Biogas guzzlers: Karachi’s public buses to run on cow poo

Cow poo-fueled buses are part of an effort to clean the city’s air. (File/Shutterstock)
Updated 02 January 2019

Biogas guzzlers: Karachi’s public buses to run on cow poo

  • New bus system will start operating in 2020
  • Clean bus network will cater for 320,000 passengers daily

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to freshen its air and cut planet-warming emissions, the Pakistani port city of Karachi will introduce cleaner-running buses powered by a decidedly “unclean” fuel: cow poo.
With funding from the international Green Climate Fund, Karachi will launch a zero-emission Green Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, with 200 buses fueled by bio-methane.
Locals said the new bus system — due to start operating in 2020 — would help reduce air pollution and street noise, but doubted whether it would have enough buses to resurrect the city’s ailing transport system.
“(Karachi’s) public transport system has totally collapsed and most people have to use online taxi-hailing services (and) auto rickshaws,” said commuter Afzal Ahmed, 45, who works as a medical sales representative.
After management problems forced the Karachi Transport Corporation to fold some two decades ago, Chinese-imported buses running on compressed natural gas fell into disrepair and were taken off the road, worsening public transport woes, he noted.
Malik Amin Aslam, adviser on climate change to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, said the BRT system was the first transport project the Green Climate Fund had approved, and would bring “multiple environmental and economic benefits.” It would not require operating subsidies, he added.
The cheap, clean bus network will cater for 320,000 passengers daily, and will reduce planet-warming emissions by 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over 30 years, according to project documents.
The BRT will consist of a 30-km (18.6-mile) corridor that will benefit 1.5 million residents, adding 25 new bus stations, secure pedestrian crossings, improved sidewalks, cycle lanes and bike-sharing facilities.
The Green Climate Fund, set up under UN climate talks to provide finance to developing countries to help them grow cleanly and adapt to a warming climate, will provide $49 million for the Karachi project out of a total cost of $583.5 million.
The other major funders are the Asian Development Bank and the provincial government of Sindh, where Karachi is located.
WASTE ON TAP
The BRT system, to be rolled out over four years, will have a fleet of 200 hybrid buses that will run on bio-methane produced from manure excreted by Karachi’s 400,000 milk-producing water buffaloes, and collected by the authorities.
The project will prevent about 3,200 tons of cow manure entering the ocean daily by converting it into energy and fertilizer at a biogas plant, and will save more than 50,000 gallons of fresh water now used to wash that waste into the bay, Aslam said.
Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, CEO of Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) Pakistan, a policy think-tank, said calculating the overall impact on the environment was complex, as the buses would be introduced in stages.
Pakistan’s authorities often lack maintenance budgets, he noted, highlighting the risk the buses could break down and not be repaired.
“Pakistan has a history that it does not utilize donors’ project funding at an optimum level,” he said.
But if all goes well, Sheikh said the project, as the country’s first green BRT system, would lay the foundation for “climate-smart urban transportation systems” in other places.
It could shake up approaches to public transport among policy makers and planners, serving as a model for other cities, including Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Faisalabad, he said.
CLEANER AIR
Pakistan needs to launch such projects in big cities to discourage personal vehicle use, thereby easing traffic emissions and smog, and improving air quality and public health, Sheikh added.
He recommended setting a target for 70 percent of the urban population to use public transport.
Another way to ease air pollution would be to import better-quality petroleum fuels for vehicles, he added.
“We are importing low-grade fuel, and our refineries have capacity to refine only third-grade fuel,” he said.
Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer, said previous BRT projects in Pakistan’s large cities had not focused on environmental sustainability.
Planners should start connecting transport systems with wider urban development, Alam said.
“We need to introduce transport-oriented urban design by encouraging the use of public transport and discouraging the use of private vehicles to reduce emissions,” he said.
Zia Ur Rehman, a Karachi-based journalist covering civic issues, noted that the Sindh provincial government had run less than 50 buses in the city in the last 10 years, while private buses and mini-buses had dwindled from 25,000 to 8,000.
One reason is that buses were torched during strikes and at times of political upheaval, he said.
The new bus system alone was unlikely to resolve the city’s transport problems, but would be “a short-term relief for commuters and also help in reducing... air pollution,” he added.


Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on January 24, 2019 shows men with henna-dyed beards in Dhaka on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

  • It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard

DHAKA, BANGLADESH: From shades of startling red to hues of vivid tangerine, brightly colored beards have become a fashion statement on the streets of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Facial hair of sunset tones is now the go-to look for older men wanting to take off the years, with an array of henna options available to the style-conscious.
“I have been using it on my hair for the last two months. I like it,” says Mahbubul Bashar, in his 50s, whose smile reflected his joy at his new look.
Abul Mia, a 60-year-old porter at a local vegetable market, agrees that the vibrant coloring can be transformative.
“I love it. My family says I look a lot younger and handsome,” he adds.
While henna has been used widely in the country for decades, it has reached new heights of popularity. It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard.
Orange hair — whether it’s beards, moustaches or on heads — is everywhere, thanks to the popularity of the colored dye produced by the flowering henna plant.
“Putting henna on has become a fashion choice in recent years for elder men,” confirms Didarul Dipu, head fashion journalist at Canvas magazine.
“The powder is easily found in neighborhood stores and easy to put on,” he adds.
But the quest for youth is not the only reason why more and more Dhaka barbers are adding beard and hair coloring to their services.
Top imams also increasingly use henna powder color in what experts say is a move to prove their Muslim credentials as some religious texts say the prophet Mohammed dyed his hair.
In Bangladesh most of the population of 168 million is Muslim.
“I heard from clerics that the prophet Mohammed used henna on his beard. I am just following,” says Dhaka resident Abu Taher.

Henna has long been a tradition at South Asian weddings. Brides and grooms use henna paste to trace intricate patterns on their hands for wedding parties.
It has also long been used in Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East for beards.
Previously, aficionados created the dye by crushing henna leaves to form a paste. It was messy and time-consuming but modern henna powder is far more user-friendly.
Taher, who goes by one name, believes the dye has given his beard added vigour.
“Look at this growth. Isn’t it strong?” he exclaims pointing to his chin.
“The powder turns the grey hair red but does not change the remaining black hair,” he explains.
Some believe henna powder has health benefits and, as it is natural rather than created using man-made chemicals like some dyes, does not cause any medical issues.
The new trend has also boosted barbers’ fortunes — more men feel compelled to dye their hair and to do it more often at the salons.
“In the past we hardly would get any customers for this,” recalls Shuvo Das, who works at the Mahin Hairdressers in Dhaka’s Shaheenbagh neighborhood.
“But now there are clients who come every week to get their beard dyed,” he says.
“It takes about 40 minutes to make the beard reddish and shiny. It is also cheap. A pack cost only 15 taka (four US cents),” Das explains as he massages the dye mixture — imported from India — into a customer’s beard.
According to Dhaka University sociology professor Monirul Islam Khan, the growing number of henna beards “is a sign of increasing Muslim fervor in Bangladeshi society.”
But, he adds, even those who are not strict followers do it.
He explains: “They want to look younger. Even the women are getting fond of it as it makes their hair glitter.”