Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pushing with Mountain Agenda at Rio+20

By Saleem Shaikh 

19 June 2012

While mountains resources meet socio-economic needs of over half of the world population, agenda for conservation and protection of mountain resources must be placed be at priority in the negotiations at the Rio+20 set to open on June 20 in Rio, Brazil.

Undoubtedly, mountains play crucial role in water, food and energy nexus. Glaciers, ice fields, and snow packs store an immense amount of water that meet year-round needs for irrigation, drinking, sanitation, industrial processing and clean energy. Water stored in these mountains is also critical for food security, both in the mountains and downstream. 

The mountains are also sources of rich biodiversity that provide organic food and forest products and natural medicines, yet all are at risk from diverse climate change impacts.

Flow of water in adequate quantities and acceptable quality from the cryosphere is essential for food security. But, uncertainty of water supplies renders mountain and agricultural communities particularly vulnerable, particularly in subtropical zones.

In addition, climate change and anthropogenic pollution have become cause of negative consequences, particularly for glaciers, which are of global significance. According to international findings, glacial melt is the result of global warming.

Erratic and unpredictable heavy rains, flood, drought, cyclone events due to increased climate variability are increasing the happening of hazards for mountain populations and hence the vulnerability of populations both upstream and downstream.

Climate change experts at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) are calling for conservation, storage, and sustainable management upstream are of unprecedented importance for livelihoods, food and energy security, and basic availability of water downstream.

Mountain systems across the world do require serious attention and for that reason the discussion on mechanisms and instruments proposed for sustainable mountain development at global forums like Rio+20 require to be influenced to ensure that mountain-specific concerns are included and assigned due heed in such highest level negotiations.

While adaptation strategies are of high importance for mountain areas, several mountainous countries lack adequate capacity to collect information related to their urgent and immediate adaptation needs and prepare strategic adaptation plans.

For Countries depending on the ecosystem services of the mountains, it has been inevitable to ensure that there is unhampered and regular access to relevant information about how climate change is affecting mountain resources and how What part they can play to mitigate these impact and how they can adapt to them. The mountain countries in the northern hemisphere (especially developed mountain countries) are therefore can support such countries that lack resources needed to regularly update themselves about climate change impacts on these for mountain systems. Such exchange of information and capacity-building will be helpful for mitigation and adaptation in mountain areas.

As a response to climate change, there are now plenty of financial instruments available for developing measures to improve adaptation to climate change in least-developed countries. But, these have hardly been in action.

Pledges were made in the Copenhagen Accord to provide US $30 billion for the period from 2010-2012 for adaptation and mitigation; a further sum to assist developing countries of US $100 billion a year by 2010 was also promised. Despite these pledges for partnership between developed and developing countries to address the challenges of climate change, finance for adaptation programmes has not yet poured into mountain communities and mountain ecosystems on the scale required by the urgency of the problem.

When the mountain agenda is discussed, it is important to recognise the respective positions of countries in the Rio+20 negotiations. For instance, the fact that the mountain agenda is in conformity with key national and regional positions and addresses national and regional-level mountain issues. For making emphasis on the Mountain Agenda effective at global, national, and state level, mountain issues must be dealt with under the sustainable development framework, which is aligned with all other multilateral environmental agreements.

Global mountain ecosystems and livelihoods can be safeguarded now and in the future only if the mountain voices are properly heard and assigned due recognition in the negotiations at the global forums like Rio+20 and UNFCCC.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Call to counter-attack malaria in Pakistan

Saleem Shaikh

April, 27, 2011

The World Malaria Day was marked by civil society organisations and provincial governments on April 25 across the country. In this context, different programmes were arranged to highlight the significance of the day, raise awareness among masses about the disease and underline the need for its prevention.

The theme of this year’s World Malaria Day was ‘Achieving Progress and Impact’. The theme called for the global community’s renewed efforts to make progress towards zero malaria deaths by 2015.
In Pakistan, around 0.5 million malaria cases are reported every year. However, given the realisation, malaria has been declared as a life threatening disease and one of the major health challenges of the 21st century.
The major developments in the industrial sector without proper sewerage, unplanned and unsustainable urbanization and bad sanitary conditions have made the conditions favourable for the expansion of malaria.
The key interventions to fight the scourge of malaria include early diagnosis and prompt treatment of cases, use of long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets (LLINs), elimination of mosquito breeding sites by drainage, filling of wastewater bodies with earth, cleaning of drains and clearing vegetation.
According to WHO reports, due to a countrywide malaria eradication drive launched in 1961, malaria was almost eliminated in the country during the 1960s with a reported figure of some 9,500 in year 1967. However, financial and administrative constraints resulted in the resurgence of malaria in the 1970s, which touched epidemic proportion in 1972-73.
Later in 1975, the strategy switched from eradication to control when malaria control interventions was integrated into the primary health care system. Since then, the health malady persists to be a major public health hitch in the country.
In most parts of the country, the transmission season is post-monsoon, occurring from July through November.
The MDG Pakistan 2010 Report notes that malaria continues to be an endemic disease in large areas of the country. However, the malaria related issues call for attention as the proportion of population in malaria risk areas using effective measure has increased slightly by 10 points from 20 to 30 during 2001 to 2009.
Different reports indicate that the disease is now rising as a grave health problem in Balochistan, FATA and in parts of Punjab and Sindh.
According to MDG Pakistan 2010, the proportion of population facing malaria risk using effective malaria prevention and treatment measures in 2004-05 was 30 per cent, which fell to 25 per cent in 2006-07. But, latest figures of 2009-10 show that there has been a reversal and the number has increased to 50 per cent.
However, there is a mounting concern about the rapidly aggravating situation of malaria in all parts of the country.
Achieving the 75 per cent proportion of population facing malaria using effective malaria prevention and treatment measures by 2015 is the eighth MDG target. But, it is difficult to achieve this unless increased investment in water supply infrastructure is made. Health development experts say that in view of the current depressing trends and the country’s current financial problems it is hardly possible to meet the target.
“Today, only one in four malaria sufferers in Pakistan actually gets treated for the disease. When it comes to malaria treatment, only about 25 per cent of patients infected approach public-sector hospitals. The rest turn to quack [unqualified] doctors and self-medication,” IRIN reported quoting Muhammad Mukhtar, a research officer at the national malaria control programme.
Health experts believe that people can be treated for malaria with easily available medicines, if diagnosed properly. But, a fragile health infrastructure, deepening poverty, inadequate number of doctors and paramedical staff and bad or no monitoring system for mortality rate from the malaria.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

World Water Day: Drop by drop

By Saleem Shaikh

March 20, 2011

In Pakistan, water and sanitation-related diseases account for 60 per cent of the total child mortality cases. Of these, diarrhoeal diseases alone are estimated to kill more than 200,000 children under five years of age every year.

The annual mortality rate for children under five years old was estimated to be 117 deaths per 1,000 children in 1990-91. Though the numbers have reduced to 75 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2007, according to Pakistan Millennium Development Goal Report (PMDGR) 2010, the figure is still unacceptably high.

Unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene are the underlying causes of diarrhoea in children, mainly in the lower income groups. The combination of unsafe water consumption with poor hygiene practices causes diseases, which further exacerbate their economic conditions, due to high cost of medical aid.

Access to sanitary latrines at household levels is very low throughout the country. According to estimates, only 42 per cent people have access to safe latrines throughout Pakistan (65 per cent urban and 30 per cent rural).

Access to safe drinking water is also a critical health issue in the country. The projected population growth for the next ten years — from over 160 million to 221 million people — will exert further pressure on water demand, making access to safe water even more of a challenge.

Data indicate that just 65 per cent of the population has access to clean drinking water and that urban access to potable water is significantly higher than rural access — 85 per cent urban and 55 per cent rural.

Delivery of potable water supply is constrained by the inability of taluka/tehsil municipal administrations (TMAs), which are now responsible for providing safe water and to manage sustainable water systems in their respective jurisdictions.

Poor hygiene practices, such as lack of hand washing with soap at multiple critical times are common phenomena in the country, dangerously so in rural areas. Besides, there is a lack of awareness about what ‘clean’ water means. For instance, most believe that if water is clear and odourless it is suitable for drinking. This misconception could present a barrier for the acceptance of household water treatment methods or community water filtration plants. Until recent years, environmental health programmes have not given behaviour change the importance it is due.

Research has shown that mere access to water and sanitation may bring little or no behaviour change impact. Only a combination of clean water, improved sanitation and hygiene behaviours can ensure that in due course, the impact will appear in the district, national, and international statistics.

Even in developed urban areas, with organised administrative structures, resources and high water coverage, the quality of water can be so poor that waterborne epidemics are common. For instance, in Lahore and Karachi, the most developed cities in Pakistan, more than 40 per cent of the water supply is unfiltered, 60 per cent of industrial effluents are untreated, and groundwater sources are being contaminated by human waste and pollution.

However, there is a mounting concern about, and response to, the rapidly aggravating crisis regarding safe water and sanitation.

Halving the proportion of people without access to safe water by 2015 is the 10th MDG target. Access to clean drinking water, particularly to the poorest of the poor, remains a daunting challenge, especially at a time when the country is reeling under virulent water scarcity and rising surface water contamination. The country is also daunted by low coverage of safe drinking water supply, which is a major cause of waterborne diseases.

According to the PMDG 2010 report, water supply coverage has increased to 65 per cent in 2008-09 from 53 per cent in 1990. However, the target set for 2015 regarding the water supply reach is 93 per cent; this is hard to achieve without huge investment in water supply infrastructure. Development experts believe that given the current trends and the country’s current financial woes it is impossible to meet the target.

Although the country’s sanitation situation has increased by 100 per cent to 63 per cent in 2008-09 from 30 per cent in 1990, it is a long way from the target of 90 per cent access to safe sanitation to be met by 2015.

Limited resources and poor financial outlook for Pakistan in the next couple of years, make meeting the MDG targets a daunting challenge to the country. However, the government must endeavour and utilise all energies and financial resources towards achieving these goals because their attainment would certainly improve the country’s socio-economic face.

Many development experts believe that these challenging goals, particularly ‘Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger’ as well as ‘Reducing Child Mortality’ can be met by pursuing an agenda of rapid inclusive economic growth, introducing concrete reforms, continuity and sustainability of policies and programmes and increased participation of the communities in the overall development process.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Blind Indus dolphin survey concludes in Sindh

Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

April 22, 2011

KARACHI: The six -day blind Indus dolphin survey in Sindh concluded on Friday.

The survey was launched on April 16 by the Sindh Wildlife Department (SWD) in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan (WWF –P).

The SWD officials said that the survey team counted 918 blind dolphins in the river Indus from Guddu to Sukkur.

The survey team comprised 35 key officials of SWD and WWF–P.

The officials recalled that that during survey conducted by WWF-P in 2006, around 810 dolphins were counted in the river Indus from the Guddu Barrage to Sukkur Barrage.

Assistant Conservator of SWD Ghulam Mohammad Guddani said: “A distance of 200 kilometres from Guddu to Sukkur was covered for the survey and water samples were obtained after each 10 kilometers to ascertain causes of the death of 45 rare blind Indus dolphins reported from 2006 to 2011 March.”

The final report of the water samples would be issued publicly in three weeks, he added.

Guddani said that the survey is conducted every five years and previously each survey has shown 40 per cent rise in the number of the dolphins. However, this survey has posted disappointed results.

“No encouraging growth in the dolphin’s population has been observed because of different reasons,” he remarked.

Use of banned fishing nets and poisonous chemicals by fishermen, unhampered release of hot poisonous water of the Guddu Tharmal power into the river Indus, release of drainage water and industrial wastewater into the river at Sukkur and the construction of hydel power stations along the Indus are among others, grave threats to the survival of the rare species, spelled out the SWD and WWF – P officials.

The SWD’s assistant conservator said, “Data collected during the survey would be shared with the high officials of the wildlife department and other concerned departments.”

He also said that he would suggest in the survey a request to the government to declare the River Indus area between Guddu and Sukkur a ‘protected area’ for the sake of rare blind Indus dolphins’ sustainable survival and ban the use of fishing nets and poisons chemical for fishing.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rare blind Indus dolphin survey kicks off in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

April 19, 2011

KARACHI: The Sindh Wildlife Department in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature – Pakistan (WWF–P) has launched a six-day blind Indus dolphin survey.

“Being conducted from Guddu to Sukkur, the survey would conclude on April 21 of this year,” said a senior official in the Wildlife department.

The survey team comprises 35 officials of the Sindh Wildlife Department and WWF–Pakistan.

The blind Indus dolphin survey was expected to take place in February but was delayed.

“Actually, the survey was scheduled to kick off from February 4. But, it was postponed on account of security reasons,” said Ghulam Mohammad Guddani, assistant conservator of the wildlife department.

According to the survey conducted by WWF-P in 2006, there are only 1,600 dolphins in 190-km Indus Dolphin Reserve, some 900 of them found in the area from the Guddu Barrage to Kotri Barrage.

There are reports that a number of blind dolphins have slipped into canals and other water channels from the River Indus following gushing floodwater.

“However, there becomes need to conduct survey and census of the blind Indus dolphin to assess their actual status,” said a senior wildlife official.

Coordinator of Indus River Dolphin Conservation Project of WWF-P, Uzma Naureen Khan, said that the falling water level in the River Indus, harmful fishing practices, use of poisonous chemicals by fishermen and construction of hydel power stations along the Indus are among others, serious threats to the survival of the unique species.

“Use of the poisonous chemicals by the greedy fishermen is too perilous, particularly when there is insufficient water in the river,” she remarked.

Naureen said that the recent death of seven blind Indus dolphins under mysterious conditions plunged the wildlife conservationists into shock. She stressed on urgent need for reviewing the Fishing Card System, maintaining a strict vigil over fishermen and altering designs of barrages, which divide the dolphin’s population into smaller families in the Indus River.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Hopes of bumper wheat crop marred in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

April 17, 2011

KARACHI: Although the Sindh Food Department claims to have started wheat procurement last week in the province, the growers have complained of unavailability of the polypropylene (PP) and gunny bags at the centers.

Sindh Chamber of Agriculture official Nabi Bux said, “Unavailability of the bags coupled with absence of food officials at the wheat procurement points has prove bane for wheat growers and their joys of bumper wheat crop have also been marred.”

On the other hand, such an unfavourable situation has been boon for middlemen, hoarders and profiteers, who exploit growers by creating a situation in which they would be left with no choice but to sell out their produce at a price much below the official price.

“Lack of funds and unavailability of the bags in required quantity have remained so far major hurdles to timely initiation of wheat buying,” admits a senior food official.

The food department had also floated a tender on January 29, for buying 10 million PP bags (50kg each), which would be distributed among the wheat growers by April 1.

Sindh Food Secretary Mohammad Naseer Jamali said that some 400,000 bags are required to achieve the wheat procurement target.

These required bags were expected to be available to the department by April 30 and would have been distributed to the wheat farmers immediately, he hoped.

He also said that an amount of Rs30.73 billion had been borrowed from the banking sector to procure 1.3 million ton wheat, a target for the food department for 2011 Rabi season.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SACOSAN ends with pledges

Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

April 10, 2011
Photo Caption: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa addresses SACOSAN Ministrial Summit in Colombo. Minister of States and Frontier Regions Engineer Shaukat Ullah is also seen. – Photo by Saleem Shaikh

COLOMBO: The heads of the delegations from the eight South Asian countries here on Thursday adopted the ‘Colombo Ministerial Declaration’ at the concluding session of the fourth South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN IV).

They affirmed in the declaration the value of the SACOSAN process in maintaining political momentum to tackle the sanitation crisis and renewed their joint commitment to invest in the people of the region through policies and programmes that deliver sustainable sanitation and hygiene to all.

The signatories of the declaration also recognised the potential of sanitation to empower communities and to be a powerful entry–point for development.

They committed to work progressively to realise the ‘right to sanitation’ in programmes and projects and eventually in legislation in their respective countries; develop time-bound plans and allocate as well as mobilise resources for delivering on all previous SACOSAN commitments; design and deliver context-specific equitable and inclusive sanitation and hygiene programmes including better identification of the poorest and most marginalised groups in rural and urban areas; raise the profile of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in schools; set up one national body with responsibility for coordinating sanitation and hygiene, involving all stakeholders including those responsible for finance, health, public health, environment, water, education, gender and local government at national, sub-national and local levels; establish specific public sector budget allocations for sanitation and hygiene programmes; to recognise the importance of people’s own contribution towards sanitation; develop harmonised monitoring mechanisms with roles and defined responsibilities, using agreed common indicators that measure and report on processes and outcomes at every level; include in monitoring mechanisms specific indicators for high priority measures such as WASH in schools, hand washing and menstrual hygiene; and adopt participation, inclusion and social accountability mechanisms from planning to implementation in all sanitation and hygiene programmes.

The heads of the regional countries’ delegations further called on development banks, external support agencies and the private sector to increase their support to provide financial and technical assistance for sanitation and hygiene in South Asia.

The four-day SACOSAN IV which began under the theme ‘Sanitation Enhances Quality of Life’ concluded on April 7. It was attended by 450 delegates, 320 foreign delegates, ministers, policy makers, senior civil servants, grass-roots activists, professionals from academia, NGOs, development partners and the private sector from South Asian and other regions.

The SACOSAN is a government-led biennial convention held on a rotational basis in each South Asian Association of Regional Countries (SAARC).

Inaugurating the ministerial summit, president of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa underlined the need for political will of the respective countries to implement the commitments on sanitation and water, especially with regards to schools, poor section of people and the differently able people.

He said: “Safe sanitation, hygiene and provision clean drinking water are the key to overall socio-economic uplift. However, it is need of the hour to divert colossal funds being wasted on wars and conflicts to development research and technology to fight poverty and ease suffering.”

“Public expenditure on rural centric initiatives and on farmers, on children and similar expenditures on the provision of water, sanitation and clean environment are more productive and beneficial to the welfare of the citizens. Thus, at a ministerial conference such as this, our determination should be to appeal to the world to divert their defence expenditure to development” the Sri Lankan president said.
He urged the South Asian governments to strive for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within the stipulated time of 2015.

The heads of delegations, experts on water and sanitation, international donor organisations including United Nations, World Bank, Unicef, WHO, WaterAid, Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA) and government representatives from South Asian countries, key leaders of other national and international civil society organisations agreed on the need for more spending on increasing access of safe sanitation, hygiene and drinking water and water infrastructure development, to the people of the region.

After extended and in-depth deliberations, discussions and meetings at the South Asia Conference on Sanitation IV, they concluded that no country can achieve sustainable economic growth without improving its sanitation, water, education and health profiles.

The countries in the region sustain significant economic losses equal to at least 5.8 per cent of the total regional GDP due to poor sanitation.

“Most shockingly, children and adults are still dying needlessly. Since the last SACOSAN, about 750,000 of South Asia’s children have died of diarrhoea,” said Amarananda Abeygunasekara, Sri Lankan secretary in the Ministry of Water Supply and Drainage.

Earlier, Pakistan’s Minister for States and Frontier Regions Engineer Shaukat Ullah, in the country progress report ‘The MDG of Sanitation for SACOSAN IV’, said that 60 per cent of the total number of child mortality cases in Pakistan are caused by water and sanitation related diseases and 20-40 per cent of hospital beds in the country are occupied by patients suffering from such diseases.

“Nevertheless, Pakistan is committed to extending improved sanitation facility to 67 per cent of population by 2015. Review of sanitation date of government indicate that the use of latrines has increased significantly from 57 per cent in 2001-2002 to 78 per cent in 2008-09 and open defecation has decreased from 43 per cent to 22 per cent during this period,” he said.

And given this baseline, the country has progressed and succeeded in providing access to improved sanitation to 45 per cent of the population by 2008-09 that brings it closer to the attainment of MDG of Sanitation by 2015, Shaukat Ullah said confidently.

He said, “The government is engaged with international partners and donor agencies to accelerate the implementation of the sanitation agenda. Besides, projects worth US$ 61 million are under implementation at different stages in the implementation cycle. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has in the pipeline US$ 244 million worth of projects under WASH cluster.”

Talking about impacts of the projects and interventions for promotion of safe sanitation and hygiene, Head of WaterAid – Pakistan, Abdul Hafeez, said that interventions and projects aimed for safe sanitation, hygiene and clean drinking water have followed different trajectories, which have produced divergent outcomes.