Archive for August, 2010

Pakistanis fight losing battle against ‘super flood’

Post Source: THE NATIONAL  

By Tom Hussain and Rizwan Razi, Foreign Correspondents

Flood victims trudge along a major road that was inundated by floodwaters in the Punjab region on Friday. Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

ISLAMABAD // Farmers in northern and central Pakistan, where floodwaters are receding, rushed to sow fast-yielding crops yesterday while rising waters continued to devastate regions in the south. Flood surges from northern Pakistan have swelled the Indus River to 40 times its normal volume and inundated the southern Thatta district since Wednesday, forcing an additional one million people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

Residents had desperately worked with officials to build improvised dykes to prevent floodwaters from inundating towns and villages, but were no match for what Pakistani officials have termed the “super flood”.

Despite repeated warnings from authorities, impoverished residents in Thatta were reluctant to abandon their fields just as farmers upstream had tried earlier to remain on their farms hit by massive floods since late July.

“People had been warned. But only after the river broke its banks and the water started to inundate their villages, they escaped,” said Andro Shiladze, the head of operations for Unicef, the UN children’s fund, in southern Sindh province.

The number of Pakistanis affected has risen sharply over the past two weeks to about 17.2 million people, after the floods ravaged 19 of 23 districts in southern Sindh, displacing 3.7 million people, the UN said.

The growing numbers of affected people threatened to overwhelm the international response to the calamity, UN officials said on Friday.

“We are working day and night to bring reliefs to millions … but the floods appear determined to outrun our efforts,” said Martin Mogwanja, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Pakistan.

He raised fresh alarms about thousands of children left homeless, sick and starving by the floods, which have tracked the flow of the Indus and its tributary rivers from the Himalaya Mountains to the Arabian Sea.

“If nothing is done, an estimated 72,000 children, currently affected by severe acute malnutrition in the flood-affected areas, are at high risk of death,” Mr Mogwanja said.

Because poor farmers depend on seasonal crops, millions of them have been slow to evacuate, exacerbating a natural disaster unprecedented in the country’s 63-year history.

The floods have destroyed 3.4 million hectares of crops in central Punjab and northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces alone, and killed at least 200,000 head of livestock, the UN said.

The floods have affected about 20 per cent of arable land in Pakistan.

Worst hit have been the 40 per cent of Pakistan’s farmers who own a hectare or less, according to Agri Forum Pakistan, a non-government organisation in Lahore.

“They are also the most resilient and will, out of necessity and determination, lead an agricultural bounce-back in the flooded areas,” said Ibrahim Mughal, the chairman of the forum. Such farmers predominate in the Layyah district of Punjab, hit first by the initial flood surge in the Indus, and inundated again two weeks later by the Chenab River.

They returned to their villages last week to find their homes and farms in ruins. But, Mr Mughal said, they had a clear sense of purpose: to reclaim farms carved out of dense woodlands.

“We have been visited by a curse from the Almighty,” said Malik Shaukat, a 74-year-old founder of Sheranwali Basti, or community of lions, a village near the eastern bank of the Indus. “We cleared this land when others dared not even come here, and we will rebuild and replant. We don’t want charity from the government or anybody else,” he said.

Farmers in the village, whose cotton and lentils were destroyed are planning to plant a new crop of lentils that could be harvested before the sowing of wheat in November.

The floods have destroyed one-third of the estimated 450,000 acres of lentils across Pakistan, sending consumer prices soaring and deeply affecting families who consume lentils instead of more expensive meat and poultry.

However, villagers in Layyah said only farmers whose lands have been thinly coated with silt would have the opportunity to plant the interim lentil crop, and earn money until the wheat harvest in May.

Most have lost part or all of the wheat grain from the previous harvest. Other farmers said they would work hard over the next three months to clear their fields of knee-deep mud in time for the wheat crop. The federal government last week raised official prices for canola, an oil-bearing variety of rapeseed, to encourage its cultivation as an interim crop, similar to the lentil initiative in Layyah.

Federal and provincial government officials are still discussing how to distribute seed, fertilisers and pesticides, and organise short-term crop loans, however.

The officials are working to ensure the dispersal of 20,000 rupees (Dh859) to each flood-affected family before Eid al Fitr.

* Rizwan Razi reported from Lahore and Layyah


‘No room for farm income tax’

Post Source: Dawn economic & business review

By Nizamuddin Laghari

AGRICULTURE is the backbone of the economy and contributes more than 21 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product. But it is handicapped by skyrocketing prices of farm inputs because of withdrawal of subsidy on fertilisers and pesticides. The purchasing power of poor farmers is declining continuously and rural poverty is rampant. Shortage of irrigation water is also impacting productivity of food and cash crops. The urban consumption patterns are changing towards higher quality and value-added food items like meat and dairy products. Farming needs large-scale investment to increase productivity and to modernise itself. Would it be advisable to tax farm incomes at this stage?

There are two schools of thought on the issue of taxing the agriculture incomes. One is in favour while the other is opposed to it. The powerful urban lobby is advocating for levying of agriculture income tax, while the agriculturists think it would create negative impact. Cultivators have some backing amongst lawmaking bodies especially from landlord parliamentarians but are not supported by the print and electronic media controlled and dominated by urban lobby.

The governments in the developed economies heavily subsidise agriculture which vindicate the cause of rural farmers. The subsidies are essential to increase agricultural production. At times over-production depresses commodity prices and gives benefit to the non-farming sector. The subsidies directly benefit urban consumers who enjoy bigger share of food intake as compared to the rural population, because of their higher purchasing power.

Astonishingly, the word “balanced diet” is hardly heard by the rural folk. The major share of all basic facilities goes to urban centres. Only a small portion is available to the rural masses. The people living in rural areas are much poorer than their urban counterparts.

The literacy rate of 74 per cent in urban areas is higher against 48 per cent among the rural masses. The rural population has a single source of livelihood which is agriculture-related, whereas the urban people have multiple opportunities to survive and prosper.

The current year’s federal budget 2010-11 has eliminated subsidy given to Wapda for agriculture tube-wells. It will make electricity costlier for farmers – the tariff is already rising due to surge in fuel prices. Simultaneously, subsidy of Rs16 billion on wheat and sugar has been allocated to control food inflation, for the benefit of non-farm consumers.

There are two visible differences between the industrial and agricultural sectors. The industrial sector determines the price of its products on the basis of input cost including entrepreneur’s profit. The price of agricultural commodities entirely depends on the mercy of the market forces. For example, in the peak season the prices of tomatoes range between Rs5 and Rs15 per kg only, including freight charges and middlemen’s commission.

However, the prices of refrigerators do not come below their factory gates prices even in the winter season. It means that the industrial sector maintain its margin of profitability in all seasons. Agricultural produces many perishable goods and hence it deserves increased protection.

Despite its critical importance, the agriculture sector has been suffering from secular decline in its share in GDP. Appropriate investments, new variety of seeds, improved farming technology and techniques and better water infrastructure are not being provided adequately to farmers. Without adequate investment, it is not possible to tackle emerging challenges such as declining water availability and adverse impact of the climate change.

During 2009-10, the overall performance of the agriculture sector remained below target. Against a target of 3.8 per cent, and the previous performance of four per cent, agriculture sector attained two per cent growth this year.

According to the World Food Programme report, 38 per cent of Pakistanis are food insecure. This actually indicates that the poor are not able to afford intake of 2,350 calories a day to remain barely above the poverty line.

The agriculture sector is the lifeline of our vast rural population and the economy offers a lot of opportunities of employment and raw material for the industrial sector and also for future GDP growth. At this stage imposing agriculture income tax might turn out a real disaster for the rural population by hampering the growth of the severely-stressed rural economy.

Food shortage may spark violence in Pakistan: report

Post Source: By DAWN Correspondent

Thursday, 05 Aug, 2010

Flood-stricken people wait outside a relief center to get food supply on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. - Photo by Ap


WASHINGTON: About 77 million people go hungry in Pakistan while 36 per cent of the population are afflicted by poverty, says a new report released on Wednesday.

“From small farmers to the urban masses and internally displaced persons, millions of Pakistanis are affected by the scourge of food insecurity,” warns the report by the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Washington. The report notes that while the global food crisis subsisted in 2009, Pakistan continues to suffer from an acute food shortage. The report — “Hunger Pains: Pakistan’s Food Insecurity” — warns that the food shortage may lead to widespread violence if immediate steps are not taken to feed the hungry.

Quoting figures provided by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the report notes that in February 2010, the prices of wheat and rice — Pakistan’s two chief staple crops — were 30 to 50 per cent higher than before the global food crisis, and were on the increase.

The study links several recent incidents of violence to the food crisis, including the 2009 bombing of a World Food Programme office in Islamabad.

It also quotes WFP data from early 2010, showing that the prices of essential staples in Pakistan are nearly 40 per cent higher than five-year cumulative averages. The costs of sugar and cooking oil also escalated in the initial months of 2010.

The report notes that in early 2010, Pakistan’s food inflation registered at about 15 per cent — a far cry from the 30 per cent-plus figures several years earlier, “but still of great concern to the country’s economists, who noted that the Wholesale Price Index, a predictor of future price movements, stood at almost 20 per cent”. Such “soaring WPI-based inflation”, they said, portends further spikes in retail prices of key commodities.

“Weather, resource shortages, and conflict are exacerbating food insecurity in Pakistan,” says Michael Kugelman, who edited the report along with Robert Hathaway, director of the centre’s Asia programme.

The study notes that farmers and government authorities blamed drought-like conditions for reduced crop yields in late 2009 and early 2010. In the Swabi district, one farmer said his maize crop was “slashed” by 50 per cent. Rain-fed wheat-cropping areas have been hit particularly hard. Even the yields of irrigated areas are at risk. Meanwhile, Pakistan is burdened by devastating water shortages. The country’s per capita water availability ranks among Asia’s lowest, and is lower than that of many African nations.

At least 90 per cent of Pakistan’s dwindling water supplies are allocated to agriculture, yet inefficient irrigation and poor drainage have produced epidemics of water-logging and soil salinity across the countryside. As a result, “vast expanses” of farmland fail to produce successful harvests. Additionally, Pakistan is suffering through a chronic energy crisis with frequent electricity outages; these power failures undermine the effectiveness of energy-dependent agricultural technologies.

Finally, Pakistani military operations against militancy displaced about three million people in 2009. Those uprooted from Swat were forced to depart in the middle of the harvest season. About 1.7 million of these internally displaced persons have started returning home, yet they continue to struggle to obtain food.

More than a million Pakistanis remain displaced – including 250,000 from Bajaur.

“Little wonder that in February 2010, the FAO concluded that the country’s IDP crisis was causing severe localised food insecurity,” says Mr Kugelman.

“Yet as of mid-April 2010, only about 20 per cent of the nearly $540 million international appeal to assist Pakistan’s IDPs had been fulfilled.”

Wanted: Info sharing, joint monitoring on water

Post Source: The News International


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

India-Pakistan ties continue to be marred by areas of discordance, most notably ‘terrorism’ lies at the core of trust deficit. Flowing underneath but threatening to spill over is another contentious issue. Water. There are allegations from various sections in Pakistan that India is choking Pakistan’s lifelines that flow out of India and “stealing” water from poor farmers. As part of Aman ki Asha’s endeavour to look at hard issues, The Times of India, and the Jang Group along with Delhi-based Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation organised a seminar of experts from the two countries in New Delhi last week. A report.

Misperceptions rather than facts dominate the debate on water between Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s green belt draws its sustenance from rivers that flow out of Jammu and Kashmir. More than 60 years after these waters have been peacefully shared, there are mounting accusations from sections of Pakistan that India could choke this supply line by building a series of dams – or, according to more recent allegations in the wake of devastating floods in Pakistan, release more water that could worsen the floods situation.

Sitting across the table for two days, top water management experts and irrigation engineers from both countries discussed the issue, often with sufficient rancour, if only to understand each other’s positions as a starting point on a journey to cool the debate that some hawkish commentators have suggested could lead to war.

At the centre of the debate was naturally the 1960 Indus Water Treaty that governs the river flows into Pakistan and provides an agreed dispute resolution mechanism. In recent months, the buzz in Pakistan has been that India was building more than 100 dams on the Sutlej and Chenab and that would deplete supplies to farmlands that feed Pakistan’s 180 million people.

While some Pakistani experts stuck to that position, most appeared convinced that India was not violating the IWT by building these dams and what was planned were a few dozen small projects, called run of the river, which wouldn’t obstruct flows but only divert them for a short stretch to run power turbines.

The meeting coincided with a new row over the 330mw Kishanganga hydroelectric project in Jammu and Kashmir. India and Pakistan, after failing to resolve it within the IWT, agreed to international arbitration with the UN secretary-general selecting an umpire.

“There is no drying up because run of the river project deplete water only at filling time of new dams. Whether there are 50 or 100 it doesn’t matter. You can’t store running water,” said B G Verghese, a water expert associated with the Centre for Policy Research.

Others like Ramaswamy Iyer, a former bureaucrat, agreed to Verghese that while neither India nor Pakistan were models of water management, there was no data to show that New Delhi was cheating on the Indus agreement. In fact, experts from both sides agreed that there was no data available to shape a reasonable debate guided by facts.

To this end, the conference urged that both countries jointly plough for data and make it public in order to clear the fog. Joint mechanisms to measure water flows into Pakistan, as done in the case of Bangladesh, could remove mistrust, they said.

The conference, like previous ones on strategic issues and the media, was structured around a series of closed-door sessions featuring presentations and open discussions.

Beyond water-sharing, discussions went into issues relating to environmental and ecological challenges in the Himalayan region, as well as cooperation in watershed management.

Record rains – but Pakistan is dying for water

Floods kill more than 800, but lack of clean drinking water leaves 600 children dead from disease every day

By Omar Waraich in Islamabad –

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Residents of Peshawar leave their homes with whatever possessions they can carry after the heaviest monsoon rains in the region since 1929. Officials say 800 people have died in the floods

Pakistan is a place used to wretched ironies but few have been so starkly drawn as the one that haunts it this weekend. Record-breaking rainfall has brought floods which have so far killed more than 800 – all in a country that faces a water crisis so severe it will stalk the country for decades after the present torrents have receded.

The lack of clean drinking water has led to a diarrhoea epidemic, with an estimated 630 children dying each day from the disease. Nearly a third of Pakistan’s 175 million people lack access to clean drinking water, and water availability per person has fallen from about 5,000 cubic metres in 1947, when the country was founded, to only a fifth as much today.

The lack of clean water threatens the lives of its poor and weakens its sagging economy as a rapidly growing population and parched agricultural sector are deprived of crucial supplies for drinking and irrigation. Despite the national and global attention that is given to the country’s troubles with terrorism, insurgency and a fragile political order, it may be Pakistan’s little-noticed water crisis that costs the greatest number of lives. In the long term, this may prove its most destabilising political issue. According to a recent report, water and sanitation-related diseases cost Pakistan’s national economy nearly £1bn a year. Yet critics say that the government has paid scant attention to the problem and has approached it wrong-headedly. A new water policy is emphasising the need to develop new water filtration plants and adopt better hygiene practices. There is a plan in place to build over 6,000 new water filtration plants, but little progress is in evidence.

Under the government of the fallen dictator General Pervez Musharraf, nearly £100m was committed to a “Clean Drinking Water for All” programme that never saw completion. The major problem, critics say, is that the water residents depend on arrives contaminated by untreated sewage, industrial waste, salts and other chemicals.

Government advice to “boil” water before drinking and pay attention to hygiene does nothing to improve the quality of the water. The government is also either unwilling or unable to act against those who contaminate the water.

In contrast, Pakistan’s elite has the means to purchase regular supplies of bottled drinking water, a luxury beyond the reach of most in a country where more than 60 per cent live on less than $2 (£1.25)a day.

To put matters in their depressing context, the number of children who perish daily from water-related diseases is several times higher than the rate at which people perished in last week’s devastating floods.

On Saturday, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister for the north-west province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, said that more than 800 people had died as a result of last week’s monsoon floods, the worst since the deluge of 1929.

Desperate rescue efforts are under way, with 400,000 stranded amid perilously high levels of water across the north-west. The United Nations has estimated that one million people across Pakistan will be affected by the natural disaster. Many of those rescued are exhibiting symptoms of fever, diarrhoea, and other waterborne ailments.

The twin hazards of perilously low levels of water for most of the year followed by summer weeks of calamitous flooding illustrate the scale of the problem for countries such as Pakistan. It is often the same countries that suffer limited supplies of clean water that also endure flood devastation.

Poor infrastructure means that there is no effective means of absorbing the effects of heavy monsoon rain. The proposed construction of a number of dams has been halted due to a mixture of political sensitivities and bureaucratic inefficiency. And inadequate resources limit efforts to mount effective rescue operations.

Experts say Pakistan’s rapidly depleting supplies of water are a product of an escalating population and the deleterious effects of climate change. Much of Pakistan’s water is dependent on shrinking glaciers.

Since Pakistan was founded more than 60 years ago, water availability per person in the country has shrunk by 80 per cent. In 1947, sta-tistics suggested each person had 5,000 cubic metres (175,000 cubic feet) per year; today, they have 1,000 cubic metres.

Over the past six decades, the population has swollen from 34 million in 1951 to nearly 175 million today, making Pakistan the sixth most populous nation on earth. The population continues to grow at a rate of 1.6 per cent.

Water has also featured prominently in Pakistan’s long-standing disputes with its arch rival, neighbour and upriver nation India. The 1960 Indus Waters Treaty which set out an equitable distribution of the six rivers that flow from Indian Punjab and Indian-controlled Kashmir into Pakistan is now under severe strain, despite having withstood three wars.

India is pursuing the construction of a water-diversion scheme in Indian-administered Kashmir that would reroute water from the Kishanganga river to the Jhelum river before it is able to reach Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In addition, India has more than 20 hydro projects active on the three western rivers allocated to Pakistan in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. It is proposing to build another 10. India argues these schemes do not violate the terms of the treaty since water is returned downstream after running through dams for power generation.

But Pakistan is worried about the cumulative effects of India’s aggressive water policy. Islamabad has sounded an alarm over alleged violations of the treaty, an issue that figured in last month’s failed peace talks between the two countries’ foreign ministers in the Pakistani capital.

The coveted water supply is a lifeline for Pakistan’s agricultural sector, which makes up at least a quarter of the country’s economy and employs half of its workforce. Pakistan’s worries are focused on Punjab, the country’s bread basket where the famed rivers that give the largest province its name are drying. The depleting rivers have ruined small farmers and given burgeoning militant groups there a fresh rallying cry.

Pakistan complains that India is in a position to choke water supplies by manipulating distribution and storing water when it needs it the most. If India chooses to fills its dams at certain moments, entire crops in Pakistan could be ruined. The Kishanganga hydro-electric project in Kashmir, Islamabad claims, will have adverse effects on its own Neelum-Jhelum project, built with Chinese backing. In May, it submitted the case for arbitration.

Pakistan is also in dire need of more reservoirs, particularly for use in the winter. Two-fifths of the river Indus’s flow is derived from the summer melting of glaciers in Kashmir. Pakistan’s two large dams are silting up. And long-standing proposals for fresh dams, needed to relieve the country’s power shortage, have been frustrated by provincial political disputes. Currently, major cities are without electricity for up to 18 hours a day.

But Pakistan is also a victim of its own poor farming and irrigation techniques. More than a quarter of the water used for agriculture is wasted, as many farmers favour the flood irrigation method. Even basic measures such as canal lining, despite heavy lobbying by politicians from agricultural backgrounds, have yet to be implemented. There is little means of water conservation in practice. And, in the brutal summer heat, when temperatures can soar to more than 50C, in excess of a third of the water is lost before it reaches the roots of plants.