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.


South Asians call for equitable sanitation programmes

Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

April 4, 2011


Photo Caption: Participants of the pre-meeting SACOSAN IV lined up outside makeshift toilet as symbol to highlight sanitation crisis in South Asia –Photo by Saleem Shaikh

COLOMBO: Civil society members at an international consultative meeting, just ahead of the fourth South Asian Conference, on Sanitation (SACOSAN), in Sri Lanka, called upon their respective governments to hammer out viably equitable and inclusive sanitation and hygiene programmes.

They strongly urged for a time-bound action plan for delivering the previous SACOSAN commitments made in Dhaka, Islamabad and Delhi.

The four-day fourth SACOSAN, to be held from Monday in Colombo is expected to focus on safe sanitation and hygiene issues. The ministerial level meeting will conclude on April 7.

Talking during a post consultative meeting press conference, Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA) convener Ramisetti Murali said despite commitments during last SACOSAN, the South Asian countries have not made progress in providing basic sanitation, due to which millions of the people in these countries are suffering.

“I visited Hyderabad Dakhan last year where 12 people reportedly died of contaminated water due to the absence of basic sanitation system in the area, but it is not the only example, official data reveals that around 750,000 children have so far reportedly died due to the diarrhea since last SACOSAN and that is an alarming figure,” he said.

He said that although the South Asian countries have rectified the United Nations declaration that states sanitation as a basic human right, all these countries have so far not made it as party of country constitution.

He said that sanitation is also related to health and the worst sanitation causes an increase in the cost of health budget.

“Poor sanitation now stands as a major obstacle in the fight to reduce child mortality in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan,” he said.

Governments of South Asian countries must be held accountable to the commitments they made at the SACOSAN, said Ceridwen Johnson, FAN Global Network and Communications Manger.

Around 140 representatives from civil society groups from the South Asian countries that included Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan, and from international organisations working in the region, gathered in Colombo to exchange experiences and draft peoples’ demands from the governments of South Asian Countries for the betterment of the sanitation crisis.

The Delhi Declaration 2008 set out clear commitments and milestones for tackling the crisis. It also recognised that access to safe sanitation and drinking water is a basic right and in particular that national priority to sanitation is imperative. This reaffirmed the commitment to achieving millennium development goals on sanitation by 2015.

Non-government organisations—Freshwater Action Network, South Asia, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council and Water Aid jointly organised the two-day consultation meeting that began Friday.


Training midwives

By Saleem Shaikh

April 3, 2011

Daily Dawn (Education)

Sakina, a resident of Gulshan-i-Hadid in Bin Qasim Town, is still grieving the loss of an aunt who died a few months back due to a traditional birth attendant’s (TBA) mishandling of her case.

Knowing the fate of her aunt, Sakina, 18, wondered if all the women in her family would have to face the same risk to their lives at the hands of untrained TBAs. She also knew some women, whose pregnancies were handled by the TBAs, who either died as a result of mishandling of their deliveries or developed complications at later stages.

Opportunity knocked at her door when she came across a lady doctor in her neighbourhood, who handled pregnancies in a professional manner. It was through her that she found out about there being an institute of nursing and midwifery in nearby Jamkanda where young girls were imparted professional training in midwifery.

That is how Sakina joined the institute herself in the hope of being able to serve the women in her area who could not really afford to visit private hospitals for delivery purposes.

Handling of pregnancies by TBAs is a common phenomenon in Pakistan, particularly in the rural areas inhabited by over 67 per cent of the population. Figures taken from Pakistan’s Ministry of Health show an estimated five million women here becoming pregnant every year, most of them being in the rural areas. Over 75 per cent of the deliveries in rural areas take place in homes with the help of TBAs, who charge a meagre amount ranging between Rs500 to Rs1,000. But they are all not properly trained and around 62 per cent of these deliveries are conducted by unqualified TBAs.

Reports from the ministry also conclude that there are three women succumbing to maternal problems every hour. Also an estimated 30 babies die in the first month of their lives every hour. So in order to reduce the deaths, health experts have recommended the promotion of midwifery education in every single village of the country. The introduction of training courses help produce trained birth attendees to replace the TBAs.

Health experts suggest that the government introduce such training programmes at the community level for those who want to make a career out of midwifery.

“There is a strong need to set up community midwifery training schools in the rural areas of the country in order to prepare women as competent community midwives with sound knowledge, skills, understanding and desirable attitudes to provide health services (antenatal, postnatal, safe home deliveries and neonatal care) to reduce maternal and infant deaths in their respective villages,” said general manager of the Health Promotion Programme Dr Khalid Pervez.

The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) in collaboration with Health and Nutrition Development Society (Hands) have set up model community midwifery training schools in districts of Sanghar, Hyderabad, Matiari, Badin and Thatta and Bin Qasim Town. Hundreds of young girls have been trained free of cost at these schools, and they in turn are providing proper and safe health services to the women in their areas in exchange for nominal charges.

“We have appointed qualified lady doctors and trained paramedical staffs, who impart intensive training to young girls in midwifery. We have also learnt that these young midwives are being welcomed in their areas and have replaced TBAs. This is an encouraging and positive change for us,” said Ghulam Hussain Baloch, general secretary of Hands.

Providing details of the training process and materials adopted at these training schools, Baloch said that the modules for midwifery have been developed in consultation with prominent health educationists and experts. Being comprehensive they cover all facets of training for community midwives in theory and practice.

“Audio visual aids, charts, models, overhead projector (OHP) films, handouts, etc., are also used for training for antenatal checkups. Besides, additional knowledge is also provided by resource persons in different topics such as communication skills, social mobilisation, health education, referral system, MIS maintenance, essential medicine, neonatal care and record keeping,” he said.

Meanwhile, a public health department official in Bin Qasim Town provided the information that the intensity of deaths during pregnancies has significantly decreased in areas where these midwifery training schools have been established.

The writer is a development journalist and WaterAid Media fellow.


Sunflower output to fall by 5pc

By Saleem Shaikh

March 31, 2011

Daily Dawn (Business)

KARACHI, March 30: The sunflower production in Sindh will drop by 5.2 per cent because the sowing has decreased by 4.07 per cent against the target.

According to statistics of the Sindh Agriculture department the sunflower sowing was 10,956 hectares below the target until March 20. A total of around 258,274 hectares could be brought under cultivation against the target of 269,230 hectares.

The sunflower production has been projected to be down by 18,123 million tons to 331,877 million as against target of 350,000 million tons for the year 2010.

The sunflower sowing in the province begins in October and concludes on Feb 15, in lower Sindh. The sowing continued till first week of March in Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Mirpurkhas and Sanghar districts.

The picking will begin from April 1. Badin and Thatta districts are major sunflower growing areas, which together account for more than 55 per cent of the output.

The farmers pointed out that late maturity of paddy in lower and central Sindh districts is the main cause of 5.18 per cent shortfall in sunflower sowing, which is cultivated on residual moister of paddy crop and thus paddy harvesting is critical for its timely sowing.

Sowing in these areas started in December instead of October 2010, because, paddy fields were not cleared due to harvesting, which continued till late November, Amin Memon, chairman Small Farmers Association said.

Meanwhile, Additional Secretary Agriculture Ashfaq Soomro said that although sunflower sowing and production targets for the year 2010 could not be achieved, the crop posted increase of 16.89 per cent in area under cultivation and 28.04 per cent in output as compared to last year.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Pakistan’s Failure on SACOSAN Commitments

By Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

April 1, 2011

Three years back, Pakistan had made commitment at the 3rd South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN) to improve access of the people to safe water and sanitation and hammer out and put in place policies and programmes to achieve this. But, the country is way behind as far as implementation of the commitments is concerned.

The 3rd SACOSAN took place in New Delhi in 2008 under the theme of ‘Sanitation for Dignity and Health’. The conference was attended by country representatives of the all South Asian countries to discuss state of water and sanitation issues and challenges in their respective countries to come up with strategies to tackle them.

Along with the other South Asian countries, Pakistan had recognised ‘access to safe sanitation and drinking water as a fundamental human right’ at the SACOSAN and pledged to incorporate water and sanitation in the country’s Constitution as basic human rights.

Federal Minister for Environment at that time, Hameedullah Jan Afridi had made commitments that the government of Pakistan, within an stipulated timeframe, would assign priority to sanitation, improve conditions of sanitary workers and leave no stone unturned to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) within deadline of 2015, ensure basic access to improved sanitation facilities to all by reducing disparities by means of substantial budgetary allocations, with pro-active participation, contribution, decision-making and deepening sense of ownership among communities.

The SACOSAN conference is a high-powered ministerial meeting. The first conference was held in 2003 in Bangladesh, second in 2006 in Islamabad and third in 2008 in New Dehli.

The fourth SACOSAN is set to open this year in Colombo from April 4 and will conclude on April 9.

So far it seems all governments in the region, except Sri Lanka and Maldives, have been unable to implement actions and commitments they subscribed to at the 3rd SACOSAN with regard to ameliorating the state of access to sanitation.

According to WaterAid’s report ‘Sanitation Crisis Continues in South Asia’, some 1.027 billion (64 per cent) out of 1.595 billion people in the region lack access to improved sanitation and almost every second person practices open defecation.

The report highlights that almost two-thirds of the population in the region face indignity everyday simply for performing the natural function of defection. Besides, around 716 million people out of the 1.027 billion, who are without improved sanitation facilities practices open defection and thus are exposed to severe health risks.

The report also notes that in Pakistan some 45 per cent people use improved sanitation facilities while 90 per cent have access to improved drinking water sources. But, water and sanitation experts dispute the findings, saying that situation is worse than the figure shows.

As it pledged, the Pakistani government failed to incorporate ‘access to safe sanitation’ in the national constitution. No progress was made either on the second major commitment made at the 3rd SACOSAN ministerial summit, which was to pay adequate attention to capacity building of the local government and improving working conditions of sanitary workers.

The Pakistani government had also made commitment that it would establish a performance monitoring mechanism for sanitation. But, no such move has been adopted.

“Failure to achieve the SACOSAN targets demonstrates the government’s lack of seriousness towards improving people’s safe access to the sanitation,” said Abdul Hafeez, of the WaterAid – Pakistan.

Child mortality in the country is around 97 in every 1,000 births, while diarrhea accounts for 14 per cent of the total deaths. Estimated annual diarrhea deaths in 2008 were put at 59,220 – second to India, where around 413,400 die from diarrhea, according to WaterAid – Pakistan.

“In Pakistan, poor sanitation has emerged to be a major obstacle in the fight against child mortality. Strong political will is direly needed to address this crisis,” said a senior official in the federal ministry of environment, who preferred anonymity.

Both the costs associated with lack of access to safe water and sanitation and benefits obtained from it are very important for the poor segment of the society.

The ratio of economic benefits from investment of US $1 in water and sanitation infrastructure is estimated to yield benefits to the tune of US $9 in developing countries like Pakistan (WHO 2008).

Under MDG, Pakistan has committed to achieve target by 2015 of halving the proportion of people without access to safe and improved sanitation. It is not possible without increasing water supply and sanitation coverage to 93 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively, by 2015. (Water Supply and Sanitation Programme, Planning Commission of Pakistan)

Besides, the country’s sanitation policy 2006 envisages that 100 per cent population shall have access to safe sanitation before 2015.

“But, seeing the current pace of work on the sanitation, the country is unlikely to achieve the sanitation MDG before 2028,” said Mustafa Talpur, Regional Advocacy & Policy Advisor of WaterAid – Pakistan.

Following devolution of power in 2001, under the Local Government Ordinance (LGO) 2001, it was felt that provision of water and sanitation services needed to improve from the abysmally dismal state. A large portion of urban and rural areas were intended to receive services and programmes and funds were earmarked. But, such intentions never transpired into reality.

However, the complications of the devolved system mean urban areas have benefited but the rural areas still face the same uphill task.

The yawing urban-rural disparity in the use improved sanitation facilities is a cause of serious concern.

According to WHO, only 29 per cent people in rural Pakistan have access to improved sanitation facilities. These are the people who spend estimated over 60 per cent of their household income to fight different water-borne diseases. On the other hand, estimated 72 per cent people in urban areas have access to improved sanitation.

The Pakistan Strategic Environmental Assessment (World Bank 2006) concludes that environmental degradation costs more than 365 billion annually, substantial portion of which comes from ailing water and sanitation infrastructure.

However, given the pace of work political will and allocation of funds for strengthening water and sanitation infrastructure, achieving Sanitation MDG in Pakistan seems to be a distant reality.

There is strong need that policy makers, politicians and those at the helm of affairs realise unprecedented socio-economic benefits of the improved access to safe water, adequate sanitation.

“Neglectful of this realisation on their part will have grave socio-economic and health-related repercussions on the economic development of the country,” warned Mustafa Talpur.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wheat procurement delay hurts farmers in Sindh

By Saleem Shaikh

KARACHI: Despite passage of the Sindh Food Department’s deadline, wheat buying activity has not started in most of the wheat growing districts of the province so far. However, the wheat farmers have undesirably started selling their produce to the middlemen and local traders.

On March 17, the food department had announced March 20 for launching wheat procurement in 15 wheat growing districts and that all necessary arrangements in this regard were made.

The food department spokesman said that 365 wheat buying centres have been set up to procure 1.3 million tons wheat.

But, wheat growers said that no such arrangements are visible anywhere in the wheat growing districts.

They also said that farmers, who have cleared their lands of wheat crop, visited food offices in their respective districts for obtaining jute bags came back empty handed.

Such unfavourable situation leaves the growers, particularly small ones, at the mercy of middlemen and traders, who exploit such situations in their favour.

Reports obtained from wheat growers indicated that wheat harvesting has begun from February 15 in Umkerkot, Badin, Mirpurkhas and parts of Sanghar.

But, absence of food officials, non-functional procurement centres and unavailability of jute bags has disheartened the wheat growers, who showed robust performance in wheat cultivation.

Nabi Bux, additional general secretary of the Sindh Chamber of Agriculture, said: “It has really disappointed wheat farmers that no efforts had been made by the food officials for setting up the wheat pick-up centres in the harvesting areas.”

Delay in wheat procurement hurts small farmers in many ways, who need to sell their farm produce as timely as possible.

Persisting uncertain situation in the province with regard to the Sindh government’s wheat procurement drive has paved the way for middlemen, hoarders and profiteers to capitalise the opportunity in their favour by purchasing wheat from farmers at the rates below the government support price.

Actually, these small farmers cannot hold back their harvested wheat for more than few weeks because of inadequate storage capacity. Holding the new wheat stocks until the government initiates procurement is not financially viable for them either.

By selling their produce, the wheat farmers do need to clear their debts, prepare their lands and buy farm inputs for the next crops to be on time, as a better crop performance is entirely reliant on timely sowing.

Many believe that unavailability of jutes bags had made the food department delay wheat buying.

Officials in the provincial food department said that procurement of jute bags had been put off for the time being due to imposition of 17 per cent General Sales Tax (GST) and 2.5 per cent Special Excise Duty (SED) on jute bags following presidential ordinance on March 15.

A senior official recalled that a tender had been floated on January 29 of this year for procuring 10 million bags, which were to be distributed among the wheat growers for wheat packing. But, there had been no progress on it.

“The jute mills had locked their minimum prices in their biddings against the tenders before the GST and SED. However, the 19.5 per cent duty has delayed the food department to respond to the tender biddings filed by the jute millers. This is a major reason behind the department’s inability to purchase the jute bags and make them available at the procurement centers,” he pointed out.

The jute bag dealers, who filed their biddings, have asked the food department to reconsider the prices as the same were agreed on the basis of zero per cent tax applicable at that time, he said further.

Sources in the food department, who preferred anonymity, said that although the jute bags are ready for delivery, the food department is yet to respond to the jute millers on the matter of jute bag procurement. However, they have suggested that the issued could be resolved by exempting the commodity from these new duties of 19.5 per cent to start procuring the wheat without any late.

Meanwhile, undue delay in the launching of wheat buying drive has also cast negative impact on the wheat prices in the local market.

According to wheat traders, arrival of wheat in bulk quantity in main urban grain markets from rural areas has pushed down the prices of the last year’s wheat in the grain markets.

Khair Mohammad, former president of the Larkana Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told this scribe that the prices of the previous year’s wheat in the commodity market had fallen down sharply by Rs250-Rs300 per 100kg bag during last two weeks.

“Some two weeks back a sack of 100kg wheat bag was trading between Rs2,700 to Rs2,800 in the open market in different wheat growing districts. But, the same wheat bag is available for Rs2,400,” he detailed.

Wheat traders fear that falling wheat price trend, triggered off by glut of new wheat in the grain markets, might decline further to Rs2,100/100kg bag in next 10 to 15 days, if the provincial food department did not begin the wheat procurement.

Amid the falling grain prices on new supplies, the flour millers have also pulled down the flour prices. A 10 kilogramme flour bag, which sold for around Rs320 during third week of March, was selling for Rs300.

According to agriculture department, wheat sowing in the province has touched 11,00,000 hectares against target of 10,31,000 hectares and it hoped the wheat output will be around 3.8 million tons as against 3.682 million tons target.

Provincial agriculture officials said that despite every difficulty, farmers sown bumper wheat. But, lax attitude of food department regarding wheat buying activity has come as dampener for them (farmers), as they were hoping this season timely wheat procurement by the food department.

“Fruits of bumper wheat output, he warned, would go down the drain, if provincial food department failed to set up wheat pick-up centres without any delay,” Sindh Agriculture Secretary Agha Jan Akhtar warned.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Water woes in Karachi

By Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

KARACHI: Lack of a continuous supply of water is one of the major problems the residents of Karachi have to deal with. An irregular supply of water to homes and industrial areas has also hampered socio-economic activities, resulting in slow or reduced productivity.

Home to around 18 million people, the residents of the city require clean, safe water – fit for consumption. And a lot of it. What is more exasperating for the locals is that a solution to this critical problem remains low on the list of priorities for the government. Unfortunately, urban water supply has steadily gotten worse over the years. The current situation calls for creating awareness for, and promotion of, efficient use and conservation of water.

Reports indicate that water is supplied to these hapless consumers is insufficient and contaminated, which is not fit for drinking. According to health experts, around 30,000 people, most of them children, die each year in the city due to consumption of contaminated water.

The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) is solely responsible for municipal water supply and the management of waste water as well as sewerage in the city. To be specific, potable water supply, its bulk transmission, primary, secondary and tertiary distribution, enactment of tariff and recovery of revenues, operation and maintenance of the supply, disposal of waste-water as well as supply of water through tankers for emergency purposes are key components of the services extended by the KWSB.

However, a decline in the KWSB’s institutional capacities to manage its aging operational systems, imbalance in the supply and demand, dilapidated water distribution networks, decaying pumping machines, soaring incidents of water theft and leakages in the supply lines, increasing dependence on water vendors and inappropriate as well as imprudent tariff structures are, among others, pressing problems which have created impediments in the overall performance of the KWSB.

“Several solutions have been proposed in the past by water experts at different forums and conveyed to the government officials, but such efforts have failed for reasons unknown,” says Mumtaz Khaskheli, an expert on potable water and sanitation.

“Recent changes initiated by the government such as the commercialisation of entire beaches, real-estate development and real-estate schemes along highways have also exerted an enormous pressure on demand for safe water. In addition, formal and informal settlements have also increased the demand for a continuous water supply,” says Gulshan Shaikh, a sub-engineer of the KWSB.

Members of the Hisaar Foundation in Karachi, a civil society organisation involved in promoting the conservation of water, estimate that around 40 per cent of the water in the city is wasted due to leakages in the supply lines and another 25 per cent is wasted by consumers in form of leaky taps, washing cars, watering their gardens, etc.

However, it is not just health problems that are associated with unclean water.

“Lack of access to water for both domestic and drinking purposes has proved to be an additional economic burden on the earnings of low-income households. And this is so because they usually end up paying 12 times the price for drinking water than what people from higher-income brackets pay,” claims a member of the Hisaar Foundation.

“We haven’t been getting water through the official supply for many years, although I regularly pay the KWSB water tax,” complains Ameena Batool, a housewife from eastern Karachi. In order to meet the daily water needs of the household, she pays about Rs 500 – 600 a week for water from a tanker.

Because of poor maintenance, the municipal water supply and related facilities have become grossly inadequate with regard to users’ needs and expectations. Dwellers of the low-income group areas and katchi abadis, who cannot afford to pay the cost of private tankers, have no choice but to consume sub-soil, unhygienic water.

“The operators of private tankers have taken undue advantage of the situation and have increased their rates; we pay Rs1,200 for a 1,000-gallon tanker and Rs 2,000 for a tanker carrying 2,000 gallons of water,” claim several residents across the city.

And it isn’t just the residents are suffer from the water shortfall, industries have suffered just as much.

Haji Ahmed Raza owns a large chemical factory in the Korangi Industrial Area. According to Raza, industrial units are forced to buy from water tankers on a regular basis to meet the demands of the factory. He also claimed that these water tankers have capitalised on the current shortage.

“I pay around Rs 17,000-20,000 a day to those who supply water through tankers to run the factory,” said Raza

Officials in the KWSB stated that there are currently around 150 illegal hydrants drawing water from its main pipelines which are not just a major reason for an acute water shortage in the city, but also causes a massive revenue loss of over Rs 1.3 billion annually to the water board.

“A large number of illegal hydrants have been set up in different parts of the city, which is where a large-scale theft of over 30 million gallons of water occurs each day from the KWSB’s various pipelines. This is mostly done in connivance with low-ranking staff of the KWSB and the concerned area police,” a senior KWSB official said, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Describing the private hydrants and tanker business as a ‘roaring business’, an engineer (bulk water) at the KWSB, claimed that around 30,000 ‘illegally-operating’ tankers [of 1,000 gallons each] were earning around Rs 4-5 million daily.

“Since the private hydrants and tanker mafias are stealing water from the KWSB pipelines, the utility is losing an estimated Rs120-150 million every month,” he said.

Some officials in the KWSB, however, believe that much of the water supply and demand can be met if the current water supply and sewerage infrastructure is revamped. “The water transmission and distribution lines were mostly installed during the ’60s and ’70s, and have completed their designed life. Replacing such lines that are faulty, will help reduce water wastage,” remarked a spokesman of the KWSB.

However, the current water shortage is also due to the performance level and financial strength of the KWSB which has deteriorated consistently over the years. Corrective measures have been taken at different points in the past to fix the operational, institutional and water-supply capacity problems of the KWSB, but such measures have been rejected by some unscrupulous elements, recalled an official at the public health engineering department of the Sindh government.

“Foreign multi-lateral lending agencies introduced various reforms, but they failed to meet the stipulated objectives. Some of the proposed approaches aimed at improving the KWSB’s institutional performance included the privatisation of the utility and subsequent institutional reforms,” he said.

The official, wanting to remain anonymous, recalled how the ‘Private Sector Participation’ (PSP) strategy which was introduced in 1995 to make the KWSB economically, functionally and managerially viable and sustainable, was put on the back burner due to resistance within the organisation.

“In 2005, technical assistance was also sought from the UNDP under the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Programme for South Asia (WSP-SA) and even a consultative process was initiated to identify and address the pressing issues faced by KWSB. But matters were left halfway because of the then Sindh government’s apathy,” claims a senior planning official in the provincial finance department.

Water experts say that at a time when fresh water resources are fast depleting and its availability to the people plummeting, revamping the KWSB and the way it functions as a whole is the need of the hour. The replacement of the water supply infrastructure in the metropolis and adjoining suburbs is equally critical for conservation and an efficient use of water.

Rise in input prices impact cotton crop

By Saleem Shaikh
Daily Dawn
March 21, 2011

THE final phutti picking concluded in Sindh last month, showing a crop output lower than targeted by the provincial government.

The overall production of the crop in the province is estimated at around 3.5368 million bales as against the target of 4.2 million bales. The drop is attributed mainly to reduced area under cotton cultivation, down by 193,000 hectares to 457,000 against the target of 650,000 hectares.

According to the Pakistan Cotton Ginners Association (PCGA), the overall phutti production in Sindh during the season stood at 3.785 million bales.

Agriculture officials link shortfall in sowing of 193,000 hectares to increase in prices of farm inputs. However, most of such land in cotton growing areas was not brought under cultivation of any other crop due to soaring cost of seed, fertiliser and other inputs, they said.

Nevertheless, the 2010 crop showed good performance in terms of yield, which proved helpful in bringing the output closer to the production target.

Agriculture officials said an average yield of 32.9 maunds per hectare had been achieved against the target of 27.475 maunds. Reports of 60-70 maunds per acre also came from areas having good quality of soil, where better farm inputs were available, and proper land preparation was made.

In 2009, cotton in Sindh was sown over 634,700 hectares as against the target of 650,000. The yield stood at around 4.27 million bales against the target of 3.25 million.

Sowing of BT cotton seed was the major cause of surplus phutti production in 2009. As prices of BT cotton seed and other farm inputs increased exorbitantly this year, cotton sowing suffered. The BT seed available at Rs150-200 per kg in 2009 was sold between Rs700-800 per kg in 2010.

The prices of urea and DAP fertilisers in 2009 were Rs700-750 and Rs2,400-2,800 per bag respectively. These were now selling at Rs1,200 and Rs3,400-3,500 per bag respectively. This surge in prices of farm inputs was the major cause of reduced cotton cultivation in the province.

“Because of substantial increase in prices of farm inputs, many growers could not bring their lands under cotton cultivation, which is evident in the decline in its acreage,” said Hubdar Ali, a senior agriculture official.

Situation arising out of the increase in urea prices by producers and black-marketing by dealers are worrying the poor farmers, particularly the smaller ones.

“The uncalled for hike in prices of farm inputs has made it difficult for growers to use the required quantity of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs,” remarked Sindh Chamber of Agriculture officials.

They further said that farming community had already reverted to the use of cattle dung and the refuse available with the sugar mills as fertiliser.

Phutti farmers indicated that in most areas growers had sown cotton in July instead of March due to water shortage. According sowing calendar of the provincial agriculture department, cotton sowing should be completed between April and May. Besides shortage of irrigation water, non-availability of quality seed, fertiliser and adulterated pesticides are the major reasons behind late sowing and output shortfalls.

Agriculture experts say that Phutti sown in June shows substantial fall in per acre yield and becomes prone to viral attacks. They say that different research studies have found that inadequate irrigation supplies, late sowing and application of uncertified fertiliser and pesticides often lead to poor cotton yield or make the crop susceptible to a host of viral and pest attacks.

The same happened with the cotton crop of last Kharif season. Leaf curl virus, pest attacks and reddening of leaves affected the crop, particularly in central and lower Sindh’s cotton growing areas. Besides, shedding of flower also affected the ball setting in plants resulting in loss of first and second pickings, which account for around 65 per cent phutti output.

Most of the farmers, mainly small ones, had no choice but to purchase farm inputs of whatever quality was available in local markets. Small farmers do not have cash and buy farm inputs on credit with very little say in the quality of the inputs.

“Last month more than 230 bags of adulterated DAP were confiscated during raid on a godown in Sanghar district.

Similar raids were also made in districts in January and February this year, from where complaints against sale of impure and counterfeit farm inputs came frequently,” said a senior official in the agriculture department.

He told this scribe that the department had approached the manufacturers to sell farm inputs only to registered dealers.

Farmers, however, warned that the falling trend in cotton output might continue in the coming years, if illegal trading of bogus farm inputs continued unchecked.

They have urged the government to ensure availability of pure farm inputs at fair prices and create awareness among cotton growers for maximising productivity.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Discovery of artisan well ushers in new era in Tharparkar

By Saleem Shaikh,

March 17, 2011

Fifty-year-old herdsman Mohammad Siddiqui resides in bordering village of Somosama near Khokhrapar north of Umerkot town of Tharparkar district. Every morning he used to move around along with his cattle in the area in search of water for them, some times as far as 20 kilometres. It was very rare that he would find sweet and fresh water in the area.

“Because of protracted drought spells with scarce rainfalls in the district, water level in most of the dug wells of his village, like any another villages, has decreased as much as 700-800 feet, which is usually brought out by means of pulley for domestic purposes,” Mohammad Siddiqui narrated.

But discovery of the weird ‘artisan well’ in Somosama villager, which gushes out an average of 3,84,000 gallons of water daily without any external pumping machine, has cheered up many aggrieved locals like Mohammd Siddiqui.

During a recent visit to the area, this scribe witnessed expressions of delight on faces of the locals and cattle breeders, who were seen huddling their cattle herds now in large multitudes towards the artisan well site from nearby and far-off villages for water.

Some herdsmen say that they bring their cattle daily to the artisan well from faraway villages, some of them located at a distance of 20-22 kilometres, as underground water in their villages is saline and brackish and has been causing serious diseases in their livestock.

“I bring my goats and sheep, which number 53, from Khokhrapar area some 22 kilometres east of the Somosama village as some 23 out of 28 dug wells in my village have brackish water, while level of water of the remaining five has drastically decreased and are on the verge of drying up,” said 33-year-old Hasim.

Forty-year-old Qadir Bux is another herdsman, who lives in the Somosama village and owns some 155 cattle heads. He says this is first of its kind that such an artisan well has been discovered in the entire Tharparkar district.

The healthy water for livestock

The locals observed the water of this artisan well has improved health of the livestock, particularly camels as they have shown improvement in their health faster than any other cattle.

“Milk quality of almost all the cattle including goat, sheep and cows has significantly improved as their milk is now thicker. And, fur of the sheep has turned shiner after they have started consuming the water of the artisan well,” observed camel breeder Qadir Bux.

Most of the dug wells in the surrounding villages of the Tharparkar district are dug as deep as 60-70 metres, but their water being brackish is extremely injurious to health. Therefore, rain water is harvested in small earthen pots with narrow holes for drinking purposes but it hardly lasts for three to four months.

The dry spell in Thar normally extends from the month of December and continues up to May. And during the drought season, most of the villagers of the Tharparkar district temporarily migrate along with their livestock to distant barrage areas and return when it rains.

Destinations are different for the people of various ecological zones. But generally the migratory farm labour from Thar prefers to go to Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Hyderabad, Sanghar and Nawabshah districts, where they have enough water for their livestock and labour work in farming lands for their livelihood, informed Dr. Khataumal a local development expert of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) based in Mithi, district headquarter of the Tharparkar district.

He said that the major source of livelihood for locals in Thar is livestock breeding and rain-fed farming. “Therefore, any outbreak of disease in livestock, which mostly occurs from consumption of contaminated or highly brackish water of the dug wells, leads to their death in huge number. It results in a huge financial loss for the locals,” he remarked.

Sono Khangharani, CEO of TRDP, said that initially, the well was bored as deep as 700 feet but its water was extremely brackish and smelly. It was of no use for livestock or locals. Later, on the insistence of villagers, who believed that underground fresh water is present 1,350 feet deep in the village, we resumed boring further deeper as down as 1,300 deep, using heavy drilling machines at a cost of Rs2.2 million.

“But, when the boring machine struck at 1,300 feet depth, all of a sudden water came gushing out and the villagers, whose hopes were on the verge of waning, burst into jubilation,” he recalled.

Talking about the impact of artisan well’s water quality and its impact on cattle, TRDP’s senior manager for development works, engineer Jhaman, termed the artisan well’s water not fit for human consumption because its’ Parts Per Million (PPM) ratio is around 3,500 while allowable PPM ratio under WHO standards is 500.

“Although locals use this water also for their drinking, it is better to desalinate it to avoid any serious repercussions on human health,” he suggested.

The water of the artisan well is rich in sulphur; that is why, its usage for the livestock has helped reduced their skin diseases,” informed Jhaman Lalchandani.

Recently, an R.O. (water desalination) Plant has been established by the Sindh Coal Authority adjacent to the artisan well, with a capacity of desalinating 50,000 gallon water per day.

Once the R.O. plant starts functioning, the desalination water would usher in a new era of socioeconomic development in the area as it could also be used for agriculture purposes and breeding of healthy livestock, hoped Narumal, a rural development expert in Thar.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cattle in Sindh hit by viral diseases

By Saleem Shaikh

March 14, 2011

THE outbreak of viral diseases among livestock in Tharparkar, Umerkot, Sanghar and Naushero Feroze districts is assuming serious proportions because of lack of prompt remedial measures by the concerned provincial department.

According to cattle farmers, large number goats, sheep, cows, buffaloes and camels have been hit by viral diseases in central and lower districts of Sindh.

Livestock executive district officers confirmed that they have received reports of Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) disease in goats and sheep, Haloragis in camels and foot and mouth disease among other animals.

“Reports of rising death toll of animals have been received from various areas of Tharparkar, Umerkot, Achro Thar (White Thar) in Sanghar and Naushero Feroz districts. Besides, adjoining districts are also said to be at risk, if officials concerned do not quickly respond to the situation,” said Bachal, a cattle farmer in Samoo Rind village of Umerkot.

“In Nagarparkar in Tharparkar district, scores of animals have been killed during the last three months,” said Santosh Kumar, a veterinary doctor in the town.

He told this scribe that some 10 weeks ago camels started contracting mouth disease in different parts of Tharparkar and Umerkot districts. “Once these animals fall prey to such diseases, they stop eating as their mouth bleeds and they die in three to four days,” Kumar explained.

Deputy Director Livestock Dr Rasheed Nizamani said that according to the livestock census 2006 there are around 6.925 million cattle heads in Sindh, nearly 60 per cent (4.155 million) of them in Tharparkar district alone.

The livestock of the province is growing at an average rate of 2.3 to 2.7 per cent annually following increased investment in the livestock sector, claims Dr Ghulam Sarwar Shaikh, director general Sindh Livestock.

Karimdad Rahimo of Haji Adam Ji Dhani village in Sanghar district recalls: “In January this year the livestock heads, particularly the young and newborn ones, started suffering from diarrhoea, sheep pox, pneumonia and other diseases and on an average five to eight cattle heads died every day.”

The village people said that their cattle was also affected by sore mouth suffered from bluetongue and diarrhea. These diseases caused their animals to bleed, suffer abdominal pain and resulted in their death within three to four days.

However, no vaccination by livestock department officials had been carried out in their area so far, some of them complained.

Situation in other parts of east-southern districts is not different either, where cattle death toll is rising.

Villagers of the Achhro Thar told this scribe over phone that about 133 goats, 1,121 sheep, 23 cows and 29 camels had died during the last three months in Sobharo, Janhaar, Thoorahoo, Maankor and adjoining villages.

“Most of the areas in Tharparkar and Umerkot, Sanghar and Naushero Feroz are without any or proper veterinary facilities.

Their absence results economic miseries of livestock breeders, who are compelled to transport their livestock to private veterinary facilities in Thatta, Badin and Hyderabad for treatment. In some cases, private vets are also called in from these areas to visit the disease-hit villages who charge the livestock owners heavily,” said Ali Akbar Rahimo, an Umerkot-based cattle farming expert.

“My 53 goats and kids suffered from diarrhoea, sore mouth and bluetongue diseases and a few of them died two weeks back. The infected goats bleed from mouth, remain lazy and do not eat or drink anything and after getting weaker die in one or two days,” said Ali Jalal of Samo Rind village in Umerkot district.

Mehar Ali Samoo of Kasboo area in Nagarparkar said he had lost 25 goats so far to the bluetongue viral disease. However, getting no help from taluka livestock officials, I had to take my cattle to private veterinary hospital in Badin, where I was charged Rs900 per visit. In addition, I had to spend about Rs4,300 for transporting the cattle and buying medicines.

The livestock officials in the districts said they lacked funds and required facilities to fight the diseases which prevented them from visiting the affected areas.

Umerkot EDO( agriculture and livestock) Ghulamullah Jarwar said he had dispatched some teams to the affected areas to study the problem, diagnose them and vaccinate the infected animals accordingly.

“The outbreak of the disease is a common phenomenon after rains in Thar region, which was controllable after vaccination,” he said.

He, however, hoped the problem would be brought under control soon by launching vaccination drive in the affected areas.

Livestock officials in Umerkot, Sangahr and Naushero Feroz districts attributed inadequate funds and lack of transport facilities as major constraints in delivery of their services to viral-hit cattle farmers.

“We have written to the provincial government to provide vet diagnosis kits, medicines, vaccinations and funds to strengthen the laboratories in different districts, particularly in Tharparkar, Umerkot and Badin districts to overcome the livestock diseases and save them from death, said Dr. Rashid Nizamani.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Wholesale sugar prices down Rs2 in Karachi market

By Saleem Shaikh | DAWN.COM

KARACHI: The wholesale price of 100 kilogramme sugar bag has declined by Rs200 to Rs6,300 here in the wholesale commodity market as new supplies from the producing areas has started to land in the wholesale market.

Chairman wholesale Grossers association, Aneed Majeed has confirmed the reports of decline in sweetner’s prices on new supplies.

The sweetener, which was selling at Rs65 per kilogramme in the wholesale market, is now being traded at Rs63.

Secretary General of the Karachi Retailers Grocers Group, Fareed Qureshi, said that while sugar is selling at present between Rs66 to Rs68 in the retail market, it is hoped that impact of sugar price fall will be seen shortly.

“Benefit of the recent fall in the sugar prices will be transferred to the retail customers, once the supplies of the commodity from wholesale market at new prices reach the retail markets.

He hoped, however, that fall in retail sugar price is possible by Rs2.

It may be mentioned here that the sugar prices in the wholesale market had increased by Rs2/kilogramme to Rs6,300 per 100kg sugar bag on reports of government’s decision on March 9 to withdrew 50 per cent sales tax relief on the commodity.

During his press conference in Islamabad on March 9, Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Salman Siddique had said that the government had halved the sales tax rate in order to provide some relief to the consumers when sugar prices skyrocketed about one and a half years ago.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Rainwater harvesting in parched Tharparkar

By Saleem Shaikh

THE Tharparkar district receives on an average 100mm rain every year, which should be sufficient for its drinking and agriculture purposes. But much of it goes waste due to lack of rainwater harvesting and poor water conservation facilities.

During August last year heavy rains in the Thar Desert recharged parched shallow wells, raised water table in deep wells and filled household cisterns. But, after four months, the Tharis were without sufficient water even for drinking, and many had to walk miles to fetch water. Herdsmen had to take their livestock to barrage areas to avoid mortality among them due to water shortage.

“When it rained heavily, it turned our dusty and arid villages in the district into an oasis with lush green foliage and plenty of water to drink and take bath. It also turned our dried-up rangeland into green meadows and pastures for our cattle. But the accumulated rainwater evaporated within a few months and we had to walk for 4-5 miles thrice a week to fetch water from deep wells. Water of such wells is brackish, contaminated and injurious to both humans` and animals` health,” said Ali Akbar Rahimo of the Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy in Nagarparkar.

Thar normally experiences drought every third year and famine after each decade, triggering mass migration of peasants to irrigated areas in lower and central Sindh in search of fodder, labour and water. A large number of cattle also die during such arduous journeys.

According to a study of the Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources (PCRWR), the entire Thar Desert receives around one trillion litres of rain annually “ sufficient, if stored, for three years to meet domestic water needs of the Tharis and their livestock. But, more than 95 per cent of it is lost under sand dunes or evaporates in the sizzling summer due to inadequate storage and rainwater harvesting facilities.

“Even if 0.25 per cent of the rainwater is conserved or harvested, it can meet the domestic water needs of the entire human population and livestock of the area,” said water conservation experts of the PCRWR.

The councils` study found out that hardly 0.06 per cent of the overall annual rain water is harvested by Tharis in household cisterns or in other indigenous ways. However, the study suggests that the water shortage problem can be addressed by improving capacity of rainwater harvest by scaling it up from 0.06 per cent to at least 0.25 per cent of the rainfall.

The Tharparkar district, spread over nearly 22,000 square kilometers, is a chronically poor with an estimated population of 1.2-1.3 million. Of them, 95 per cent people live in and around 2,000 villages.

In a normal day, members of each household spends around 4-6 hours in fetching 4-5 pots (50-60 litters) of water from wells However during the dry season they collect water throughout the day including at nights.

However, rains in Thar invigorate socio-economic activities as people start cultivating crops, bringing back their livestock in herds from barrage areas and storing rainwater as much as possible.

Usually Tharis prepare their fields every year much before the rainy season starts by ploughing and broadcasting seeds of millet (bajhri), cluster bean (guar), sesame (tir), kidney bean (mooth), cow peas (Choonra), musk melon (gidro), water melon (hindano), squash melon (meho), wild cucumber (chibbhar), amaranths (mariro), digeria (lular) and other wild plants. The land in Thar is so fertile that once the ploughed fields receive the first shower, they turn green.

Prior to the rains, the Tharis also clean ditches and depressions locally known as Tal and Tarayoon for storing rainwater.

This water is used both for domestic and drinking purposes.

But, the accumulated rainwater in these ditches and depressions lasts only for three to four months. And for the rest of the eight months of the year, they depend on brackish water of wells, which results in health hazards among humans and livestock.

Often the outbreak of diseases among livestock deepens poverty situation in Thar manifold, as livelihood of the poor 70 per cent depends on livestock rearing.

Mukesh Suther, an Umerkot-based rainwater conservation expert, remarked that “building large ponds and laying a geo-membrane sheet under these (ponds) to stop seepage and covering them with roofs can be of great help in slowing down evaporation of stored rain water during the sizzling summer days.”

He said the government should introduce these low-cost techniques to harvest huge stocks of water, which can help meet needs of the people throughout the year rather than spending millions of rupees on schemes, which have huge recurring costs for maintenances.

Water conservation experts of PCRWR have suggested that piped roof water harvesting, hamlet level chonra pond, hamlet level nadi pond, chalho pond and dug well recharging system could help conserve huge stock of rainwater. But, introduction and promotion of such water conservation techniques was not possible without one time investment by the government.

A senior official in the water section of the Sindh Planning and Development (P&D) Department said: “Although no initiative for rainwater harvesting in Thar has ever been launched by the provincial government, multi-million rupees schemes for tapping rainwater in the desert area are now under consideration of the department`s planners.

There is possibility that such schemes may be included in the next year`s Annual Development Programme (ADP).”