Monday, December 14, 2009

Climate Change Worsens Poverty in India

At 8 feet below sea level, Pakistan's financial capital Karachi shows up on the list of world's mega-cities threatened by global warming. Other South Asian cities likely to come under rising sea water in the next 100 years include Mumbai, Kolkata and Dhaka.

However, it's not just the big cities in South Asia that will feel the brunt of the climate change. The rural folks in India are already seeing rising crop failures, increasing poverty and frequent farmer suicides.

Addressing a regional conference in Islamabad earlier this year, Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said Pakistan was witnessing severe pressures on natural resources and environment.

He said: “Climatic changes are likely to exacerbate this trend. Water supply, already a serious concern in many parts of the country, will decline dramatically, affecting food production. Export industries such as fisheries will also be affected, while coastal areas risk being inundated, flooding the homes of millions of people living in low-lying areas.”

“The fact that global warming was unequivocal and there is no scope for scientific questioning, Pakistan faces potential environmental catastrophe,” said Dr Pachauri, who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (on behalf of the IPCC) along with former US vice-president Al Gore.

Here's a recent LA Times report on the vicious cycle of poverty in rural India:

India has long been plagued by unscrupulous moneylenders who exploit impoverished farmers. But with crops failing more frequently, farmers are left even more desperate and vulnerable.

Reporting from Jhansi, India - She stops for long stretches, lost in thought, trying to make sense of how she's been left half a person.

Sunita, 18, who requested that her family name not be used to preserve her chance of getting married, said her nightmare started in early 2007 after her father took a loan for her sister's wedding. The local moneylender charged 60% annual interest.

When the family was unable to make the exorbitant interest payments, she said, the moneylender forced himself on her, not once or twice but repeatedly over many months.

"I used to cry a lot and became a living corpse," she said.

Sunita's allegations, which the moneylender denies, cast a harsh light on widespread abuses in rural India, where a highly bureaucratic banking system, corruption and widespread illiteracy allow unethical people with extra income to exploit poor villagers, activists say.

But here in the Bundelkhand region in central India that is among the nation's more impoverished areas, the problem is exacerbated by climate change and environmental mismanagement, they say, suggesting that ecological degradation and global warming are changing human life in more ways than just elevated sea levels and melting glaciers.

"Before, a bad year would lead to a good year," said Bharat Dogra, a fellow at New Delhi's Institute of Social Sciences specializing in the Bundelkhand region. "Now climate change is giving us seven or eight bad years in a row, putting local people deeper and deeper in debt. I expect the situation will only get worse."

An estimated 200,000 Indian farmers have ended their lives since 1997, including many in this area, largely because of debt.

A 2007 study of 13 Bundelkhand villages found that up to 45% of farming families had forfeited their land, and in extreme cases some were forced into indentured servitude. Tractor companies, land mafia and bankers routinely collude, encouraging farmers to take loans they can't afford, a 2008 report by India's Supreme Court found, knowing they'll default and be forced to sell their land.

"While a few people borrow for social status or a desire to buy a new motorcycle, in most cases it's for sheer survival," Dogra said. "When they see their children starving after several years of crop failures, many feel they have no choice."

Recent amendments to a 1976 law in Uttar Pradesh state have increased the maximum punishment for unauthorized money-lending to three years in jail, up from six months, but many loan sharks are well-connected and elude prosecution. The law specifies that lenders must obtain a state license, but the requirements for obtaining it can be vague, a situation that critics say gives bureaucrats significant leeway to enact arbitrary rules and exact questionable fees.

"I take occasional loans when we're desperate," says Jhagdu, 50, a farmer in Barora, 60 miles south of Jhansi, sitting on his haunches with teeth stained red from chewing betel nut. "When there's no rain, like now, you can't repay for a year, so the amounts can double."

The South Asian governments are sufficiently concerned about potential effects of global warming to warrant a meeting to hammer out a regional response. South Asian experts on climate change held two days of talks in Dhaka last year, ahead of a meeting of environment ministers from countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). According to Reuters, Bangladesh has proposed the creation of a fund to fight climate change in densely populated South Asia, which experts say is vulnerable to rising seas, melting glaciers and greater extremes of droughts and floods. For the rich South Asians thinking of fleeing to real estate in Dubai, the forecast for the GCC countries is no better. Experts believe the Palm and the World projects in Dubai will disappear underwater in 50 years if the issue of climate change fails to be addressed by governments.

According to a report by the Associated Press, the nonprofit Worldwatch Institute has compiled a list of 21 "mega-cities" of 8 million people or more that are in direct danger as a result of global warming and rising seas: They include Dhaka, Bangladesh; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Shanghai and Tianjin in China; Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt; Mumbai and Kolkata in India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe in Japan; Lagos, Nigeria; Karachi, Pakistan; Bangkok, Thailand, and New York and Los Angeles in the United States, according to studies by the United Nations and others.

More than one-tenth of the world's population, or 643 million people, live in low-lying areas at risk from climate change, according to U.S. and European experts. Most at risk, in descending order, are China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, the U.S., Thailand and the Philippines.

As a nation, Bangladesh has the most to worry about the effects of climate change in South Asia. A recent story in the Guardian talks about Bangladesh as "flood-prone" because of its geography. Situated across a vast delta where three great rivers join, Bangladesh is known to be flood-prone. Not only does it have monsoon rain to deal with, but the slow warming of the earth's atmosphere is releasing more water from Himalayan glaciers above the flatlands of Bangladesh. Climate change, say scientists, also means higher tides in the Bay of Bengal. The result is trillions more liters of water sloshing over the country, depositing billions of tons of sediment. Experts say a third of Bangladesh's coastline could be flooded if the Bay of Bengal rises three feet in the next 50 years, displacing 20 million Bangladeshis from their homes and farms, according to Reuters. Across the region, warmer weather could cause more intense and more frequent cyclones and storm surges, leading to more salt water fouling waterways and farmlands, the experts said. Corp yields in South Asia could decrease up to 30 percent by the mid-21st century, they added.

Bangladesh has taken the initiative by proposing a SAARC fund for climate change and allocated US$44 million for this purpose in its current fiscal year budget. "We want to find a common stand among the South Asian countries and will raise our voice together against the perils of climate changes," said Raja Devasish Roy, head of the Environment and Forest Ministry of Bangladesh, after opening the experts' meeting in Dhaka. Devasish said industrialized countries were the most to blame for global warming and should compensate poorer nations by providing them grants -- not loans -- to fight the effects of climate change.

While Bangladesh is admirably leading the charge to address the impact of climate change, it is important that the rest of South Asians, particularly India and Pakistan, join it to protect the planet in this noble effort. As part of this challenge, it is time for SAARC leaders to think of structural changes needed for a world without oil. The SAARC nations owe it to their future generations and the rest of the planet.

Related Links:

World's Biggest Polluters

Global Warming Impact on Pakistan

Indian Rural Poverty Worsens

Climate Change Impact on Karachi, South Asian Megacities

Water Scarcity in Pakistan

Syeda Hamida of Indian Planning Commission Says India Worse Than Pakistan and Bangladesh

Global Hunger Index Report 2009

Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India

Food, Clothing and Shelter For All

India's Family Health Survey

Hunger and Undernutrition Blog

Pakistan's Total Sanitation Campaign

Is India a Nutritional Weakling?

Asian Gains in World's Top Universities

India's Vulnerability to Climate Change

South Asia Slipping in Human Development

What Does Democracy Deliver in Pakistan

Do South Asian Slums Offer Hope?


Riaz Haq said...

Here's a November 2009 AFP report on how the Kiwis' charity brought mobs of beggars in Chennai and sparked a full-scale riot:

Two New Zealand cricketers have admitted to inadvertently sparking what has been described as a full-scale riot in the Indian city of Chennai after handing out money to street people.

The incident happened following an unauthorised drinking session during the New Zealand A tour of India in August.

Neil Broom and Aaron Redmond owned up after the Herald on Sunday newspaper reported that a riot broke out when two players began handing out money in Chennai.

"The intended charity quickly became more popular than the pair had counted on. The crowd grew larger and more unruly and, according to sources, a full-scale riot broke out," the newspaper said.

Although the players were not named in the article, Broom and Redmond later issued a statement admitting liability to remove the spotlight from the rest of the squad.

"Unfortunately when we decided to leave the night spot we were picked up by police following another poor decision to hand out money to people living on the street, whereupon a crowd developed," Redmond, a seven-Test batsman, said.

"The police initially took us back to the station and then arranged for a taxi to take us back to the hotel."

Broom said they accepted it was a serious breach of team protocols.

"We deeply regret the incident and wish to apologise to New Zealand Cricket," he said.

They were charged by New Zealand Cricket with serious misconduct for breaching team protocol but no details of any punishment were released.

"It was a confidential process, and New Zealand Cricket considers the matter closed," New Zealand Cricket chief executive Justin Vaughan said.

New Zealand Cricket Players Association executive manager Heath Mills noted the players had not committed a crime and no charges were laid in India.

"The players fully accept that they should not have left the hotel, and also showed poor judgment in heading to a night spot and drinking, given preparations required for upcoming fixtures and the security position the team was in," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting report by Reuters in Pakistan:

By Alistair Scrutton

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - If you want a slice of peace and stability in a country with a reputation for violence and chaos, try Pakistan's M2 motorway.

At times foreign reporters need to a give a nation a rest from their instinctive cynicism. I feel like that with Pakistan each time I whizz along the M2 between Islamabad and Lahore, the only motorway I know that inspires me to write.

Now, if the M2 conjures images of bland, spotless tarmac interspersed with gas stations and fast food outlets, you would be right. But this is South Asia, land of potholes, reckless driving and the occasional invasion of livestock.

And this is Pakistan, for many a "failed state." Here, blandness can inspire almost heady optimism.

Built in the 1990s at a cost of around $1 billion, the 228-mile (367-km) motorway -- which continues to Peshawar as the M1 -- is like a six-lane highway to paradise in a country that usually makes headlines for suicide bombers, army offensives and political mayhem.

Indeed, for sheer spotlessness, efficiency and emptiness there is nothing like the M2 in the rest of South Asia.

It puts paid to what's on offer in Pakistan's traditional foe and emerging economic giant India, where village culture stubbornly refuses to cede to even the most modern motorways, making them battlegrounds of rickshaws, lorries and cows.

There are many things in Pakistan that don't get into the news. Daily life, for one. Pakistani hospitality to strangers, foreigners like myself included, is another. The M2 is another sign that all is not what it appears in Pakistan, that much lies hidden behind the bad news.

On a recent M2 trip, my driver whizzed along but kept his speedometer firmly placed on the speed limit. Here in this South Asian Alice's Wonderland, the special highway police are considered incorruptible. The motorway is so empty one wonders if it really cuts through one of the region's most populated regions.

"130, OK, but 131 is a fine," said the driver, Noshad Khan. "The police have cameras," he added, almost proudly. His hand waved around in the car, clenched in the form of a gun.

On one of my first trips to Pakistan. I arrived at the border having just negotiated a one-lane country road in India with cows, rickshaws and donkey-driven carts.

I toted my luggage over to the Pakistan side, and within a short time my Pakistani taxi purred along the tarmac. The driver proudly showed off his English and played U.S. rock on FM radio. The announcer even had an American accent. Pakistan, for a moment, receded, and my M2 trip began.

Built in the 1990s by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, it was part of his dream of a motorway that would unite Pakistan with Afghanistan and central Asia.

For supporters it shows the potential of Pakistan. Its detractors say it was a waste of money, a white elephant that was a grandiose plaything for Sharif.

But while his dreams for the motorway foundered along with many of Pakistan, somehow the Islamabad-Lahore stretch has survived assassinations, coups and bombs.

A relatively expensive toll means it is a motorway for the privileged. Poorer Pakistanis use the older trunk road nearby tracing an ancient route that once ran thousands of miles to eastern India. The road is shorter, busier and takes nearly an hour longer.

On my latest trip, I passed the lonely occasional worker in an orange suit sweeping the edge of the motorway in a seemingly Sisyphean task.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Indian report from last year about India significantly lagging Pakistan in clean energy and CNG usage:

New Delhi, May 5, 2008
India is way behind Pakistan in terms of its gas pipeline network, with the neighbouring country’s network stretching around 56,400 km against its 10,500 km, connecting only 20 cities compared to Pakistan’s 1,050, industry body Assocham said.

Pakistan’s pipeline density, at present is 1044 km/mmscmd (million metric standard cubic meter per day) per day compared to 116 km/mmscmd of India, Assocham said in its paper on gas sector ‘A Comparison between India and Pakistan’.

The neighbouring country has created a 31,000 km distribution network to serve its domestic and commercial consumers in large locations, against the 11,000 km network that have so far been build in India to serve the needs of its consumers in limited pockets, the report said.

While Pakistan has nearly 1,600 CNG stations, India has 380. The gas throughput in Pakistan is 38 mmscmd per day as against 8.5 mmscmd gas in India.

The number of gas customers and vehicles running on CNG in Pakistan is about 19 lakh and 15.6 lakh respectively, while in India the number is 5.50 lakh and 4.60 lakh.

“The gas availability in Pakistan is undoubtedly quite large, compared to India but given the imports of gas and even its domestic availability in India, its pipeline network is extremely poor and the main reason attributed for the low and limited pipeline network in India is because this sector has been thoroughly regulated which has now been opened for competition,” Assocham president Venugopal Dhoot said.

The paper added that since the pipeline network in India does not reach out to most of the potential demand centres, a number of industrial projects, which would ideally run on gas, have to depend on much more costlier and more polluting alternative fuels.

“Thus the unmet gas demand in India is probably much higher than what is reported,” he said, adding India, “at present has only one major cross country pipeline in the form of Hizira-Bijaipur-Jagdishpur pipeline and there is estimated to be considerable unmet demand even in the states serviced by this pipeline”.

With the increased availability of gas, the country needs to gear up quickly to meet the increased requirement of cross country as well as regional and local downstream gas distribution networks, he said. — PTI

Riaz Haq said...

As the Copenhagen climate change conference begins, India is facing the reality of being a major polluter the world mainly because of extensive use of coal as source of energy for its economy. Pakistan, on other hand, relies more on natural gas for energy and uses very little coal, in spite of having large deposits of it in Sind province.

Here's a story from Dawn on the use of coal in India:

A thin coat of coal dust covers everything from trees to houses in Korba, a coal mining town in central India which lies at the heart of the country’s struggle to balance economic growth with climate change concerns.

The air is heavy with smoke and dust spewing out of numerous mines and power plants in a region that powers hundreds of factories in the country’s industrial west and lights up millions of homes.

Although India has announced a new climate plan which identifies renewable energy such as solar power as key elements,

Coal remains the backbone of energy supply in a country where almost half the 1.1 billion population still has no electricity.

‘Coal-fired power will stay for the next 20-25 years at least,’ said R.D. Sonkar, chief engineer at one of Korba’s many thermal power stations.

‘Look at the high cost of solar and wind energy. Can we afford? Power from renewable energy will have to wait, I think.’

As the world meets in Copenhagen for crucial negotiations on a global pact to fight climate change, part of the debate will be on how developing countries such as India tackle the use of fossil fuel without hampering their growth.

India, the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter though still low on per-capita emissions, is under pressure to cut pollution to battle climate change while demand for power increases as its middle class clamours for more cars, TVs and housing.

India set a goal on Thursday for slowing the growth of its greenhouse gas emissions, saying it was willing to rein in its ‘carbon intensity’ — the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted per unit of economic output — by between 20 and 25 per cent by 2020, from 2005 levels. i-tech/04-india-coal-qs-02

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a 2007 story from Dawn News about Pakistan topping Asia in CNG stations:

RAWALPINDI, June 8: Pakistan has become the first in Asia and third in world after Argentina and Brazil in terms of housing over 1,450 CNG stations while 1,000 more are under construction and the sector has attracted investment of Rs60 billion creating 60,000 jobs across the county, reveals the Economic Survey launched here on Friday.

It states that in 1999, there were only 62 CNG stations in the country with only 60,000 CNG-converted vehicles which increased to 1,450 in 2007 while the vehicles using gas has switched over to 1.4 million to date.

Major cities in the country including Karachi, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad are rapidly phasing out diesel vehicles in favour of CNG buses for intra-city transportation.

The survey says that the government was boosting CNG sector in a move to overcome vehicular pollution and was encouraging gas sector as cleaner alternative for improving ambient air quality.

The Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) has so far issued more than 5,700 provisional licenses for the establishment of CNG stations across the country while the government is providing incentives regarding purchasing of new CNG vehicles.

It says that the government’s millennium development goal (MDG) target for number of vehicles using CNG was 920,000 whereas the current figure was 1.4 million and had achieved the target in advance.

Despite increasing the number of CNG stations across the country, the content of sulphur in air due to the use of high speed diesel was one per cent as against the target of 0.5 to 0.25 set in the MDG for 2015.

The Economic Survey has also acknowledged that absence of public transport service in major cities and the increasing number of private cars was deteriorating air quality and recommends proper transport service for these cities.

Elaborating the government’s policies on environment, the survey reveals a horrific situation of atmosphere in both urban and rural areas of the country saying that the National Environment Action Programme (NEAP) started in 2001 was aimed at coping with these concerns.

WATER AND SANITATION: According to the survey, the country’s current supply of water was just a little over 1,000 cubic meter per person which puts Pakistan in the category of ‘high stress’ countries.

“In the light of growing population, rapid urbanisation and extended periods of drought, an additional 48 billion cubic meter water would be required to meet the demands of agriculture and country’s economy by 2011,” it adds.

The excessive withdrawal of ground water has made 70 per cent tubewells pumping hazardous water and was a source of contaminated drinking water.

LAND: Out of the total land area of 79.6 million hectares, only 16 million hectares are suitable for irrigated farming in the country which is not satisfactory according to the survey.

About 5.2 per cent of Pakistan’s land area is covered by forests whereas both environmental and economic standard necessitate that country should have at least 20-25 per cent area under forests.

The economic survey has identified a number of challenges faced to government over the improvement of environment and has acknowledged the ambient air and water quality in the country.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is an excerpt from blogger Sean-Paul Kelly's piece "Reflections on India" published earlier this year:

If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who's being honest with you and wants nothing from you. These criticisms apply to all of India except Kerala and the places I didn't visit, except that I have a feeling it applies to all of India, except as I mentioned before, Kerala. Lastly, before anyone accuses me of Western Cultural Imperialism, let me say this: if this is what India and Indians want, then hey, who am I to tell them differently. Take what you like and leave the rest. In the end it doesn't really matter, as I get the sense that Indians, at least many upper class Indians, don't seem to care and the lower classes just don't know any better, what with Indian culture being so intense and pervasive on the sub-continent. But here goes, nonetheless.

India is a mess. It's that simple, but it's also quite complicated. I'll start with what I think are India's four major problems--the four most preventing India from becoming a developing nation--and then move to some of the ancillary ones.

Then Kelly goes on to mention pollution, lack of infrastructure, big bureaucracy and rampant corruption as India's biggest problems.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are "Reflections on India" published by an American traveler-blogger:

First, pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don't know how cultural the filth is, but it's really beyond anything I have ever encountered. At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump. Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all to common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight. Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for one's health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads. The only two cities that could be considered sanitary in my journey were Trivandrum--the capital of Kerala--and Calicut. I don't know why this is. But I can assure you that at some point this pollution will cut into India's productivity, if it already hasn't. The pollution will hobble India's growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small 'c' sense.)

The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: roads, rails and ports and the electrical grid. The electrical grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swaths of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. With out regular electricity, productivity, again, falls. The ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of longshoremen and the like. Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America. And I covered fully two thirds of the country during my visit. There are so few dual carriage way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of, and if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced. A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older. Everyone in India, or who travels in India raves about the railway system. Rubbish. It's awful. Now, when I was there in 2003 and then late 2004 it was decent. But in the last five years the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travelers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses. At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that waitlists of 500 or more people are common now. The rails are affordable and comprehensive but they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like Sadhus in an ashram the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the overutilized rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit. Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US I guess.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report about Cherrapunji, the drying of the wettest place in India and the world:

Once the world's wettest places, Cherrapunji is getting up to 20% less rain every year - and is suffering water shortages.

Residents say their heavenly abode in the clouds is hotter and drier than ever before - and they blame it on global warming.

Cherrapunji - or Sohra in the local Khasi language - is located in the West Khasi Hills of India's north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

"Never were there very big forests around Cherrapunji and many of those that are there are sacred to us," says Millergrace Symlieh, a senior member of Sohra Science Society.

"We never cut a branch in these sacred forests. So you cannot say this adverse weather change is our creation. We are affected by what's happening all over the world," he told the BBC.

"This hot weather and less rain here is not due to huge deforestation or massive industrialisation," says Mr Symlieh. "We only have a cement plant near here."

Water shortage

Cherrapunji's weather office says the average annual rainfall in the town has dropped by about 20% in the last five years - though the trend started a decade ago.

"It is basically since 2005 that we are often getting 800cm-900cm of rain in Cherrapunji annually - against the normal average of 1100cm," says one of the office's staff, Amit Chaudhuri.

But the town has been getting drier due to erratic rain since the beginning of the decade, Mr Chaudhuri says.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report about rising food prices in India:

Food prices in India have risen to a high of nearly 20% over last year, the highest rate in a decade.

The federal finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has said the government was planning to import food to ease prices.

A short supply of food due to lower farm produce following drought and floods has led to the rising prices.

Overall inflation in India has risen to 4.78% in November, up from 1.34% in October. Economists say this could trigger a rise in interest rates.

Correspondents say that the price rises are bound to increase concerns that poorer people in the country may be more exposed to food shortages and malnourishment.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the food prices were an "area of concern."

"We have to take appropriate measures to see what best could be done by augmenting the supply through imports," he was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.

Reports say that despite easing of import restrictions to bolster food supplies, food inflation had soared to nearly 20%.

The prices of pulses, milk, wheat and rice - and vegetables like potatoes - have risen sharply.

Potato prices have gone up by 136% and pulses have risen by over 40% over last year.

Senior government officials have said that overall inflation in India could be close to 7% by end of March next year.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report talking about the threat of war over water sharing between India and Pakistan:

The sharing of river waters between India and Pakistan is a "sensitive issue" that has the potential for triggering a war between the two countries, an adviser to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said.

Sardar Aseff Ali, who is also Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, made the remarks while speaking to the media after a seminar in Lahore yesterday.

He claimed India "will have to stop stealing Pakistan's water as the latter will not hesitate to wage war" over the issue.

Pakistan might seek international arbitration on the water issue by taking it up with the International Court of Justice or the UN Security Council if India tries to build any more dams that affect the country's share of waters, Ali said.

Pakistan can also back out of the Indus Waters Treaty and India will be responsible for the consequences, he said.

However, Ali also acknowledged that a solution to the problem cannot be found through sentimental rhetoric and the Indus Waters Treaty is the proper forum for resolving the issue.

Replying to a question on India's Baglihar dam, Ali said former President Pervez Musharraf was responsible for this project being built without any protest from Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

There are an estimated 4.5 million Indian workers in just the GCC countries, about half of them in the UAE, according to the Financial Times.

The current difficulties in Dubai are exposing India's vulnerability to the possible economic collapse in the Gulf region. The fears are deepening that remittances, worth about $27bn a year, accounting for over 50% of total remittance inflows, from the Gulf to India. The United Arab Emirates is also one of India’s most important export destinations, accounting for about $17.5bn in trade or 10 per cent of India’s merchandise exports.

In spite of repeated tales of horror by Indian workers, the Islamic Gulf nations remain a powerful magnet for Indians seeking a way out of abject poverty and deprivation at home.

The village of Akhopur is in the district of Siwan in Bihar, India- from where about 75,000 people work in the Gulf. Most work as masons, helpers, carpenters, fitters and drivers, according to a recent story by the BBC.

They often labor in abysmal conditions with little or no facilities, but many say they can at least earn a living since opportunities back home are non-existent.

In Akhopur and neighboring villages of Bindusar, Orma and Khalispur, every household has at least two people working in the Gulf.

In the wake of recent Dubai troubles, the flow of returnees is ever growing, raising fear of rising h unger and poverty in resurgent India.

Often motivated by religious bigotry rather than than genuine concern, some Indians point to the unacceptable and deplorable treatment of the poor Indian workers in the "Arbi land".

But the real question is why are the Indian workers forced to accept degrading treatment in foreign lands?

Why is resurgent India so badly failing its people?

Why are 42% of Indians forced to live on less than $1.25 a day?

Why does Indian official Syeda Hameed believe "countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are better" than India in terms of meeting basic nutritional needs of their children?

Why have an estimated 200,000 farmers in India committed suicide in the last ten years?

Why are 46% of India's children malnourished?

Why does the world call India a nutriti onal weakling?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report about hunger at hospitals in India:

At the busy, charitable hospital run by the Rural Medicare Society (RMS) at Mehrauli, on the outskirts of the national capital, where Dhaka is employed, there are provisions for poorer patients. But this is not the case with most state-run or private medical facilities, where patients are left to their own devices when it comes to procuring prescribed medicines or getting their meals.

Unlike in most other countries, in-patients in India must bring along attendants, usually family members, to buy medicines, fetch meals, do the paperwork and help the nurses. These attendants can be seen sitting beside hospital beds or crowding around the corridors.------------

According to Dr. Aarti Vasisht, one of 28 doctors and surgeons working at the RMS hospital, providing patients with timely, balanced and nutritious meals is important because it has a direct bearing on recovery.

The chest specialist added that many of her patients are being treated for tuberculosis and are on heavy medications. "These are people who need to be on special diets and must be provided timely, nutritious meals," she said.

Vasisht has been able to arrange free meals for her patients at the RMS hospital from the charitable Santhigiri Ashram, which has a mission of providing free or subsidised food and medical care for the needy.

"We hope to expand these services and reach other hospitals in the national capital, but this is not easy in a time of recession when the prices of food items have gone through the roof," said Swami Pranavsuddhan, director of the Santhigiri Ashram. "The good thing though is that this is a cause that people seem interested in supporting, and New Delhi is a city of wealthy people who believe that feeding the poor and needy can add positively to their karma."


"In India’s healthcare delivery system it is hard enough to get affordable medicines to most patients, and so the question of ensuring that they eat well is glossed over although everybody is aware of the problem,’’ she said.

The latest review of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), released last week, speaks of continuing difficulties in providing free drugs to patients and "the imperative of prescribing medicines from outside," when the government is committed to raising public spending on health from 0.9 percent of gross domestic product to two to three percent of GDP.

Many public hospitals, says NRHM – which has the stated goal of improving the availability of and access to quality healthcare for people, especially those residing in rural areas, the poor, women and children – now run commercial pharmacy shops within their premises.

What that means is that patients who do not have the cash to buy medicines with may have to do without them. The same goes for the hospital canteens from where patients are expected to buy food for themselves and their attendants.

In sharp contrast to the services at the RMS centre are the swish hospitals dotting the capital that cater to the health needs of the well-to-do and to a burgeoning medical tourism industry that attracts 450,000 foreign patients each year.

Hospitals such as the ‘Indraprastha Apollo,’ which ranks among the world’s biggest private health facilities, do not allow attendants and provide patients with meals prepared under the careful supervision of dieticians.

According to the study one million Indians die every year as a result of inadequate healthcare and that 700 million of India’s 1.1 billion people have no access to specialist care simply because 80 percent of specialists live in urban areas.

The NRHM also acknowledges that over 40 percent of hospitalised Indians borrow heavily or sell assets to cover medical expenses and that over 25 percent of hospitalised Indians fall below the poverty line because of hospital expenses.

Riaz Haq said...

Indian NGO Sathi's Findings as reported by Times of India:

The urban population of the coastal region, which includes the country’s commercial capital Mumbai, has the highest prevalence of calorie deficiency (43%) in Maharashtra.

Analysis also shows that undernutrition is prevalent across all religions.

only 30.7% of the people in Maharashtra are classified as Below Poverty Line (BPL). The official BPL designation excludes over 16 million people who are too poor to afford adequate food.

Calculations made using a per consumer unit calorie norm of 2400 in rural and 2100 in urban areas, reveals that the incidence of calorie-based poverty is 54.1% in rural areas and 39.5% in urban areas.

Going by the NSS norm of 2700 calories per consumer unit, then 68% of households in rural Maharashtra are not receiving adequate calories and should be considered ‘poor’.

According to Ram, Mohanty and Ram’s 2008 analysis, 65.4% of abject deprived households25 in Maharashtra do not have BPL cards.

In contrast to the millions of households in abject poverty that cannot access BPL cards, 12.7% of non-poor households posses BPL cards. Specifically, BPL cards are owned by 15% of families owning more than five acres of agricultural land, 5% who own a television and refrigerator and 7% with a motorized vehicle.

Undernourished children are more susceptible to illnesses such as diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections and are less likely to survive them. In cases where they do survive, they are further weakened and susceptible to future illness.

Only 12% of schools investigated were providing cooked midday meals. Among the schools distributing food, most only provided cooked rice without any other supplements such as cooked dal and vegetables. This study also found that not a single school was providing the stipulated 300 calories and 8 to 12 grams protein.

ICDS feeding centres (i.e. Anganwadi centres) often do not weigh the children regularly or properly. Other research (both government and independent) suggests that a much larger portion of children are malnourished than that reported by ICDS.

Grade III and IV malnourishment is grossly underreported by the ICDS. Workers often lack the skills and equipment necessarily to accurate weigh and classify children. ICDS employees tend to underreport severe malnutrition in order to mask program failures.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a news report about South Asian labor losing jobs in Dubai:

There are millions of poor, impoverished labourers from South Asia in the Gulf region. Indeed, the long-enjoyed boom that saw cities such as Dubai carve out a new niche for excess and opportunity was built on the backs of such migrant workers, who are often treated as little more than bonded labour. Drawn from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and often paying hundreds of dollars to a middle man to secure a job, these workers – on arrival in the Gulf – find conditions are often atrocious and that they have virtually no rights. Many have complained of being prevented from leaving.

The upside of the hardship for the large numbers of South Asians who make their way to the Gulf – Indians are said to make up more than 40 per cent of the population of Dubai alone – is the amount of money that gets sent home in remittances. Figures suggest that in 2007, Indians living in the Gulf sent a total of $27bn to their families.

For some states, the money sent home is a considerable slice of the total economy. In Kerala, for example, such remittances make up around 22 per cent of the state's income.

Speaking from Thiruvananthapuram, the state's finance minister, Thomas Isaac, said he believed that even if the Dubai crisis did not rock India in its entirety it would affect Kerala "very much". "Half of the workforce in the United Arab Emirates are Malayalis [people from Kerala] and it seems certain that the construction activity in Dubai is going to take a hit," he said. "The impact is that the Dubai real estate market will decelerate."

Mr Ravi, the central government minister, did not agree. Having spoken with Indian consulates in the Gulf, he said authorities believed that while the Dubai World crisis would have international implications, it would not lead to large job losses for migrant workers. He said, however, that despite such an assessment, the government was planning to announce a comprehensive package to rehabilitate those Indian workers who do return from the Gulf. "It will take some more time to operationalise the fund," he added.

But for Sajid and his friends in Meerut, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the harsh reality has already struck.

Another migrant labourer who had lost his job in Dubai, Noor Mohammed, wept as he told the Times of India: "We had wanted to save money to get our families to the UAE. Our dreams lie shattered."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a post by Soutik Biswas of about the current situation next door:

Ms Gandhi's re-election comes at a time when the government led by her party - now in it's second term - appears to be worryingly adrift. Kashmir is again spinning out of control with an indigenous popular uprising against India, Maoist violence is on the rise in vast swathes of the country, and the movement for a separate Telangana state is still boiling. The government earned the rebuke of the Supreme Court recently for allowing food grains to rot in storage. (Why does it keep purchasing more food from farmers than it can store and distribute to the poor?) Delhi's Commonwealth Games fiasco has done little good to the government's image. Runaway and brazen corruption is threatening to stymie India's progress, but Ms Gandhi's party and government do not appear to be bothered too much.

There is also a growing impression that the government and the party are not on the same page. Ministers and Congress party leaders openly differ on policies and snipe at each other - there is a sharp divergence of views on how to tackle Maoism, separatism and even building key infrastructure.

Riaz Haq said...

Oxfam is warning that food prices will more than double by 2030, according to BBC:

The prices of staple foods will more than double in 20 years unless world leaders take action to reform the global food system, Oxfam has warned.

By 2030, the average cost of key crops will increase by between 120% and 180%, the charity forecasts.

Half of that increase will be caused by climate change, Oxfam predicts, in its report Growing a Better Future.

It calls on world leaders to improve regulation of food markets and invest in a global climate fund.

"The food system must be overhauled if we are to overcome the increasingly pressing challenges of climate change, spiralling food prices and the scarcity of land, water and energy," said Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive.
Women and children

In its report, Oxfam highlights four "food insecurity hotspots", areas which are already struggling to feed their citizens.

* in Guatemala, 865,000 people are at risk of food insecurity, due to a lack of state investment in smallholder farmers, who are highly dependent on imported food, the charity says.
* in India, people spend more than twice the proportion of their income on food than UK residents - paying the equivalent of £10 for a litre of milk and £6 for a kilo of rice.
* in Azerbaijan, wheat production fell 33% last year due to poor weather, forcing the country to import grains from Russia and Kazakhstan. Food prices were 20% higher in December 2010 than the same month in 2009.
* in East Africa, eight million people currently face chronic food shortages due to drought, with women and children among the hardest hit.

The World Bank has also warned that rising food prices are pushing millions of people into extreme poverty.

In April, it said food prices were 36% above levels of a year ago, driven by problems in the Middle East and North Africa.

Oxfam wants nations to agree new rules to govern food markets, to ensure the poor do not go hungry.

It said world leaders must:

* increase transparency in commodities markets and regulate futures markets
* scale up food reserves
* end policies promoting biofuels
* invest in smallholder farmers, especially women

"We are sleepwalking towards an avoidable age of crisis," said Ms Stocking.

"One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone."

Among the many factors driving rising food prices in the coming decades, Oxfam predicts that climate change will have the most serious impact.

Ahead of the UN climate summit in South Africa in December, it calls on world leaders to launch a global climate fund, "so that people can protect themselves from the impacts of climate change and are better equipped to grow the food they need".

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the intro to an interview of Smita Narula, faculty director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, co-author of the report, "Every Thirty Minutes: Farmer Suicides, Human Rights and the Agrarian Crisis in India" as published by Democracy Now on Indian farmers plight:

A quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last 16 years—an average of one suicide every 30 minutes. The crisis has ballooned with economic liberalization that has removed agricultural subsidies and opened Indian agriculture to the global market. Small farmers are often trapped in a cycle of insurmountable debt, leading many to take their lives out of sheer desperation. We speak with Smita Narula of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School, co-author of a new report on farmer suicides in India.
SMITA NARULA: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this report that you are just releasing today.

SMITA NARULA: Our major finding for this report is that all the issues that you just described are major human rights issues. And what we’re faced with in India is a human rights crisis of epic proportions. The crisis affects the human rights of Indian farmers and their family members in extremely profound ways. We found that their rights to life, to water, food and adequate standard of living, and their right to an effective remedy, is extremely affected by this crisis. Additionally, the government has hard human rights legal obligations to respond to the crisis, but we’ve found that it has failed, by and large, to take any effective measures to address the suicides that are taking place.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, this number is unbelievable. Thirty—every 30 minutes, an Indian farmer commits suicide?

SMITA NARULA: And that’s been going on for years and years. And what these intense numbers don’t reveal are two things. One is that the numbers themselves are failing to capture the enormity of the problem. In what we call a failure of information on the part of the Indian government, entire categories of farmers are completely left out of the purview of farm suicide statistics, because they don’t formally own title to land. This includes women farmers, Dalit, or so-called lower caste farmers, as well as Adivasi, or tribal community farmers. In addition, the government’s programs and the relief programs that they’ve offered fail to capture not only this broad category, but also fail to provide timely debt relief and compensation or address broader structural issues that are leading to these suicides in the country....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an alJazeera report on potential for water wars:

After droughts ravaged his parents' farmland, Sixteen-year-old Hassain and his two-year-old sister Sareye became some of the newest refugees forced from home by water scarcity.

"There was nothing to harvest," Hassain said through an interpreter during an interview at a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya which is housing some 160,000 Somalis displaced by a lack of water. "There had been no rain in my village for two years. We used to have crops."

As global warming alters weather patterns, and the number of people lacking access to water rises, millions, if not billions, of others are expected to face a similar fate as water shortages become more frequent.

Presently, Hassain is one of about 1.2 billion people living in areas of physical water scarcity, although the majority of cases are nowhere near as dire. By 2030, 47 per cent of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Environmental Outlook to 2030 report.

Some analysts worry that wars of the future will be fought over blue gold, as thirsty people, opportunistic politicians and powerful corporations battle for dwindling resources.

Dangerous warnings

Governments and military planners around the world are aware of the impending problem; with the US senate issuing reports with names like Avoiding Water Wars: Water Scarcity and Central Asia’s growing Importance for Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With rapid population growth, and increased industrial demand, water withdrawls have tripled over the last 50 years, according to UN figures."The war was also a reason why we left," Hassain said. "There was a lot of fighting near my village."

"Water scarcity is an issue exacerbated by demographic pressures, climate change and pollution," said Ignacio Saiz, director of Centre for Economic and Social Rights, a social justice group. "The world's water supplies should guarantee every member of the population to cover their personal and domestic needs."

"Fundamentally, these are issues of poverty and inequality, man-made problems," he told Al Jazeera.
Some experts believe the only documented case of a "water war" happened about 4,500 years ago, when the city-states of Lagash and Umma went to war in the Tigris-Euphrates basin.

But Adel Darwish, a journalist and co-author of Water Wars: Coming Conflicts in the Middle East, says modern history has already seen at least two water wars.

"I have [former Israeli prime minister] Ariel Sharon speaking on record saying the reason for going to war [against Arab armies] in 1967 was for water," Darwish told Al Jazeera.

Some analysts believe Israel continues to occupy the Golan heights, seized from Syria in 1967, due to issues of water control, while others think the occupation is about maintaining high ground in case of future conflicts.

Senegal and Mauritania also fought a war starting in 1989 over grazing rights on the River Senegal. And Syria and Iraq have fought minor skirmishes over the Euphrates River.

Riaz Haq said...

In spite of recent poverty declines with its rapid economic expansion, India still has higher poverty rates than Pakistan, according to a 2011 World Bank report titled "Perspectives on poverty in India : stylized facts from survey data" released in 2011.

Overall, the latest World Bank data shows that India's poverty rate of 27.5%, based on India's current poverty line of $1.03 per person per day, is more than 10 percentage points higher than Pakistan's 17.2%. Assam (urban), Punjab and Himachal Pradesh are the only three Indian states with lower poverty rates than Pakistan's.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on how Pakistani scientists view the latest Sindh floods:

ISLAMABAD: A weather scientist on Friday blamed climate change for the unprecedented torrential monsoon rains in Sindh that have caused severe flooding in the 16 districts of Sindh province.

“If we look at the frequency and the trend of the extreme weather events impacting Pakistan then it is easy to find its linkage with climate change,” said Dr. Qamar uz Zaman Chaudhry Advisor, Climate Affairs in a statement here.

The pattern of recent extreme weather events in Pakistan show clear indication of increased frequency and intensity of such events in Pakistan which is in line with the international climate change projections, he added.

Dr Qamar, who is also the lead author and architect of the country’s first Draft National Climate Change Policy, said Pakistan is heading for increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, which includes frequent floods and droughts.

“We need to adapt and plan for that,” he said and added, the formulation of Draft National Climate Change Policy is the first step in this direction.

He said the rains in Sindh are the highest ever recorded monsoon rains during the four weeks period. Before the start of these rains in the second week of August, Sindh was under severe drought conditions and it had not received any rainfall for the last 12 months.

The last severe rainfall flooding in Sindh occurred in July 2003, he said and added, but this time the devastating rains of 1150 mm in Mithi, Mirpurkhas 676 mm, Diplo 779 mm, Chachro 735 mm, N. Parker 792 mm, Nawabshah 547 mm, Badin 512 mm, Chhor 456 mm, Padidan 381 mm Hyderabad 249 mm etc during the four weeks period have created unprecedented flood situation in Sindh.

According to Dr. Qamar, the total volume of water fallen over Sindh during the four weeks is estimated to be above 37 million acre feet, “which is unimaginable.”

He said that the rainfall was predicted well in advance by Met Office and the disaster management agencies were well prepared. “But the scale of this natural calamity combined with the topography of the area having very poor natural drainage. Most of water stagnates and breaches in LBOD and irrigation channels further complicated the scale of flooding.”

Dr. Qamar said that it was also forecast that in Pakistan climate change would be causing considerable increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, coupled with erratic monsoon rains causing frequent floods and droughts, and increased temperature would result in enhanced heat and water stress conditions, particularly in the arid and semi-arid regions.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post report on rising suicides in India:

NEW DELHI — Ram Babu’s last days were typical in India’s growing rash of suicides.

The poor farmer’s crop failed and he defaulted on the $6,000 loan he had taken to buy a tractor. The bank’s collectors hounded him, even hiring drummers to go round the village drawing attention to his shame.

“My father found it unbearable. He was an honorable man and he couldn’t take the humiliation. The next day he hanged himself from a tree on his farm,” his son Ram Gulam said Friday.

Babu’s suicide went unreported in local newspapers, just another statistic in a country where more than 15 people kill themselves every hour, according to a new government report.

The report released late Thursday said nearly 135,000 people killed themselves in the country of 1.2 billion last year, a 5.9 percent jump in the number of suicides over the past year.

The suicide rate increased to 11.4 per 100,000 people in 2010 from 10.9 the year before, according to the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau.

Financial difficulties and debts led to most of the male suicides while women were driven to take their lives because of domestic pressures, including physical and mental abuse and demands for dowry.

A 2008 World Health Organization report ranked India 41st for its suicide rate, but because of its huge population it accounted for 20 percent of global suicides.

The largest numbers of suicides were reported from the southern Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, where tens of thousands of impoverished farmers have killed themselves after suffering under insurmountable debts.

The loans — from banks and loan sharks — were often used to buy seeds and farm equipment, or to pay large dowries to get their daughters married. But a bad harvest could plunge the farmer over the edge.

Sociologists say the rapid rise in incomes in India’s booming economy has resulted in a surge in aspirations as well among the lower and middle classes, and the failure to attain material success can trigger young people to suicide.

“The support that traditionally large Indian families and village communities offered no longer exists in urban situations. Young men and women move to the cities and find they have no one to turn to for succor in times of distress,” said Abhilasha Kumari, a sociology professor in New Delhi.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Guardian report on glaciers in Karakoram range in Pakistan:

The glaciers flowing between the towering peaks of the Karakoram range on the Pakistan-China border have grown in size in the last decade, according to new research.

The impact of climate change on the ice in the greater Himalaya range has been controversial because of an unfounded claim by the United Nations' climate science panel over the rate of melting in the region. However the melting of vast volumes of ice into the sea in most other parts of the world has been clearly demonstrated. In March, scientists showed that far less ice was being lost across the Himalayas than had been estimated from sparse ground surveys on the remote slopes.

The new study shows that glaciers in one important part of the mountain range are growing. "We provide a detailed glacier-scale evaluation of mass changes in the central Karakoram," said Julie Gardelle, at CNRS-Université Grenoble, who led the research published in Nature Geoscience on Sunday. "In our warming world, there are regions of the Earth where, for a few years or decades, the atmosphere is not warming or is even cooling. So it is not really a big surprise that there are some regions where the temperature is not rising and the Karakoram may be one of those."

The scientists used 3D altitude maps obtained from satellites in 2000 and 2008 to track the changes in the glaciers. Prof Graham Cogley, of Trent University in Canada, who was not part of the research team, called the approach a "ground-breaking" advance.
Prof Jonathan Bamber, at the University of Bristol, said Gardelle's research was consistent with global gravity work. But he cautioned: "Nine years is a very short period to draw strong conclusions about trends in glaciers. If you are looking for a climate effect - as opposed to a weather effect - you usually take a 30-year period as a minimum, on the assumption that this averages out the interannual variability."

Cogley emphasised that, despite the relatively ice small growth seen the Karakoram, global glacier and ice cap melting is continuing and contributing to rising sea levels. "The world exhibits enormous variety, but that doesn't mean we cannot make valuable generalisations about how it is changing," he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a NY Times blog post on India's planned dams and India's lack of concern for environmental impact on India ad reduction of water for Pakistan and Bangladesh:

...India’s government was grappling with growing pressure to increase the dependability of its electricity service — for the growing numbers who have intermittent power and the 400 million who live without it.

As a solution, the government proposed constructing 292 dams throughout the Indian Himalayas — roughly a dam every 20 miles. If completed, the 7,000- to 11,000-megawatt dams would double the country’s hydropower capacity and meet about 6 percent of the national energy needs projected for 2030 (based upon 8 percent annual growth of the nation’s domestic product). The dams, the reasoning goes, would provide electricity to needy people as well as offset carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Scientists and citizens alike are crying foul, however, pointing out that the dams will probably displace millions and wreck ecosystems throughout the Himalayas.

No binding provisions are in place to ensure that displaced people receive adequate compensation and help with resettlement — and most of the projects are proceeding without adequate environmental impact surveys.

“The key issue is that there’s no requirement in India’s law to do cumulative impact assessments,” said R. Edward Grumbine, a senior international scientist at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Kunming Institute of Botany. Dr. Grumbine and his colleague, Mahara Pandit at the University of Delhi, wrote one of the first scientific papers discussing the dams, recently published in Science.

How these dams may affect communities and ecosystems in neighboring downstream countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan is little discussed.

Climate change offers a further strike against the projects. By 2050, scientists predict, the water supply from the Brahmaputra and Indus — two major rivers among the 28 that would receive dams — will decrease by about 20 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Those reductions would in turn cut the rivers’ capacity to produce electricity, undermining the dams’ purpose.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on Pakistan climate change policy:

Disaster-prone Pakistan has launched its first ever national policy on climate change, detailing how it plans to tackle the challenges posed by global warming, mitigate its risks and adapt key sectors of the country's economy to cope with its consequences.

Pakistan is highly vulnerable to weather-related disasters such as cyclones, droughts, floods, landslides and avalanches. Devastating floods in 2010 disrupted the lives of 20 million people – many more than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – and cost $10 billion.

The climate change policy, developed with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), recommends some 120 steps the country could take to slow down the impact of global warming, as well as adapt sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture.

Measures include flood forecasting warning systems, local rainwater harvesting, developing new varieties of resilient crops, promoting renewable energy sources and more efficient public transport.

"The National Climate Change policy takes into account risks and vulnerabilities of various development sectors with specific emphasis on water, food, energy and national security issues," said Rana Mohammad Farooq Saeed Khan, Minister for Climate Change at the launch of the policy is Islamabad on Tuesday.

But the policy needs a concrete action plan to back it up, with details, budgets and timelines first, some newspaper commentators said, adding that only then could there be a chance of effective implementation.

Questions have also arisen about where the money to fund implementation will come from and whether Pakistan's provinces have the capacity and expertise to put it in place.

Last year, a major U.N. report said the world needed to prepare better to deal with extreme weather and rising seas caused by climate change, in order to save lives and limit deepening economic losses.
UNDP's Pakistan Director Marc-André Franche said addressing changing weather patterns would help the country's economic development.

"Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries facing climate risks and mechanisms need to be devised for greener, more resilient options for growth and sustainable development, said Franche at the launch.

"I hope the policy will help key stakeholders in identifying capacities and skills for the successful implementation of the policy," he added.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from a World Bank report titled "Turn Down the Heat" released today:

The projected increase in the seasonality of precipitation is associated with an increase in the number of dry days, leading to droughts that are amplified by continued warming, with adverse consequences for human lives. Droughts are
expected to pose an increasing risk in parts of the region.
Although drought projections are made difficult by uncertain
precipitation projections and differing drought indicators, some
regions emerge to be at particularly high risk. These include north-western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Over southern India, increasing wetness is projected with broad agreement
between climate models.

Here's more from Daily Times:

The report has been prepared for the WB by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics and peer reviewed by 25 scientists worldwide.

The report said that unless action is taken now to limit carbon release in the atmosphere, South Asia would suffer more extreme droughts and floods, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and declines in food production.

“Events like the devastating Pakistan floods of 2010, which affected more than 20 million people, could become common place,” the report said.

A warming climate will contribute to slowing the reduction in poverty, while the lives of everyone in the region will be altered by climate change, the impacts of progressive global warming will fall hardest on the poor.

Low crop yields and associated income loss from agriculture will continue the trend toward migration from rural to urban centers. In cities, the poor will suffer with temperatures magnified by the so-called ‘heat island effect’ of the built environments.

Safe drinking water will become increasingly constrained and alternatives, especially during and after flooding, are likely to contribute to greater water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea.

The report cited Bangladesh, already threatened by frequent floods and extreme weather, as just one of more ‘potential impact hotspots’ threatened by extreme river floods, more intense tropical cyclones, rising sea levels and very high temperatures.

India’s two largest coastal cities, Kolkata and Mumbai, face a similar fate.

With South Asia close to the equator, the sub-continent would see much higher rises in sea levels than higher latitudes, with the Maldives confronting the biggest increases of between 100-115 centimeters. Pakistan would suffer the most extreme increases in heat. .

Riaz Haq said...

People often compare Balochistan with East Pakistan. Balochistan has nothing in common with East Pakistan.

1. Only a third of the population of Balochistan is Balochi speaking. The Baloch Nationalists are too few number, highly disorganized and deeply divided among themselves. They are no more than a nuisance that Pak military can effectively handle. Besides, almost as many ethnic Baloch people live outside of Balochistan province (in Sindh and Southern Punjab) as in Balochistan, according to Anatol Lieven(Pakistan-A Hard Country)....and they are quite well integrated with the rest of the population in Pakistan. Asif Zardari, the current president of Pakistan, is an ethnic Baloch, as was former President Farooq Laghari and recent interim Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. Pakistan's COAS Gen Musa was a Hazara from Balochistan.

2. In East Pakistan, there was an election won by Sheikh Mujib with heavy mandate. Nothing like that has happened nor likely happen with a bunch of fractious Baloch tribesmen who represent only a few districts in Balochistan.

3. East Pakistan was split by an outright foreign invasion which is highly unlikely to happen to nuclear-armed Pakistan.

4. Retired US Army Col Ralph Peters is a CIA guy who knows a lot of Balochistan. Here's an excerpt of a Huffington Post Op Ed on Baloch insurgents:

According to Peters, one of the most serious issues with the Baloch independence movement is "deeply troubling" infighting. In fact, he is emphatic in his condemnation of such bickering; going so far as to assert: "they are quickly becoming their own worse enemies."

In his view, individual Baloch simply don't understand that their personal feuding undermines the larger movement: "Certain Baloch fail to understand that their only hope in gaining independence is if they put their own egos and vanity aside and work together. This is the cold hard fact. They are already outgunned and outmanned. Pakistan will continue to to exploit their differences until they realize this."

So long as the Baloch continue to engage in "petty infighting," including "savaging each other in emails," (Ralph) Peters is pessimistic they can garner widespread support in the West. In fact, he warns that such infighting could eventually put off even their staunchest supporters.

As a result, he recommends that the Baloch leadership and activists set the example and halt their public bickering: "The Baloch leaders need to stop their severe personal attacks on each other and others. In the military, we say that you don't let an entire attack get bogged down by a single sniper. But, there are individuals out there who are causing divisions and attacking people. They tend to look at the debate as if you don't agree with me completely then you're my enemy. This undermines their cause."

Until these leaders and activists "support the big picture," Peters offers little hope that the broader Baloch nation will be able to "work together, put aside their deep divide, and unify." This troubles Peters as he confides: "At this point, do I believe they have a good chance of achieving independence? No. But, it would be much higher in the future if they just start working together. It's frustrating that the leaders can't unite."

Peters is also bothered by the Baloch tendancy to blame such infighting on covert operations by Pakistan's military and security services: "The region as a whole tends to blame conspiracy theories. But, I have come to believe that you never accept conspiracies when something can be explained by incompetence..."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on growth of beekeeping industry in Pakistan's Potohar region:

Battered by erratic weather patterns with decreasing and delayed rainfall, thousands of farmers in Pakistan’s northeast Potohar plateau are moving to beekeeping as an alternative source of livelihood that is less vulnerable to climate change.

A single flood, no or deficient rain in one cropping season, or lack of water in the river system due to delayed glacial melt can ruin farmers’ livelihoods. “However, training farmers in alternative climate-resilient livelihoods like beekeeping can go a long way in making farming communities resilient to climate change impacts,” said Dr. Zafar Iqbal, former chairperson of the National Disaster Management Authority, in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.

The fact that many farmers find beekeeping a more profitable alternative and therefore reduce farming or completely shun it has its own impact on food security. But it helped many households survive in Potohar – a sprawling region between the Indus and the Jhelum rivers and stretching up to the foothills of the Himalayas. Around 70 per cent of rain in the region is received between July and August.

“Because of erratic weather patterns and unreliable crop harvests, our income had become irregular and was declining. But the beehives give us regular income,” said Hakim Khan, a beekeeper in Ghool village of Chakwal district, about 90 kilometres southeast of Islamabad.

The district — one of the four in Potohar along with Attock, Rawalpindi and Jhelum – is known for its exportable quality of groundnuts and stretches over 6,500 square kilometres of semi-arid terrain. It has a population of nearly 1.5 million and relies entirely on the rains for cultivation of crops.

It was known as an area for abundant rain. However, the situation has changed over the years. Until 1998, it would receive around 1,200 millometres rainfall annually. This has come down to less than 900 millometres, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.
In this scenario, beekeeping has been a saviour for many families in the area. Hakim Khan from Ghool, for instance, survived the poor harvest by taking to beekeeping. He also continues to grow groundnut.

“The additional income from beekeeping has helped me survive crop losses. I adopted beekeeping three years ago to cover up income losses from the groundnut crop,” Khan said while examining the wooden bee boxes on a plot adjacent to his groundnut field.

He was amongst the lucky ones trained in beekeeping — producing honey, hives and wax — by the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) under the Drought Mitigation and Preparedness Project. Farmers in various villages of Chakwal district have also been provided with financial aid.

In a ripple effect, Khan has taught other farmers about beekeeping and its benefits. “I learnt about the economic benefits of less labour and investment (in beekeeping)… Now, more and more farmers are approaching to me to learn about beekeeping,” he told

Citing an example, he said a groundnut farmer-turned-beekeeper who purchased 10 wooden boxes of hives for Pakistani Rs.34,000 (about US$347) three years ago now has 90 boxes worth Pakistani Rs.1,020,000 (about US$10,400).

Riaz Haq said...

Apart from damaging public health and crop cultivation, heavy fog mainly created by hazardous emissions from the coal-based Indian steel mills are causing a loss of $2 billion annually to Pakistan’s aviation industry.

The Sindh coast doesn’t face the threat of complete drowning from the intruding sea by 2060 as was recently reported in the press, but there are all indications that Pakistan would be seriously impacted by changes in weather conditions, which would become more intense in the coming years. Building dams could help Pakistan prevent flooding.

These were some important points highlighted by deputy director general of the meteorological department Dr Ghulam Rasool at a press briefing held on Saturday. It was arranged by Green Media Initiative in collaboration with the Karachi Press Club.

Speaking to journalists, Dr Rasool said that though Pakistan’s case was briefly discussed in last year’s report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists in the country had detailed information on climate change that would impact the country in the coming years.

“Pakistan ranks 10th among countries that would suffer the most from climate change. Every aspect of the phenomenon would impact us. Our coasts are now more vulnerable to tropical cyclones as their intensity would increase in the Arabian Sea and reduce in the Bay of Bengal,” he said, adding that sea level rise would contribute to sea intrusion.

According to Dr Rasool, of the total 8,123 glaciers in Pakistan, only 8,000 are advancing while the rest are reducing. The Siachen Glacier is the fastest melting glacier in the world. The deployment of armed forces of both Pakistan and India in that region is also contributing to decline in the ice mass.

“The change in monsoon pattern would aggravate flooding in rivers. Although intense monsoon would be experienced in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, flooding would occur in Sindh and Balochistan that might be experiencing a dry spell at that time,” he said.

Late, early or prolonged onset of monsoon, he said, would badly impact cultivation.

“Tarbela and Mangla are our only water reservoirs. Their water storage capacity has already reduced by 35pc due to silt deposits,” he said.

He favoured smaller dams but said that they couldn’t work in heavy rain scenarios. “It is up to us how we make use of that water. Either we let it flood and devastate our land and people, or conserve it.”

He rejected press reports on the submergence of Karachi, Thatta and Badin by 2060 and said there was no scientific basis for that statement. “But, sea level rise would contribute to sea intrusion and affect land agricultural productivity.”

On Karachi, he said that the city had expanded out of proportion and there was a need that the government banned its further expansion and established another city to house more people.

Trans-boundary pollution, he told the audience, was spreading. “It’s the wind blowing from the east to the west that brings pollutants to Pakistan and then these coal emissions spread to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and (now) Sukkur,” he said.

The hazardous emissions, he said, were affecting the aviation industry, public health and crop cultivation.

“The fog gets intense during January and December and is broken only with a rain spell. The cloud cover prevents plants to carry out photosynthesis,” he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Overreacting to #Terrorism? #BrusselsAttacks #Obama #Trump #Cruz2016 #Islamophobia

Are terrorists more of a threat than slippery bathtubs?

President Obama, er, slipped into hot water when The Atlantic reportedthat he frequently suggests to his staff that fear of terrorism is overblown, with Americans more likely to die from falls in tubs than from attacks by terrorists.

The timing was awkward, coming right before the Brussels bombings, but Obama is roughly right on his facts: 464 people drowned in America in tubs, sometimes after falls, in 2013, while 17 were killed here by terrorists in 2014 (the most recent years for which I could get figures). Of course, that’s not an argument for relaxing vigilance, for at some point terrorists will graduate from explosives to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons that could be far more devastating than even 9/11. But it is an argument for addressing global challenges a little more rationally.

The basic problem is this: The human brain evolved so that we systematically misjudge risks and how to respond to them.

Our visceral fear of terrorism has repeatedly led us to adopt policies that are expensive and counterproductive, such as the invasion of Iraq. We have ramped up the intelligence community so much that there are now seven times as many Americans with security clearances (4.5 million) as live in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, Donald Trump responded to the Brussels attacks with crowd-pleasing calls for torture or barring Muslims that even Republican security experts agree are preposterous.

On the same day as the attacks, a paper by James E. Hansen and other climate experts was released arguing that carbon emissions are transforming our world far more quickly than expected, in ways that may inundate coastal cities and cause storms more horrendous than any in modern history. The response? A yawn.

Hansen is an eminent former NASA scientist, but he’s also an outlier in his timing forecasts, and I’m not qualified to judge whether he’s correct. Yet whatever the disagreement about the timeline, there is scientific consensus that emissions on our watch are transforming our globe for 10,000 years to come. As an important analysis in Nature Climate Change put it, “The next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far.”

To put it another way, this year’s election choices may shape coastlines 10,000 years from now. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have both mocked the idea of human-caused climate change, with Trump suggesting that it is a hoax invented by China to harm the American economy (he now says that last point was a joke).

The upshot is that Brussels survived this week’s terrorist attacks, but it may not survive climate change (much of the city is less than 100 feet above sea level).

Doesn’t it seem prudent to invest in efforts to avert not only shoe bombers but also the drowning of the world’s low-lying countries?


Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, says that the kind of threats that we evolved to deal with are those that are imminent rather than gradual, and those that involve a deliberate bad actor, especially one transgressing our moral code. Explaining our lack of concern for global warming, he noted,“Climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, not flags.”

In short, our brains are perfectly evolved for the Pleistocene, but are not as well suited for the risks we face today. If only climate change caused sharp increases in snake populations, then we’d be on top of the problem!

Yet even if our brains sometimes mislead us, they also crown us with the capacity to recognize our flaws and rectify mistakes. So maybe we can adjust for our weaknesses in risk assessment — so that we confront the possible destruction of our planet as if it were every bit as ominous and urgent a threat as, say, a passing garter snake.

Riaz Haq said...

BBC News - #India climate: What do drowning rhinos and drought tell us? #Pakistan #climatechange

A river, swollen by raging monsoon floodwaters, had torn down a bridge on the main road between Mumbai and Goa.
More than 30 people are thought to have died when the great stone structure crashed into the torrent, taking with it two buses and a number of cars.
Some of the bodies were swept more than 60 miles downriver in two days.
Rescue workers search the flooded River Savitri after an old bridge collapsed in Mahad, western Maharashtra state, India, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016.

In the heart-wrenchingly brutal calculus of the newsroom, this isn't a major story. But zoom out, and you begin to see the outlines of a much bigger and more worrying picture.
India, indeed the whole South Asia region, has been riding a rollercoaster of extreme weather.
The summer monsoon is the most productive rain system in the world, and this year the region is experiencing a strong one. The floods it caused have affected more than 8.5 million people; more than a million are living in temporary shelters; some 300 people have been killed.
Though what really caught people's interest was the three baby rhinos rescued from the waters in the north Indian state of Assam.

The fact that 17 adult rhinos drowned got rather less attention.
But the important point is that the region is awash with water. Just a few months ago, it was a very different story. The previous two monsoons were unusually weak. The result was a terrible drought in northern India, and parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
And it was exacerbated by another extreme weather event - record heat.
India experienced its highest temperature ever this summer, a blistering 51C.
Rivers ran dry; water holes evaporated; reservoirs became dusty plains. And, once again, the statistics were staggering.
More than 300 million people were affected by water shortages - the equivalent of the entire population of the US. A city of half a million people was left completely dry. It had to rely on supplies brought in by train.

As if that weren't bad enough, in spite of the drought, the country was hit by a series of unseasonal rain and hailstorms. They caused such terrible damage to crops that some farmers were driven to suicide.
All these examples of extreme weather were widely reported, rightly so. What tended not to be discussed was the underlying cause.
We are all interested in weather; few of us want to be told - once again - that our lifestyles are disrupting the global climate. Yet the truth is that many climatologists believe the monsoon, always fickle, is becoming even more erratic as a result of global warming.
The picture in the last couple of years is complicated by the fact that the world has been experiencing a particularly strong El Nino, the periodic weather variation caused by warming of the sea in the Pacific.
But a series of long-term studies have shown the number of extreme rainfall events in South Asia increasing while low-to-moderate events are decreasing. And increasingly erratic and extreme weather is precisely what scientists expect climate change will bring.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted "rainfall patterns in peninsular India will become more and more erratic, with a possible decrease in overall rainfall, but an increase in extreme weather events".
Indian pedestrians and a cyclist wade through a flooded street after heavy monsoon rain showers in Mumbai on June 21, 2016