Water-stressed Pakistan looks for billions in donations to build dams

A man waits for customers as he sells "Gol Gappay", a traditional street food from his cart on Clifton beach in Karachi, Pakistan February 20, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 24 February 2019

Water-stressed Pakistan looks for billions in donations to build dams

  • The drive aims to raise as much as a staggering $14 billion toward the cost of installing water reservoirs for two major dams
  • Some politicians from government opposition parties have dismissed the effort, saying it is doomed to fail

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan: As Pakistan faces worsening water scarcity — and trouble sourcing international cash for hydropower dams it says it needs — it has turned to an unlikely source of cash: A fundraising campaign backed by the country’s top court judges.
Last year Mian Saqib Nisar — then the country’s chief supreme court judge — donated a million Pakistani rupees ($7,400) of his own money to start the drive, calling water shortages a major national threat.
The drive aims to raise as much as a staggering $14 billion toward the cost of installing water reservoirs and other equipment for two major dams.
Nisar retired in January from the court, but the current panel of top judges have taken over the push.
Some politicians from government opposition parties have dismissed the effort, calling it inappropriate and doomed to fail.
“Building dams is not the responsibility of the court,” said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of party Pakistan Peoples Party.
But efforts to solicit donations from as far away as the United States and Britain, largely from expatriate Pakistanis, have raised $70 million as of mid-February toward the “Chief Justice Dam Fund,” according to the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s website.
The country’s green-leaning Prime Minister Imran Khan backs the effort.
“Water (scarcity) has been Pakistan’s number one issue and the country may face shortages by 2025 if dams are not built,” Khan warned in a state television address last September.
He has urged Pakistanis living overseas to donate generously to the effort, comparing the battle to combat water scarcity to a holy war.
“Pakistanis, do take part in this jihad,” the prime minister urged.

WATER WORRIES
Nisar has said he took up Pakistan’s water worries as a personal campaign after Syed Mehar Ali, commissioner of the country’s Indus water treaty, testified in a court hearing last July about worsening water scarcity risks in the country.
Ali told the court that the country’s three western rivers — the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab — carry nearly 140 million acre feet (MAF) of water but the country has water storage capacity for less than 14 MAF.
Much of the water flowing down the river ends up in irrigation channels, but at least 29 MAF simply flows to sea, he said.
Pakistan needs to store 25 MAF of water each year to help shore up water security, the commissioner said — and that would require a series of new large dams, he said.
But building them has proved difficult. An effort to construct a large-scale hydropower dam in Gilgit Baltistan, a Kashmir border region disputed with India, for instance, has had trouble attracting multinational funding.
The proposed Diamer Basha also has proved controversial within the country, facing opposition from some environmental and farmer groups.
Development experts, as well, say charity won’t be enough to build the volume of dams Pakistan needs.
Sardar Riaz Ahmed Khan, a former development secretary in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, said donations can give citizens a sense of ownership in solving the water crisis, but “it’s useless to say that dams will be built by contribution”.
Muzammal Hussain, chairman of Pakista’s Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), however, has said work on the Daimer Basha dam, which could store more than 9 MAF of water and generate clean electricity, will begin in May.
Initial work on a second, less controversial dam — the Mohmand, on the Swat River near Peshawar — started last month.
Pakistan’s government has provided funding for acquisition of land for both projects.
Dozens of farmers from Sindh province marched to Karachi last October to protest construction of the Diamer Basha dam on the Indus River. A leading organization of fishermen also has objected to the dam, saying it will hurt their business.
Salman Shah, a former Pakistani finace minister, said in a televised interview that completing the Diamer Basha dam could take more than 12 years as the dam site is mountainous and falls in an earthquake risk zone, necessitating strong and extra stable construction.
But he believes that if the water storage dam can be built, international investors will come in to provide the infrastructure for power generation from the dam.
“Energy generation is a good profit-earning source in Pakistan,” he said in the October interview.
(Thomson Reuters Foundation)


Jersey City attack being investigated as domestic terrorism

Updated 13 December 2019

Jersey City attack being investigated as domestic terrorism

  • Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the attack was driven by hatred of Jews and law enforcement and is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism
  • The attackers killed three people in the store, in addition to a police officer at a cemetery about a mile away, before dying in an hourslong gunbattle with police

JERSEY CITY: The couple who burst into a kosher market in Jersey City with assault weapons appear to have acted alone even though they had expressed interest in a fringe religious group that often disparages whites and Jews, New Jersey officials said.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the attack was driven by hatred of Jews and law enforcement and is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism.
The two killers were armed with a variety of weapons, including an AR-15-style rifle and a shotgun that they were wielding when they stormed into the store in an attack that left the scene littered with several hundred shell casings, broken glass and a community in mourning. A pipebomb was also found in a stolen U-Haul van.
“The outcome would have been far, far worse” if not for the Jersey City Police, Grewal said Thursday. Authorities noted that a Jewish school is next to the market, and a Catholic school is across the street.
The attackers killed three people in the store, in addition to a police officer at a cemetery about a mile away, before dying in an hourslong gunbattle with police Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
“The evidence points toward acts of hate. I can confirm that we’re investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terrorism fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs,” the attorney general said. He said social media posts, witness interviews and other evidence reflected the couple’s hatred of Jews and police.
Grewal noted that after killing three people in the store, the couple concentrated their fire on police and did not shoot at others who happened to be on the streets.
Grewal said the attackers, David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, had expressed interest in a fringe religious group called the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose members often rail against Jews and whites. But he said there was no evidence so far that they were members, and added that the two were believed to have acted alone.
The pair brought their cache of weapons in a U-Haul van they drove from Bay View Cemetery, where they shot and killed Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals, according to the attorney general.
Anderson fired away with the AR-15-style rifle as he entered the store, while Graham brought a 12-gauge shotgun into the shop. They also had handguns with a homemade silencer and a device to catch shell casings. In all, they had five guns — four recovered in the store, one in the van — in what Grewal called a “tremendous amount of firepower.”
Serial numbers from two of the weapons showed that Graham purchased them in Ohio in 2018, the attorney general said.
The victims killed in the store were: Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery; 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there; and store employee Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49. A fourth person in the store was shot and wounded but managed to escape, authorities said.
Members of New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community gathered Wednesday night for funerals for Ferencz and Deutsch. Thousands of people, mostly men, followed Ferencz’s casket through the streets of Brooklyn, hugging and crying.
The bloodshed in the city of 270,000 people across the Hudson River from New York City spread fear through the Jewish community and weighed heavily on the minds of more than 300 people who attended a vigil Wednesday night at a synagogue about a mile from where the shootings took place.
In the deadliest attack on Jews in US history, 11 people were killed in an October 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue near San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.