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Archive for September 2012

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 (http://www.pmd.gov.pk/forecast/3monthForecast.pdf) 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: http://speakforchange.org/?s=jadoon

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

Colour Me Beautiful!

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It’s easy to be consumed by commercial success. but Sara Mushtaq has carved out a niche — as an artist and philanthropist.

She is a vivacious young woman who thinks the journey is more interesting than destination, and she is willing to savour each and every step of the way.

Having left Pakistan for Hong Kong at the age of 10, she seems to have imbibed the vibrant multiculturalism of that city in her personality.

Sara Mushtaq, an entrepreneur still in her twenties, has transformed something as traditional and simple as henna or mehndi application virtually into an art form. In doing so, she has crossed the cultural divides that had confined it to just the Arab world and Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, and introduced it to an international audience that has been captivated by its possibilities.

After completing high school in Hong Kong, Sara went to the prestigious Loughborough University in the U.K., and studied graphic design and event management for travel and tourism industry.

Back in Hong Kong, she joined the publishing industry, but the creativity within her was just spilling over, and she decided to experiment with the simple medium of henna.

It all started with her putting up a stall at handicrafts fair. Eager to unleash her creativity, she had to literally, drag people off the street by luring them with a promise of a free demonstration.

Once she ‘had’ her subject, there was no looking back. The Chinese audience, which was totally uninitiated, was captivated with the intricacy and beauty of her designs, and the next day, just through word of mouth, and pictures of some work executed the previous day, Sara’s Henna had arrived! Just 30 tattoos fetched over HK$1800!

Her reputation grew manifold; to the extent, she had to give up a steady job in the publishing industry to pursue this as a career. She hasn’t regretted it for a moment.

There were competitions, workshops, fairs, fashion shows, and of course, weddings and Eid fairs. Sara was making good money, having fun and even got the chance to pack her mehndi cones and head to Malaysia, Thailand and China on bridal henna appointments!

Sara soon had big names like Karen Millen, Dolce & Gabbana, PWC, HK Mag and Op Smile under her belt.

Word of mouth and social media are still the only means used by her to showcase her work and get more orders. The enterprising lady keeps experimenting with new and unique ways to use this traditional medium.

For children’s parties, she developed a gel by mixing make-up colours, glitter and body paint so they could have the tattoos of their choice, but still be able to wash them off before heading to school.

Intricate mehndi patterns also started appearing on items as diverse as jewellery boxes, cupcakes and three-tiered wedding cakes. Having found a good supplier in Karachi, whose quality she swears by, she now concentrated on developing motifs and graphics according to the theme of the event.

However, being the creative person she is, Sara was not content with just becoming a commercial success.

As part of her social outreach, she held henna workshops for daughters of poor workers who were not allowed to step out of the house to improve their financial status, and also used events as fund raisers for organizations in Pakistan, like The Citizens’ Foundation for their schools.

That is when she came across the Canada-based organization, Henna Heals, https:/www.facebook.com/hennaheals which works with cancer patients who lose their hair during chemotherapy. Volunteer artists of this organization go and draw beautiful henna patters on their heads which make them look, and feel good.

Sara entered an international competition inviting designs for the crown meant for cancer patients, and in a worldwide poll, her designs got the most votes. She made sure her designs would be feminine, yet have a look of strength to show the courage of these cancer survivors.

She is part of an offshoot of this organization, known as Henna Heals International Referrals https:/www.facebook.com/groups/hennahealsinternational/ wherein Henna artists across the world are sent references to people willing to have them make these Henna crowns in their own cities.

Sara is in Pakistan and planning to do the same for cancer patients, especially children, and when back in Hong Kong, will do it there, too.

What is important to note is that all the henna or mehndi used for the cancer patients conforms to very strict standards of ingredients that do not react adversely to their already sensitive skins. That is why only natural ingredients are used, and it is made sure that the mehndi is free of PDP (purified protein derivatives) so that it is absolutely safe to use.

It is this possibility to use the medium of mehndi to bring joy to those who are weighed down by the dread of the disease that motivates Sara and she is looking for opportunities to be able to contribute to their happiness by letting the creative juices flow.

Her designs work intricately in the theme of every event — be it a children’s party, a wedding function, or a catwalk event. They have made people sit up and take notice of the range of possibilities offered by this very visually opulent medium.

With her winning the competition of a programme like Henna Heals, where she pitted her artistry against some of the world’s best artists and came on top, she now feels another kind of a sense of fulfillment, which goes beyond the happiness of seeing her venture become a commercial success.

It also shows the way to other talented youth to really get out of the box and explore opportunities that can earn them name, fame, and fulfillment. The only investment they need is faith in themselves, and presence on social media, and perhaps, they, too, can set out on a journey that can take them on a scenic route.

This article was originally published on PIQUE.

Written by afiasalam

September 11, 2012 at 6:09 am