Toxic air – 30 Nov 2022

WHO estimates show that nine out of 10 people around the world breathe in air that exceeds the limits of pollutants set in its guidelines. Most of all, low- and middle-income countries such as Pakistan suffer the most as a result of what can only be described as toxic air. The WHO also estimates that around seven million people die every year due to air pollution worldwide. These estimates should serve as an eye-opener for environment managers around the world but more so in Pakistan where smog has also become a recurring challenge. Air pollution puts people at greater risk of lung damage and in many cases also serves as a trigger for reactivation of tuberculosis.

In addition to factories violating air pollution laws, worldwide temperature changes that global warming is causing are also a major reason for worsening air quality. Traffic on roads that emits toxic fumes and air travel that spews even more harmful gases have all contributed to this sorry state of affairs that has deprived common citizens of their right to fresh air. In various tests the WHO has found mixtures of smoke particles and solid and liquid fog in most cities of the world with various degrees of intensity. Such particles stay suspended in the atmosphere and pose serious environmental and health issues in a majority of countries including Pakistan.

In Pakistan every winter this air pollution emerges as a major challenge though that does not mean it doesn’t pose a threat in other seasons. In nearly all cities and even in towns and villages coughing and wheezing has become a regular occurrence especially among the elderly and children. Just breathing in the air in our cities is equivalent to being a heavy smoker. This is a serious issue. And the fact is that those in power know this. The federal and provincial governments in Pakistan must make efforts to reduce people’s exposure to air pollution. We can start by introducing a coal-friendly energy policy and a transport policy that does not depend on cars but on sustainable public transport systems. Regulation is crucial to ending the smog blanket across cities such as Lahore. Since Pakistan does not lack sunshine and winds, renewable energy sources can be a good alternative for air-polluting sources of energy. Poor air quality is a silent killer. Combatting it does not win elections. But it does save lives. And that is what our government and other governments in the developing world must prioritize.

Read more

Women in development – 30 Nov 2022

Sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. In 2015, the UN General Assembly enacted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), outlining how these SDGs will be accomplished worldwide by 2030.

SDG-5 explicitly aspires to promote gender equality and empower all women and girls. Eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right but also vital to achieving long-term sustainability. The multiplier impact of empowering women has been repeatedly demonstrated to enhance economic growth and development. The social, economic, and educational advancement of women significantly affects the overall system. Development is accelerated by gender equality. It rationalizes the economy and aids in positive performance and effectiveness of the economy.

First, it removes any obstacles that prevent women from participating in the economy, business, health, and other areas that contribute to a strong, capable, and developed nation. Second, it encourages and empowers women to participate more actively in politics and society so they may contribute to both at their highest possible level. Third, it elevates women’s status and thus contributes to society’s advancement.

The benefits of gender equality to growth and development cannot be denied; nevertheless, Pakistan’s progress in this domain is dismal. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, 2022, Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 146 countries, marginally ahead of Afghanistan. The gender gap is assessed in terms of educational achievement, economic involvement, physical and mental health, and political empowerment.

In the four sub-indexes, Pakistan ranks 145th in economic participation and opportunity, 135th in educational attainment, 143rd in health and survival, and 95th in political empowerment. Pakistan was one of the ten nations with the greatest gaps in economic participation and opportunity while narrowing 33.1 per cent of the gap.

In terms of population, Pakistan ranks fifth in the world. Unfortunately, Pakistan accounts for less than 0.4 per cent of the total global GDP, while the other four most populous countries account for 45 per cent of the total global GDP. Due to a lack of attention in terms of education, health insurance, job availability, less attractive packages, and a variety of other factors, Pakistan’s young labour force is not as productive as it ought to be.

The prime issue is that women account for less than 20 per cent of the total labour force in the country, implying that they constitute a very small proportion of the productive labor force. This must be increased by investing more in females in terms of education, health care, and other facilities that contribute to increasing our share of the country’s GDP and, by extension, our share of global GDP.

In a nutshell, greater gender parity and women’s economic engagement are significantly linked to social and economic prosperity. Education, health, and mobility for women are critical for human growth and long-term sustainability. Pakistan lags behind in almost every significant indicator. The government must strive to guarantee that all of its citizens have access to fundamental rights such as education. However, owing to conventional dogmas and cultural practices, education alone is inadequate to allow women to join the labour sector in Pakistan.

Implementing steps to reduce household care chores (for example, free daycare and gender quotas for female workers) would surely enhance women’s economic participation. These prejudices can only be eliminated by raising awareness. Through public awareness and education campaigns, there is also a compelling need to change cultural norms and attitudes that discriminate against women.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Kamal is working as an assistant professor at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan. He can be reached at:

Nafeesa Gul Qazi is a graduate student at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan.

Read more

Missing childhoods – 30 Nov 2022

THE fact is that despite some legal efforts to end the curse of child marriage taking place in Pakistan under the guise of culture and tradition, this deplorable practice continues unabated. The Federal Shariat Court recently took suo motu notice of the marriage of a six-year-old girl in Balochistan; the case may sound alarming but it is just the tip of the iceberg. According to Unicef, there are around 19m child brides in Pakistan, with one in six young women married in childhood. Efforts have been made legally to change the age of marriage for both men and women to 18, yet despite these attempts, only Sindh has managed to do the needful by passing the relevant law. Even then, unfortunately, the province has the highest number of child marriages after KP.

The negative effects of child marriage on young boys and girls, primarily the latter, are quite well-documented. There can be little argument with the fact that when children are married off, they lack the level of maturity needed to make important life decisions, while they are robbed of their childhood. Moreover, there are serious health and psychological risks of marrying off young girls, while the children they give birth to can also suffer from health issues. Child brides tend to leave their education incomplete, and also face a greater threat of spousal abuse.

To tackle this problem, the state needs to address two key areas: legal safeguards and their implementation, as well as changing mindsets in the long term. While Sindh has taken the lead by passing a law raising the legal age of marriage to 18 for both sexes, the other provinces need to replicate this progressive legislation. Yet the best laws in the world will remain useless unless they are implemented. Therefore, a national effort is needed to enforce such laws. This leads to the second issue of changing society`s thinking about child marriage. Particularly in the more conservative and rural areas, it will take time to eliminate this social evil. Thus the state, as well as NGOs, need to continually engage religious scholars, tribal elders and community leaders, as well as the women of areas where child marriage is prevalent, to explain the harm this practice does to young children. Change will not be immediate, but with legal safeguards and community engagement this destructive custom can one day be stamped out.

Read more

‘Addict’ held for killing infant son at Karachi’s JPMC – 30 Nov 2022

KARACHI: Police have arrested a man, said to be an addict, on charges of killing his infant son following a quarrel with his injured wife at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.

South SSP Syed Asad Raza told Dawn on Tuesday that the incident took place late on Monday night when Asif Hussain visited the JPMC where his wife, Kaneez Bibi, 40, along with her two children — Atif and Salma — was admitted for treatment following a road traffic accident on Sunday night.

He said she was on a stretcher at the hospital when a man gave her Rs1,000 as charity.

He said the suspect, who’s a drug addict, demanded the cash from his wife and when she refused he started a scuffle, took his own one-year-old son from the stretcher and threw him on the floor causing his death.

The police registered a murder case against him on the complaint of his wife.

The family originally hailed from Rahim Yar Khan and lived here in a slum area of Sohrab Goth.

Read more

Govt to launch Digital Hunar programme – 30 Nov 2022

LAHORE: The Punjab government has decided to launch Digital Hunar 2.0 programme to empower the youth with digital skills and boost job opportunities. For this purpose a consultation session and a programme design workshop was held at Arfa Software Technology Park to discuss the roadmap for Digital Hunar 2.0 initiative.

The event was organised in collaboration among PITB, Punjab Higher Education Department (HED), Planning & Development (P&D) Board and Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT and ITeS (P@SHA).

The consultation session also invited stakeholders from the government, IT industry and academia to share their input in the planning and execution of the Digital Hunar 2.0. Addressing the stakeholders, Minister IT Dr Arslan Khalid said that every year there are at least 16,000 university graduates from Punjab out of which 54pc contribute to the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The purpose of Design 2.0 is to create at least 20,000 jobs across Punjab and benefit both the youth and the economic growth of the country, he said. Minister HED Punjab Raja Yasir Humayun Sarfraz stressed the need to equip the youth with both digital skills and academic knowledge.

Commencing in January 2023, Digital Hunar 2.0 Programme as part of ‘Taleem Aur Hunar Sath Sath Orientation’ would be delivered to the graduating batches over a period of six months. An initiative of the Government of Punjab, ‘Taleem Aur Hunar Sath Sath’ has already been successfully held in some of the main cities in Punjab. The purpose of the drive is to empower the youth and build awareness about making efforts to foster both skills and education.

Read more

Mega project for Mingora city: Consultation session seeks input from stakeholders – 30 Nov 2022

MINGORA: A consultation session was held in Saidu Sharif on Tuesday to seek inputs from public representatives, experts, officials and the general public for the Cities Improvement Project (CIP).

District Development Advisory Committee (DDAC) Chairman Fazal Hakeem Khan Yousafzai, Member National Assembly Saleem-ur-Rahman, City Mayor Shahid Khan, Water and Sanitation Company Swat CEO Engineer Sheeda Muhammad, Senior Project Officer of the Asian Development Bank Syed Umar Ali Shah and others attended the session.

Addressing the consultative session, DDAC Chairman Fazal Hakeem Khan Yousafzai said that after making efforts, they succeeded in introducing mega projects for Mingora.

Thanking the chief minister on behalf of the residents of Mingora, he expressed the hope that the project would help provide clean drinking water to Mingora city, control traffic congestion and pollution in the city.

He said Mingora city would become a modern city with the completion of the project, adding work on the project would start after completing the consultation process.

Senior Project Officer of Asian Development Bank Syed Umar Ali Shah also addressed the consultative session and highlighted various features of the project.

He said that in the first phase, work would begin on three major projects, including Gravity Water Supply Scheme, Waste Management for Mingora City and Neighbourhood Park. He said that in the second phase, traffic management and tourism projects would be executed, which would develop the map of the city on modern lines.

It is pertinent to mention here that the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is working on the project in collaboration with the Asian Development Bank to adapt five cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to modern requirements.

Read more

‘Over 2 million screened for HIV’ – 30 Nov 2022

LAHORE: Punjab Minister for Primary and Secondary Healthcare Dr Akhtar Malik has said that a whopping 37,000 patients of HIV have been registered with Punjab AIDS Control Programme (PACP) out of 2.1 million people screened for HIV in the province.

“Out of total number of registered patients, 17,750 patients were being provided free medicines and other facilities,” he said while speaking at a training session on Role of Media in HIV/AIDS Response” organised by Punjab AIDS Control Programme (PACP), Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department (P&SHD) here at a local hotel on Tuesday.

The minister said that news reporting on HIV disease is a very sensitive and responsible assignment. HIV patient’s information is kept under secret for their prestige. This disease is often reported in high risk group as compared to general population. The high risk groups include transgenders and inject-able drug users. The truck and bus drivers and jail inmates also contribute to the spread of HIV disease.

The minister along with Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Ali inaugurated High Dependency Unit in Govt Mian Mir Hospital and enquired after health of patients admitted in emergency ward.

Read more

Crackdown on tinted glasses intensified – 30 Nov 2022

ISLAMABAD: Islamabad capital police intensified its crackdown against vehicles having black paper and tinted glasses. Special squads have been constituted to take action against the vehicles.

Islamabad police want to enforce a zero-tolerance policy as it is a moral responsibility to spread awareness regarding road safety while enforcing laws. Similarly, the behaviour of citizens on the road reflects the social norms of the society, he added. Islamabad capital police officials are well-trained through seminars and have been instructed to treat citizens in a professional manner.

Read more

Peshawar air quality at dangerous level – 30 Nov 2022

Peshawar was ranked the most hazardous air quality city in the world with a distinction of 590 Air Quality Index (AQI) on November 27 at 9pm.

PESHAWAR: In a shocking development, Peshawar was ranked the most hazardous air quality city in the world with a distinction of 590 Air Quality Index (AQI) on November 27 at 9pm.

One day later (Nov 28) at 10pm, a US website ranked Peshawar with hazardous distinction at 444 AQI. The city’s air quality is 500 times more dangerous than the guidelines issued by the WHO.

Experts say population of Peshawar is at greater risk of lung damage by smog, which can activate dormant tuberculosis. High levels of smog during the winter trigger asthma attacks, leading to wheezing attacks and shortness of breath, which increase chances of premature death from respiratory ailments and cancers.

The Peshawar Clean Air Alliance, a voluntary civil society organisation comprising academics, medical and public health experts, students and activists, has shown serious concern about the air quality of Peshawar. Convener of Peshawar Clean Air Alliance and Sarhad Conservation Network, Dr Adil Zareef said many factors have contributed to highly toxic air quality in major cities of Pakistan. Lahore and Peshawar have been competing with New Delhi with equally worse indicators.

“Among other factors are a huge population influx from the merged districts to Peshawar and the corresponding increase in vehicular traffic, smoke-emitting industries and informal small industrial units, especially unregulated brick kilns which mainly use rubber and other toxic materials enveloping Peshawar in deadly smog,” he said.

Dr Adil said huge clouds of charcoal smoke can be seen enveloping Hayatabad Phase 1, 5 and 7 and adjoining industrial zones, particularly Shahkas area, after sunset. The KP government is planning to establish VETs and ban unregulated vehicles. It would be a difficult exercise as Peshawar boasts the highest number of unregistered vehicles clogging the traffic, he remarked.

Flaws in the BRT design have narrowed the previously smooth-running main artery, which becomes congested during peak hours. Higher pollution levels are an outcome of slow and restricted movement with bottlenecks along the Khyber Road corridors, he said.

The government should exercise zero tolerance for vehicular and industrial emissions by introducing the concept of trained green policing by traffic wardens and capacity-building of EPA with green penalties and fines to offenders, he observed.

Dr Saadia Ashraf, head of the Pulmonology Department at KTH, said “population is at greater risk of lung damage by high levels of smog during the winters as it triggers chronic pulmonary diseases and cancers leading to premature death, besides allergies, cough and irritation in eyes, throat and nose. It severely affects cognitive (mental) development of young children,” she said.

Dr Amber Ashraf, head of Cardiology Department at KTH, has reported an increase in cardiovascular diseases, stroke, hypertension and related diseases. The government is being asked to take measures to reduce burden of preventable disease caused mostly due to noxious pollution, which has affected a large population of Peshawar.

Meanwhile, Peshawar Clean Air Alliance (PCAA) will hold its second meeting to review air quality monitoring network and KP government green policy today (Nov 30), and will share recommendations with the government. The PCAA has installed 12 high-quality air monitors in Peshawar with the collaborative support of SEED and BoK for evidence-based interventions.

Director General Environment Protection Agency, KP, Anwar Khan, told this correspondent the government has entered into a partnership with SEED and other organisations, including Bank of Khyber, and has installed Air Quality Meters, though at high-risk zones.

He said the government has taken both administrative and implementation measures for improving air quality through re-assessment of its vehicular emission functions, control over industrial units, implementing zig-zag technology in brick kilns and with improved traffic management. Civil society and the public also need to come forward and become agents of change. The government, on its end, will continue making efforts to bring about further improvement, he said.

Read more

Disasters and educational infrastructure – Part I – 30 Nov 2022

The frequency and intensity of natural disasters has alarmingly increased in recent years, predominantly due to climate change. Both developed and developing countries have been impacted alike. However, research that I conducted in Malakand Division clearly illustrates that human and financial cost of natural hazards is significantly greater in poorer societies and countries due to lack of preparedness and non-existence of resilient infrastructure.

The question arises as to why disasters of the same intensity cause different scales of destruction in different countries. For example, the 2010 Haiti earthquake of 7.1 magnitude brought massive devastation, killing about 230,000 people, displacing over two million residents from their homes and causing financial damage of about $14 billion.

In contrast, the 2010 Canterbury earthquake in New Zealand, with the same intensity of 7.1 on the Richter Scale, claimed no lives although it damaged buildings and infrastructure. One of the main factors behind this mammoth difference of human and financial cost was that New Zealand is a better resourced economy having already developed substantial engineering capacity, strict implementation of building codes and emergency response while Haiti lacked these prerequisites. In other words, New Zealand had developed resilient infrastructure and was better prepared to mitigate the magnitude of such natural disasters.

The Department for International Development (DFID) of the UK defines disaster resilience as “the process of helping communities and countries to be better prepared to withstand and rapidly recover from a shock such as an earthquake, drought, flood or cyclone”. It implies that resilience is something that can be built and enhanced by means of strengthening capacities and reducing vulnerabilities through institutional and legislatives arrangements. Thus, resilience is the capability of a community, society or overall government system to absorb the initial shock and re-stand on its feet and restart its life after a particular natural or human-induced tragedy.

There is no doubt that Pakistan lacks resilience; our particularly educational institutes are vulnerable to hazards due to certain factors. For instance, over 10,000 schools collapsed during the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, killing about 18,095 students and 853 teachers and educational staff in the earthquake-affected districts and injuring another 50,000. The 2010 and the recent monsoon floods are clear illustrations of the country’s extreme vulnerability to natural hazards.

The 2020 floods affected over 20 million people across 78 districts of the country and submerged about one-fifth of Pakistan’s total land area. The damage and destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure was beyond imagination as the floods damaged 23, 831 KM roads, 485 health facilities, 1.6 million houses and rendered 7.3 million people homeless. Like the 2005 earthquake, the 2010 floods hit the education sector hard as 10,348 schools, 23 colleges, and 21 vocational training facilities were damaged. As a result, the study of about seven million students was disrupted and most of them were accommodated in temporary tent schools.

In the recent flooding, about 1,735 people lost their lives, including 646 children and over 33 million people were affected in 85 districts. In addition, over 13,115km roads and 439 bridges have been partially or fully damaged. The government declared a total of 94 districts as disaster-hit which are over half of all districts in the country. According to the detailed post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) study conducted by the government in collaboration with various development partners, the floods inundated one-third of the country and displaced eight million people.

Like previous natural disasters, along with private property and critical public infrastructure including roads and bridges, the floods have damaged state-run educational institutes across all the affected districts. The report mentions that “the floods have impacted approximately 17,205 public schools (primary to higher secondary), colleges, special education centers/schools/institutions, technical and vocational education and training centers, and universities”. About 6,225 educational institutions were declared to be fully destroyed while another 10,980 were assessed to be partially damaged. Overall, the education sector has been hit hard as the floods affected some 94,478 teachers and 2.6 million registered students in the calamity-hit areas.

Floods have been the most recurring and devastating natural disasters in the country. To mitigate the impact and intensity of flooding, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa amended the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Ordinance No III of 2002, known as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa River Protection Act 2014. The law specifically prohibits the construction of commercial or non-commercial buildings at the banks of rivers to ensure smooth flow of water. For example, regarding the general prohibitions, the act states that no person shall be allowed to: “Construct, or undertake any related physical works of any commercial building or non-commercial building, or undertake any other developmental work, within two hundred feet to be measured along the slope (lay off land) beyond high water limit on either side of the rivers or their tributaries or on a space within the limits between the banks of a river”.

Regarding ‘Land Use and Zoning Plans’, the law clearly stipulates that: “The area up to fifteen hundred feet starting from two hundred feet to be measured along the slope (lay off land) beyond the high water limits on either side of the rivers or their tributaries shall be known as Provincial control Area, wherein construction or other developmental activities shall be undertaken in accordance with the land use and zoning plans prepared under sub-section”.

The said Act further warns that “any organization or individual, who intends to construct bridge, culverts, crossing structure and flood protection works on rivers, streams, nullahs, drains and water channels shall obtain an NOC, before the commencement of works”.

In the recent floods, most of the damage has been done by River Swat and River Panjkora in Malakand where private and public buildings and property have been washed away by overflowing, or to be precise, choked rivers and their tributaries. Besides damaging over 3,297 houses, about 550 schools and 43 health facilities have been damaged in the area.

Several officials interviewed in various public and private sector organizations stated that lack of implementation of relevant laws resulted in more casualties and damage to infrastructure. An official in the Department of Irrigation in District Malakand said that, given unchecked encroachments on the banks of rivers in Malakand, it appears the law is only in papers as no government authorities have been able to curb these illegal constructions.

While travelling from Mingora to scenic Kalam Valley, the most famous tourist destination in Malakand region, one can see hundreds of buildings right at the bank of River Swat. Unplanned construction and encroachments obstructing the natural flow of water is one of the main reasons that the floods caused so much destruction.

To be continued

Disclaimer: This research was conducted by the writer and was supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) Pakistan. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the HSF.

The writer holds a PhD from Massey University, New Zealand. He teaches at the University of Malakand. He can be reached at:

Read more