Expats disappointed e-voting for overseas Pakistanis unachievable for 2018 elections

NADRA, in collaboration with ECP, introduced “i-Vote” in April for expats. (AFP)
Updated 08 June 2018

Expats disappointed e-voting for overseas Pakistanis unachievable for 2018 elections

  • E-vote system to be tested during by-polls
  • Online voting system not ready, says ECP secretary

ISLAMABAD: Some 7.9 million Pakistanis living abroad will not be able to vote in the 2018 general elections following the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday that deployment of an e-voting system in haste would be harmful. 
Expats have expressed disappointment at the decision.
“I feel like I have been stripped of my basic right in determining a leader I would associate my identity to. Being a Pakistani citizen residing aboard and not able to vote does not benefit me or the person I intend to vote for,” said Sonum Asad, speaking to Arab News from the US. 
Mehroz Adil, from the UK, told Arab News: “Every year false promises are made to the nation and nothing is validated. I honestly feel my vote would not make a difference” since “I am not given the right to do so.”
A three-member judicial bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, resuming a court hearing on the viability of electronic voting for Pakistani expats, was told by politician Imran Khan’s lawyer Faisal Chaudhry that implementing an e-voting system was unattainable given the short period of time available. Elections are scheduled for July 25.
Secretary of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Babar Yaqoob Fateh Muhammad told the apex court that an evaluation of the e-voting project by professionals suggested that “more work over the online system is required” and “at the moment” expats cannot be extended the “voting facility.” 
An international feasibility study of the untested voting system had suggested holding trials before giving the public access, the ECP secretary said at an earlier court session attended by Arab News.
Nisar said: “It is correct that this procedure is not possible right now. I tried to provide this facility to the overseas Pakistanis. But it will cause an immense loss at this point.” He added that “the e-voting process can be reviewed during by-polls” but the task force findings on non-implementation of the online voting system is to be made public.
The court had decided to form a task force after hearing experts and lawmakers raise objections and fears about rolling out the country’s first online voting system for overseas Pakistanis in a matter of weeks. 
Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed told Arab News that the suggestion for the task force was his idea. Nisar was commended on the e-voting initiative, but asked the court to approach the matter cautiously.
Nisar had taken the initiative on petitioners' pleas to extend the right to vote to 7.9 million Pakistanis living abroad and ordered NADRA and ECP to devise a system.
NADRA, in collaboration with ECP, introduced “i-Vote” in April for expats. The judges quizzed NADRA on the voting portal’s security. NADRA said that measures against unauthorized access and known threats had been taken but foolproof security could not be guaranteed.
“There is no system that is 100 percent hackproof” said a NADRA official, and told the judges that a third party will need to evaluate and asses the system's fairness, integrity and security. The final product will cost about $1.3 million.
Experts from Pakistan’s three leading universities expressed their views on front-end visuals of the voting portal but were skeptical of the back end of the software, which required examination.
“This is a discredited model,” said Taha Ali from the National University of Science and Technology. “The world has moved away from this (voting model)” and gave examples of similar failed voting systems in the US, France, Germany and other countries.
Pakistan Attorney General Ashtar Ausaf Ali also cautioned the court and said that deliberations had to continue to ensure voter secrecy, stability of the system and ease of implementation.
Anwar Mansoor Khan, one of the main petitioners seeking overseas voting rights, told Arab News: “There are delaying tactics being played. They can implement this. It is not a problem but there is a problem where various politicians don’t want this to be implemented” who don’t have a vote bank abroad.


Plastic particles in drinking water present ‘low’ risk — World Health Organization

Updated 22 August 2019

Plastic particles in drinking water present ‘low’ risk — World Health Organization

  • WHO issues first report on microplastics in drinking water
  • Reassures consumers that risk is low, but says more study needed
GENEVA: Microplastics contained in drinking water pose a “low” risk to human health at current levels, but more research is needed to reassure consumers, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
Studies over the past year on plastic particles detected in tap and bottled water have sparked public concerns but the limited data appears reassuring, the UN agency said its first report on potential health risks associated with ingestion.
Microplastics enter drinking water sources mainly through run-off and wastewater effluent, the WHO said. Evidence shows that microplastics found in some bottled water seem to be at least partly due to the bottling process and/or packaging such as plastic caps, it said.
“The headline message is to reassure drinking water consumers around the world, that based on this assessment, our assessment of the risk is that it is low,” Bruce Gordon of the WHO’s department of public health, environmental and social determinants of health, told a briefing.
The WHO did not recommended routine monitoring for microplastics in drinking water. But research should focus on issues including what happens to chemical additives in the particles once they enter the gastrointestinal tract, it said.
The majority of plastic particles in water are larger than 150 micrometers in diameter and are excreted from the body, while “smaller particles are more likely to cross the gut wall and reach other tissues,” it said.
Health concerns have centered around smaller particles, said Jennifer De France, a WHO technical expert and one of the report’s authors.
“For these smallest size particles, where there is really limited evidence, we need know more about what is being absorbed, the distribution and their impacts,” she said.
More research is needed into risks from microplastics exposure throughout the environment — “in our drinking water, air and food,” she added.
Alice Horton, a microplastics researcher at Britain’s National Oceanography Center, said in a statement on the WHO’s findings: “There are no data available to show that microplastics pose a hazard to human health, however this does not necessarily mean that they are harmless.”
“It is important to put concerns about exposure to microplastics from drinking water into context: we are widely exposed to microplastics in our daily lives via a wide number of sources, of which drinking water is just one.”
Plastic pollution is so widespread in the environment that you may be ingesting five grams a week, the equivalent of eating a credit card, a study commissioned by the environmental charity WWF International said in June. That study said the largest source of plastic ingestion was drinking water, but another major source was shellfish.
The biggest overall health threat in water is from microbial pathogens — including from human and livestock waste entering water sources — that cause deadly diarrheal disease, especially in poor countries lacking water treatment systems, the WHO said.
Some 2 billion people drink water contaminated with faeces, causing nearly 1 million deaths annually, Gordon said, adding: “That has got to be the focus of regulators around the world.”