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.