Activist-athlete boosts image of Balochistan

Defying tall odds, Shahida Abbasi becomes second woman athlete to win a gold medal for Pakistan. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 04 December 2019

Activist-athlete boosts image of Balochistan

  • There is more to our Hazara town than just bomb blasts, Shahida Abbasi says

KARACHI: As Pakistan’s second woman athlete to win a gold medal in karate at the South Asian Games in Nepal, Shahida Abbasi knows how to pack a punch.

That, however, is half the battle won she says.

True glory, she adds, lies in the fact that her town in Balochistan — which until recently was in the news for bomb blasts and target killings — has now become a source of pride for the country.

“When I started karate a few years ago, there would be regular blasts in the Hazara town of Quetta. Now, the town which was in the news for blasts and target killings is being celebrated for its achievements in sports,” Abbasi, 24, told Arab News during a phone interview from Katmandu, the venue for the prestigious games which began on Sunday and end on Dec. 10.

Pakistan won two gold, three silver and four bronze medals, with Abbasi bringing home the trophy in the women’s single karate category. 

“I am happy that I’m a source of pride for my country, my city, my town and my parents,” she said.

First launched in 1984, the South Asian Games, formerly known as the South Asian Federation Games, is a biennial multi-sporting event which sees participation from seven countries — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Nepal is leading in the games with 15 gold medals, followed by Sri Lanka and India with three gold medals each. Bangladesh came a close third with two gold medals, while Bhutan and Maldives have yet to win a gold. “I am very happy that I was the first from Pakistan to play and gave my country a good start with a gold medal,” Abbasi said, adding that the bouquets she has earned have not been without their share of brickbats.

“When I would go to the academy for learning karate, the boys in my neighborhood would taunt me. I wouldn’t respond but continued my journey with all positivity. Today, I gave them the answer with my performance,” she said.

Abbasi started learning karate in 2004, going on to win national and international medals for her Hazara Club in Quetta and the country.

She credits her father for her win. “'Martial arts is not for girls,’ our neighbors would say. But my father, my main supporter, continued to push me and today I made him proud.”

The second of four sisters, Abbasi said that she called her father in Quetta to tell him that she had won. “But he already knew it! He was very happy and said he’s proud of me,” she said.

Another driving factor for Abbasi to go for gold was to change people’s perception of Balochistan. She said it is considered a backward province but has immense talent and potential. “Give the people of Balochistan a chance, be it in education, sports or any other field, they will prove themselves.”

Muhammad Shah, Abbasi’s coach, praised her “outstanding performance.” 

“She has played better than our expectations,” Shah told Arab News, adding that with support from the government, the athletes can do even better.

“If the government arranges for us around two months training camp, the medals can be doubled. All of my athletes were excellent. However, Shahida Abbasi was brilliant,” Shah said.

Asked if she had a message for other girls her age, Abbasi said: “Have self-respect and self-confidence. With these two things you can outshine in any field.”


World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

Updated 11 December 2019

World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

  • Economic losses equal to 0.5 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product
  • Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur

JAKARTA: The total damage and economic loss from forest fires in Indonesia this year amounted to at least $5.2 billion, equal to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, the World Bank said in a report on Wednesday.
The estimate was based on its assessment in eight affected provinces from June to October 2019, though analysts at the multinational bank said fires had continued to rage through to November.
“The forest and land fires, as well as the resulting haze, led to significant negative economic impacts, estimated at $157 million in direct damage to assets and $5.0 billion in losses from affected economic activities,” the World Bank wrote in the report.
Over 900,000 people reported respiratory illnesses, 12 national airports halted operations, and hundreds of schools in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had to temporarily close due to the fires.
Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
More than 942,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) of forests and lands were burned this year, the biggest since devastating fires in 2015 when Indonesia saw 2.6 million hectares burned, according to official figures. Officials said the spike was due to El Nino weather patterns lengthening the dry season.
The World Bank also estimated a 0.09 and 0.05 percentage points reduction in Indonesia’s economic growth in 2019 and 2020, respectively, due to the fires. Its growth forecast for Indonesia is 5 percent for 2019 and 5.1 percent for 2020.
The blazes were “manmade and have become a chronic problem annually since 1997” because fire is considered the cheapest method to prepare land for cultivation, the bank said.
Because about 44 percent of the areas burned in 2019 were in peatlands, carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires were estimated to be almost double the emissions from the fires in the Brazilian Amazon this year.
The European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecast estimated a total of 720 megatons of CO2 emissions came from Indonesian forest fires in January-November this year.
Longer-term effects of repeated fires were not included in this estimate, the World Bank said. Repeated haze exposure would reduce health and education quality and damage the global image of palm oil — an important commodity for Indonesia.