing are equally useful for other archaeological sites”.

“In terms of actual effects on archaeology and the historic environment, climate change will have direct impact from rising sea levels and coastal erosion; more frequent storms and heavy rainfall episodes; flooding, landslips and erosion; changing seasonal patterns; drought and drying out of wetlands and archaeological sites.

The environment in which archaeological material is found is of great significance for how the material is protected. Climate change will also affect archaeological sites in different ways, depending on whether they are in air, earth, ice, snow or water.

Climate change can damage archaeological sites. Changes in precipitation and drought cycles, in humidity, water-table levels and ensuing soil chemistry will, inevitably, impact the conservation of archaeological remains.

Temperature rise, especially the melting of glaciers and rising sea levels are also expected to take their toll on the archaeological sites like Banbhore which are situated in coastal areas.

Rainfall and flooding due to climate change is already undermining the fragile earthen fabric of the World Heritage site of Mohenjo-Daro and other archaeological sites situated in the Indus Basin.

Of special concern is the fact that climate change may jeopardize the conservation of precious evidences whose existence is not even known today.

After devolution thanks to the 18th Amendment, archaeological sites handed over to the provinces are at risk, because, no uniform policy for protection and preservation of the cultural heritage sites has so far been formulated at the national level.

At present, cultural heritage sites and monuments are at the mercy of administrators and so-called conservationists. Their work is far removed from all norms and principles of conservation and integrity of the sites has been compromised. There should be a national strategy for protection of the cultural heritage from all human and naturally devastating elements.”

This certainly paints a pretty dismal picture of the situation on ground. Lack of cohesive national planning in matters that transcend provincial, even national boundaries is putting this valuable heritage at great risk.

To try and understand what exactly are the threats that the monuments and other historical treasures may face, Piquespoke to Dr. Pervaiz Amir, a climate change expert and member of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Climate change.

According to him, “even if looked at within Pakistan’s context, the climatic factors like snow, ice, fog, flash floods and sea level rise are likely to have a negative impact on the archaeological sites in different parts of Pakistan. While there is a danger that we may lose the ones located in Thatta and Badin completely, the elements mentioned here will enhance the effects of ice and snow, which are going to be particularly damaging to our sites and monuments in the northern regions due to the severity of weathering on the monuments.

“Similarly, fog, when it moves to the plains of Sindh will have an adverse effect on the structures, just as the extremely high temperatures will damage the brick and marble surfaces, and dull the tile works as is used in Multan and Sindh.

“Also, the shifting pattern of rainfall, as has been experienced this year and increase in its quantity and the resultant flash floods pose yet another threat. Over the long term however, we must be mindful of the period of impending drought likely to bring up salt content in the soil, which again would be damaging to the structures.

“Other than these climatic factors, one must look at the human dimension of the problem, too. Climate change is likely to result in human migration to safer places, and the pressure on resources will make it difficult to save the archaeological sites from human encroachments.”

These are dire warnings indeed, and need to be heeded on an urgent basis. There cannot be a piecemeal, province wise solution to things that require strategic thinking on a national level. Greater thought should have gone into the fallout of the 18th Amendment that devolved subjects like environment and archaeology to the provinces.

When Pique asked Shahid Sayeed Khan, Director of Indus Earth Trust, and an environmental architect, to explain how the changing climate can impact the archaeological sites, he said:

“The changing climate is not only affecting flora and fauna but also the built environment, especially our heritage which, in some instances, dates back more than 3000BC.

Excessive rainfall and floods have already affected Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. For years, the problem in these locations, was and still is excessive salinity which increases as the land gets water logged.

Drought has had the same affect on some of our legendary forts that are adjacent to deserts and salt ranges. Lack of moisture crumbles the stone or brick over time till it loses its strength, causing collapse of entire walls and roofs.

Soil erosion is perhaps, the greatest threat to our heritage. Naturally, if foundations are weakened the entire structure of a building is affected. Excessive water or the lack of it is now becoming apparent in Pakistan as it is now classified as one of five countries most affected by climate change.”

So what is it that can be done and who will do it? With the system of governance in disarray, whose help can Pakistan elicit to save these treasures for posterity?

Jawed Ali Khan, the Director General Environment, Ministry of Climate Change, had this to say:

“This is indeed a very important aspect towards which attention had not been paid in the past but it certainly deserves attention. Just as any other infrastructure or settlement is likely to be affected by the ravages of climate change, so will our archaeological sites across Pakistan.

Maybe organizations like Unesco can set up a fund that will address this important issue. We need experts to look into the threats that the archaeological heritage of Pakistan faces because this is a shared heritage of universal value.”

Dr. Harald Hauptmann of Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Research Unit Karakorum and archaeological expert on the Chilas heritage, told Pique: “Possible impact of climate change on archaeological heritage is a difficult theme. Organic materials such as manuscripts or wooden artifacts are better preserved in dry environments such as deserts or even in regions such as around Gilgit or Chilas, but increasing humidity as we noticed this summer will have an effect on those archaeological remains. But, there will be no damage on architectural remains or rock carvings along the Upper Indus. The danger for this historical heritage is caused by building activities, the upgrading of the KKH and future dam projects.”

All the experts Pique spoke to acknowledged that climate change poses a clear and present danger to the archeological treasure of Pakistan. What we need now is some action plan that can map out the threats, and chart a way forward to combat them.

The rich land

Pakistan is home to some of the oldest civilizations the world has known.

•Balochistan has cave paintings that date back to 18,000BC.

• Soan Valley has revealed the existence of Paleolithic sites, while the land is dotted with evidences of Mesolithic andNeolithic settlements.

• Mehergarh, which flourished about 7000 years ago, Indus Valley Civilization, whose towns of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappawere models of urban planning 5,500 years ago.

• Asoka left his edicts on obelisks, and we have temples at Hinglaj, in agar Parkar, at Katas Raj.

• The Buddhists rock carvings and monasteries and universities dot the valley that came to be known as Gandhara afterthem.

• The Muslims left relics like Bhambore, Makli, the beautiful tiled mausoleums of saints dotting the plains of Sindh andPunjab, the grand forts, palaces, mosques and final resting places of their pets, patriarchs, matriarchs, mentors andmistresses. Very few other countries can boast of such a diverse archaeological, historical and cultural richness.

Present and clear danger

On the global vulnerability index prepared by global agencies, Pakistan is right at the top in terms of likely climate change impact. In the words of the environmentalists, Pakistan is a ‘multi-threat’ country. Threats Pakistan is likely to face:

•Glacial melting in the northern areas will lead to flooding down stream.

• Loss of water source in north to result in drought in plains, especially the breadbasket.

• Rising temperatures will contribute to desertification.

• Sea level rise to flood coastal areas, resulting in massive destruction and displacement.

This article was originally published in PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

November 21, 2012 at 5:54 am

Suspense that is killing

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Will there, or won’t there be floods this year? Amid a sense of foreboding stemming from past failure to meet the eventuality, there is also the spectre of drought in some areas…

In an agrarian country like Pakistan, the advent of monsoons has been associated with hope, happiness and festivity. This is the time  when farmers hope to reap the rewards of their hard work. They wait for monsoons to give life to their crops, and plan to use the earnings for things that require big spends, like marriage in the family, house repairs, buying livestock, tractor or a vehicle. All of this comes to nought if the monsoon does not bring enough rain, or brings too much rain, or comes at the ‘wrong’ time. Now, there may be Climate Change nay sayers elsewhere in the world, but you will not find many in Pakistan because here, it is not something that is going to happen, it is happening already! The shifting pattern of monsoon and its increasing ferocity has played havoc in more ways than one. To get the context right, we must keep in mind that 75% of the rainfall that Pakistan receives is dependent upon the monsoons. While it is debatable whether the devastation Pakistan witnessed in the wake of the  2010 floods was due to Climate Change or man-made factors of massive deforestation of the forests in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and encroachments in the river beds, one must be mindful of the fact that the amount of rainfall received was unprecedented.

This was again the cause of the devastation suffered by Sindh in 2011, when a cloud burst sent down more rain than could be handled by the channels and drains which overflew their banks. That, too, of course, was a disaster compounded by manmade factors of poor maintenance of the water courses, and bad planning of drains, especially the infamous LBOD, the Left Bank Outfall Drain, which allowed the back flow of sea water at the Tidal Link with the sea. The country is still grappling with the aftereffects of those two back-to-back disasters. There are still people living in temporary shelters in most parts of Sindh. Those who had been able to rehabilitate their homes and lands, are now apprehensive of what the coming monsoon may bring them.

Late June to September is usually the time when everyone looks skywards hoping for the clouds to bring rain. City dwellers have more reasons to fear them for reasons of poor urban planning and infrastructure maintenance. However, the farmers in Pakistan have already faced the brunt of a pre-monsoon, when sudden, and heavy rainfall accompanied by hail in March laid to waste vast tracts of standing crop and killed livestock in many parts of Punjab. This change in timing of the pre-monsoon and its ferocity in itself is a disaster that is not yet been accounted for. But are we also ready for an impending disaster in the wake of the monsoon in 2012?

Is there likely to be another mega flood? Have the institutions and departments learnt from the past shortcomings and taken preemptive measures? The million, or actually the billion dollar question is, will there or won’t there be another  flood come monsoon? Dharki area of Sindh had been hit by floods in 2010. A senior district official there has already been instructed to take measures. He said, “Contingency plans have been updated. Multi-agency coordination has been strengthened. Commissioners of divisions have conducted meetings with Army High Command regarding preparatory measures. List of volunteers have been provided at Taluka levels. Army personnel have visited the vulnerable areas and government machinery to be used in case of emergency.

He added, “Management plans have been prepared. Guidelines have been obtained from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its provincial chapter (PDMA). These authorities have started provision of some relief goods like temporary shelters to vulnerable districts i.e. Badin, Thatta etc. “As far as relief and rehabilitation is concerned, the government has almost completed the financial aid through Watan Card to last year’s flood victims. Moreover, NDMA and PDMA in liaison with international organizations are stocking food and non-food items.” While this is heartening to know, similar preparations had been ordered after the 2010 floods but still most districts, where the administration was not up to speed, suffered from a total breakdown of the system. Barring a couple of districts like Thatta and Badin, it was the civil society and INGOs who had to step in — and in a big way for assistance.

What has changed from the last two years that can bring in a level of comfort? The main reason, deforestation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is still there so any rain there will run off downstream, taking with it whatever precious little soil cover that is there. Has a de-silting of the water channels been done? Have the dykes been strengthened? And who will be the watchdog over the breaches and cuts given by the powerful landlords who divert water from their lands on to the other, less powerful farmers? Has the design fault of LBOD been rectified? Have old water channels and dry river beds been rehabilitated so excess water can be diverted towards them or towards the desert areas to make artificial wetlands? All of the above questions require an answer in the context of a possibility of another flood. But are we expecting another one or is the NDMA drumming up panic without substantive reason. Is flood the only disaster Pakistan has to be mindful of?

If you look at the map of the forecast ( drawn up by the Pakistan Meteorological Department, you will see that there is another disaster that Pakistan may be facing — not of too much rain but of too little rain! At least in the breadbasket region of the country. Less than normal rainfall means less water in the rivers, and not just less water for irrigation, but less for electricity generation. Aside from the war-on-terror and political instability, issues of food and energy security are the ones that greatly impact the functioning of the country. Has a disaster management plan even been thought of in case of severe drought and food shortages and a worsening energy crisis? How will the turmoil they are going to result in be dealt with? The migration of population even within Pakistan has a huge socio-economic, as well as political impact, and the poverty-crime nexus only becomes stronger in the absence of any safeguards against weather induced uncertainties.

Met department warnings about more than normal rainfall in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, drought like conditions in the central and southern plains, and the shift of the monsoons to the Southwest, bringing a possibility of more than normal rainfall in the coastal belt of Sindh mean that a holistic response needs to be devised. We need to be prepared for floods in areas where there will be more than normal rainfall, but we need to have a visible strategy to combat effects of drought as well. Floods in our case may not just be a lot of water in the rivers and canals. If not adequately planned for, they could mean a flood of problems to contend with, which can be very destabilizing economically, as well as socially.

This article was originally published on PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

September 11, 2012 at 11:08 am

Slight, Not Invite

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The resumption of a much awaited bilateral series would ideally call for celebration. But in this instance, the feeling of having been shortchanged is inescapable…

So what is it about an India-Pakistan cricket series that brings on the ultimate adrenaline rush for billions in the sub-continent — this teeming mass of humanity who own up to having an alternate religion — cricket! This is the force that binds us, while at the same time, dividing us into two very partisan, polarized nations. Nations that carry heavy baggage of history that makes the keenly contested Ashes between England and Australia seem like a tea party in comparison.

In this part of the world, cricket is more than a mere sport. It is a passion that lifts people to the highest levels of euphoria when their team is winning over the ‘arch rival’ and drives them to the depths of despair when it is on the losing end. The players are demi-gods when hot, and worse than criminals when not! Cricket has also been used as a tool for diplomacy when nothing else would work to thaw relations that resembled the polar ice cap.

It has also had the ability to melt hearts and open minds to welcome people from across the border in a display of genuine warmth, all the Shiv Senaiks on ‘that’ side of the BRB Canal and protagonists of perpetual enmity on ‘this’ side notwithstanding. For countries that emerged through a river of blood, which continued to flow through two full scale wars and many and frequent skirmishes due to festering, unresolved issues between them, it was always a difficult task to forge relations at another level.

However, after the Seventies the new thought emerged that normality could not be restored while sitting across a military or diplomatic table. People had to become friends. Thus Bishen Singh Bedi brought his team to Pakistan for a series in 1978, ending a 13-year drought, and opened the floodgates of warmth and affection between the people of the two countries. Mind you, the underlying motive for the series may have been political, as those were the days of dictator Zia ul Haq, who managed to be present during most matches. But politics took a back seat and cricket, and cricket lovers emerged as winners in a pulsating series which Pakistan won comprehensively.

Visa regime was relaxed and special arrangements were made for Indian fans in the stadiums, and in Lahore, many came directly from the train station to the stadium, all with bag and baggage, and saw the match before heading into the city to find boarding and lodging. While most of those who came were cricket fans, many came to go see their ancestral homes from where their families had migrated during Partition. Many a tear of joy and sorrow were shed when they went into the old city and met their or their parents’ neighbours who welcomed them with open arms. They were plied with gifts not just by those whom their elders had known but by the ordinary shopkeepers who wanted to contribute to this spirit of hospitality and friendship.

On the field, the relations between some of the younger players may have seemed strained, but the fact that Bedi, and Pakistan’s skipper, Mushtaq Mohammad were best of friends and county mates at Northamptonshire kept things under control, even jovial despite the victories Mushy’s crafty captaincy made possible. Many other players also had played English county together so the entire series achieved the objective of thawing, and improving relations, especially on a people- topeople level.

But this was a nostalgic trip down memory lane. A lot more water has flown down the BRB since then. We have had Kargil, and then Ajmal Kasab in Mumbai who did no-one any favours, and then the most ignominious of all, the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009, which turned Pakistan into a pariah as far as playing host was concerned. No-one was willing to visit, certainly not a high profile team like India, despite many contractual agreements at the ICC and bilateral level. Pakistan also found itself out in the cold as far as the jointly staged World Cup was concerned and its coffers started to run dry, creating more bad blood. Now, that a series has been announced for December this year, and everyone’s hopes have been raised for a resumption of cricket ties that may result in better relations between the two countries, why are so many nay sayers emerging?

In the din of excitement over seeing two of the world’s most exciting teams play against each other, not at aseptic, neutral venues that Pakistan had had to settle for, let us not drown out the voices of caution. We must really see whether this series will be all that great a thing. Granted we have had Bal Thackery of Shiv Sena threaten to disrupt matches in Mumbai before. Some fanatics did dig up the wicket. But he has been around, and matches have taken place willy-nilly. But do not forget, that the other son of Mumbai, Sunil Gavaskar, who carried a reputation as an ardent supporter of Pakistan and its players on many international forums, has also opposed the series on the grounds that Pakistan is not cooperating with the Mumbai attack investigation. On Pakistan’s part, former captain Rashid Latif has also sounded a note of caution. He says instead of getting all excited about this almost-series, Pakistan should get India to resolve the unsettled issue of revenue sharing.

This is something India has been procrastinating on. After the Mumbai attack, India had cancelled its tour to Pakistan, which was a great financial setback for the Pakistan Cricket Board. Despite repeated calls for revival, and security assurances, India had refused to visit, and did not even agree to play at any neutral venue. Now, even though the invitation for this stop gap series, which is to be played while the visiting English players go home for a quick Christmas break, has come from BCCI, no revenue sharing formula has been worked out. This is despite forecasts of revenue generation to the tune of billions of rupees which is a given whenever these two teams face each other.

One has also not heard of any concrete or special measures to facilitate visas so the ‘people-to-people’ element is not taken care of either. Yes, the Pakistani players are starved for cricket, but that does not mean that the PCB should jump at such half chances as are being offered by the Indian board unless and until there is a clear advantage to our board and the players. We also have to keep in mind the statements emanating from the Indian government officials that this invitation has been on a board-to-board level. The government had nothing to do with it. However, it does not mean that the government will have nothing to do with it, as the final go-ahead for the tour will come from the government.

Make no mistake about it! So while the cricket nut in me is excited at the prospect of seeing the boys pitting their skills against the traditional rivals, in front of a capacity crowd in a charged atmosphere, a nagging voice inside the head tells me that I should go easy on the plans to stock junk food and shield myself from any pressing assignments during the match days.There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip; while there can be no better spectacle than an India-Pakistan cricket match, in view of the above reservations, we really have to ask for this particular series, ‘what’s so great about it anyway?’

This article was originally published on PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

September 11, 2012 at 6:21 am

Posted in Cricket

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A Tree for Every Pakistani

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Aamir Jadoon has made it his life’s mission to fight the odds: against a recommended 25% forestry cover, Pakistan has a debatable 5.2%

The words I have a dream may have been immortalized by Martin Luther King, the great American civil rights activist but are, in fact, the articulation of everyone’s innate desire to reach a higher plane, to achieve something good, and to aspire to a goal, usually beyond the personal and the selfish.

Some are lucky enough to start their journey on a path that will take them to the realization of that dream.

One such young man is Aamir Jadoon. His dream, to put it simply, is to have as many trees as there are people in Pakistan.

However, there is nothing simple about achieving it. Of the 25% world recommended forest cover for a country, Pakistan has a debatable 5.2 %. It is also one of the countries with the highest rates of deforestation. And to top it all, our population growth rates is among the highest in the world. So the odds are really stacked up against him.

But is Jadoon deterred? Not at all!

He has founded an organization —Movement for Green Pakistan — whose sole aim is to increase the forest cover of Pakistan through voluntary participation by the citizens of Pakistan, and he undertakes awareness raising and advocacy to garner support.

Working as a producer at Pakistan Television, his interest in the environment and development of Pakistan resulted in him pursuing studies from the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

Being in the broadcast media, he got first hand information about the nexus of environmental degradation and disasters, especially in the context of deforestation.

He has now made it his life’s mission to team up with any individual or organization that would help him plant trees, and presents a very convincing argument by doing the math and showing the results.

According to him, “on an average, every Pakistani consumes wood of 10 trees of 50 years of age directly or indirectly in his/her life.”

Considering that in 2011 the population of Pakistan was somewhere between 180-190 million with the growth rate of 1.551% —some 3 million children arriving every year — the average depletion rate of between 0.2-0.5% is likely to accelerate.

For a country that has an area of 796000 km2 the meagre 5.2% forest area (and mind you, the area does not mean all areas have a standing forest in them — they are just technically designated as the forest area) would amount to one tree every 500 metres, which is scant.

You can listen to him articulating his vision here:

Jadoon realizes the onerous task, and has proposed a solution.

“If policy makers bind every family to plant at least 10 trees for the birth of every child, or alternatively pay birth certificate fee equal to the cost of planting 10 trees to a green fund, we should be able to plant as much as 30 million trees every year.

“And if we continue this practice for 50 years (the average life span of a Pakistani) we would be able to plant as many as 1.5 billion trees in the country. This means there would be around 1800 trees/km2 plus the current stock of trees.”

While this may seem ambitious and impractical, knowing not just the ineptitude of the government, but also the inability of those paying for certificates to pay an enhanced rate, we must also bear in mind that registering births is not really a common occurrence in this country. This is why all figures thrown at us are always perceived to be dodgy.

Be that as it may, building a core group of volunteers and garnering support from civil society groups, individuals as well as the corporate sector, Jadoon may be able to not just realize his personal dream, but make his country richer in tree cover as well.

Generally, the trend is to go for short term help and philanthropy, the results of which would be visible immediately. Like feeding the poor or assisting in health care or education. Nature however, has not been the recipient of this attention, despite exhortation from all religions to take care of it.

Only those with a long term vision and foresight are mindful of the need to invest in the natural resources to benefit the coming generations.

As has been so aptly said in a Greek proverb, “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” They need to know that they are doing it for their children or their grandchildren. They must have a dream to leave the world a better place than they found it.

While the progress may be slow and painstaking, Jadoon is fortunate to have found willing support from some quarters who have stepped forward to take his mission forward.

So far, he has, through his Movement for Green Pakistan, managed to plant around 20,000 in different locations e.g. 15,000 plants in Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, around 3,000 in Judges’ Colony Satra Meel (as in 17 miles) Islamabad etc.

In the new tree plantation season, plans are for afoot for around 100,000 plants in Gomal University Dera Ismail Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He is looking for more ‘dreamers’, who share his vision, and can become coordinators in their respective areas to shoulder the responsibility of not only planting trees, but nurturing and protecting them.

We, in Pakistan, do not have a very good experience of the bi-annual tree plantation drives that have been taking place because after the fanfare and photo ops, there is no mechanism to take care of the saplings and plants to make sure that they grow up and mature as trees.

We also have examples in several parts of the country of unsuitable growth in layman terms, and AIS or Alien Invasive Species in forestry terms, being planted simply because they are rapidly growing and can be cited proof of “successful completion of a project.”

The lush green traffic islands and avenues in Karachi and most parks and grounds sporting the tall, slender, asthma-inducing pollen bearing Conocarpus are a case in point.

Islamabad has already had its skirmish with the paper mulberry which proved to be a health hazard, and if you travel beyond the Motorway, beyond Kallar Kahar, into Khushab, towards the water stressed Salt Range, you will see Eucalyptus along the way, a tree known to consume a lot of water and which results in the lowering of the water table.

These are matters to be tackled by the academia and policy makers, but the civil society needs to keep itself abreast of such developments so it can act as a watchdog over such plans.

Dreamers like Aamir Jadoon need to dream with their eyes wide open lest their plantation drive brings more harm than benefit in the long run.

It is encouraging that due to the worldwide awareness for the need for reforestation, for a variety of reason, Pakistan, too, has become a part of a worldwide initiative known as REDD+, or Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus.

This has been initiated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the context of climate change mitigation.

REDD+ is an incentive based mitigation mechanism and is expected to address the potential role of forestry up to 17-25% reported share towards Green House Gas emissions reduction. Through this mechanism, Pakistan can also earn credits through the carbon market, which may also offset the costs incurred in reforestation measures.

Earning carbon credits is a new and novel method and while Pakistan has been late in climbing this bandwagon, unlike regional countries like India, China, Nepal etc., the fact that it is now working on projects that will encourage increasing the tree cover of Pakistan is indeed encouraging. Here, too, there is a need to keep a watchful eye on the projects to ensure transparency and good governance.

Perhaps, we need more people like Jadoon who need to say ‘I have a dream’ and then get down to make it come true, for, as it has been said by a sage, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

This article was originally published on PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

September 11, 2012 at 6:17 am


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