India, Pakistan water deal must be an ‘instrument of peace’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, arrives to attend a talk on Sustainable Development and Climate Change, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 17 February 2020

India, Pakistan water deal must be an ‘instrument of peace’

  • UN chief is in Islamabad for a conference on Afghan refugees

ISLAMABAD: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who arrived in Islamabad on Sunday morning on a four-day visit, said that the waters shared by Pakistan and India “must be a tool for peace and not war.”

His comments were part of an address on climate change in the capital.

Last year, when tensions between the two countries reached a tipping point, the UN chief was told by Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that India had hinted at abandoning the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty — an agreement brokered by the World Bank — which could potentially start a water war.

“Water must be an instrument of peace and not an instrument of conflict,” Guterres said, referring to heightened security issues between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

“I would ask the two countries to have clear cooperation in relation to water. And I have some moral authority,” the UN chief said, adding that as prime minister of Portugal he had spearheaded a water-sharing agreement with neighboring Spain.

“If one country thinks (it can) solve the problem by letting others in a bad situation ... in the end things turn against everybody.”

On Sunday, Guterres said that 80 percent of the water used for agriculture by Pakistan — an agriculture-based economy — was at risk because of climate change.


Pakistan has a 2030 goal to achieve 30 percent clean energy through renewable projects and 30 percent through hydro projects.

He said that it was unfair that Pakistan was at the front line of climate change’s negative impacts while contributing little to global environmental damage. 

“SDGs must be fulfilled by 2030. The world needs to reduce carbon emission levels. Our planet is burning and too many politicians continue to fiddle. We have to move from a grey to a green economy,” Guterres said, referring to a “climate emergency.” 

Following a keynote speech by the minister for climate change, the adviser to the PM on the topic, Amin Aslam, highlighted the dangers that Pakistan faces — and the government’s five-point agenda to address the core issues of climate change.

Pakistan has a 2030 goal to achieve 30 percent clean energy through renewable projects and 30 percent through hydro projects. 

During his visit, Guterres will also attend an international conference on Afghan refugees that is being hosted by Pakistan.

The two-day event, from Feb. 17-18, will mark four decades since refugees first moved to Pakistan to escape a decades-long conflict plaguing neighboring Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion of 1979.

He is expected to hold talks with Pakistan President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Imran Khan, in addition to other senior officials.

PM Khan will inaugurate the Afghan refugees’ conference, which is expected to host the UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, and ministers and senior officials from about 20 countries “who have been supporting the Afghan refugees across the globe and in Pakistan,” the FO said in a statement last week.

Pakistan is host to nearly 1.4 million registered refugees, as corroborated by the UNHCR.


Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

Updated 08 July 2020

Pregnant mom, unborn child die in India

  • Devastated family mourn latest victim of health system struggling to cope with outbreak

NEW DELHI: The death of an expectant mom and her unborn child after 13 hospitals in one day refused to treat her has put India’s strained health care system under the spotlight.

The devastated husband and 6-year-old child of eight-month pregnant Neelam Singh, 30, are still struggling to come to terms with the “unwarranted loss” a month after her agonizing death in an ambulance outside a hospital in New Delhi.

With more than 100,000 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the Indian capital, Singh became another victim of a health system battling to cope with patient demand due to a lack of bed space and infrastructure.

That, however, has been little comfort for her family members who said they would never be able to overcome the trauma.

“Those 12 hours were the most traumatic experience of our lives, and we have to live with that trauma,” Shailendra Kumar, Singh’s brother-in-law, told Arab News on Tuesday. Singh had developed complications with her pregnancy on June 5, and Kumar said she was rushed to the same hospital in Noida, Uttar Pradesh where she had been going for regular checkups, but was turned away.

“Shivalik (hospital) gave no reason for refusing to admit her. Despite our pleadings, the hospital did not budge from its stand,” Kumar added.

A day-long ordeal ensued, with one hospital after the other unable to treat her. Eventually, she died in an ambulance some 35 kilometers away from her home in Khoda.

“I took her to 13 hospitals, both government and private facilities, and every one refused to admit her. The image of her writhing in pain will always haunt me,” said Kumar, who was accompanied by Singh’s husband. He added that the reasons provided varied from “high costs” to a lack of facilities.

“One hospital told me that I could not pay the high cost so better try my luck somewhere else. At Sharda Hospital in Greater Noida, I was asked to buy a coupon for COVID-19 treatment for 4,500 rupees ($60), which I did, but still, they refused her entry. It was not the loss of one life but two lives,” he said, referring to her unborn child.

He pointed out that the entire family was in a state of shock following her death with her husband “the worst impacted.”

Kumar filed a complaint against Shivalik and other hospitals but said so far “no action has been taken.”

A day after Singh’s death, the district magistrate of Gautam Buddh Nagar, which Noida falls under, ordered an inquiry and issued instructions for all hospitals “to admit patients regardless of the nature of the case.”

However, 20 days later, on June 26, a similar incident was reported in the Dadri area of Noida.

On that occasion, 21-year-old Robin Bhati had developed a fever, and relatives had taken him to a nearby hospital where a week earlier he had been admitted suffering from influenza. However, the hospital refused to admit him and referred him to a different facility.

Five hours and four hospitals later, a city hospital agreed to take him in, but by then Bhati was already seriously ill and hours later he died after suffering a heart attack.

“We don’t know whether he was a COVID-19 patient or not, but why should hospitals refuse to admit a patient in need of immediate attention,” his uncle Jasveer Bhati told Arab News. A number of the Noida hospitals which allegedly denied admission to Singh and Bhati refused to comment on the cases.

In a statement on Monday, the office of Noida’s chief medical officer said: “Strict instructions have been given to all the private and government hospitals to admit all patients showing COVID-19 symptoms.”

Dr. Loveleen Mangla, a pulmonologist working with Noida-based Metro Hospital and Heart Institute, said: “The government did not prepare itself to face this situation. Now the government is trying to create extra beds and medical facilities, but it’s late. They should have done this three months ago when the nationwide lockdown started.

“With the entire medical infrastructure overstretched and not many quality health workers available in the government hospitals, it’s a grim scenario now,” Mangla added.

With more than 723,000 COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, India is now the world’s third worst-affected country after the US and Brazil, with approaching 21,000 people losing their lives.

And the problem is not unique to northern India.

On Saturday, the southern Indian city of Bangalore reported the case of 50-year-old Vasantha, who was rejected by 13 hospitals before she was accepted by the K.C. General Hospital where she eventually died.

Lalitha, a relative of Vasantha, said: “Some hospitals said they didn’t have beds; some said they didn’t have COVID-19 testing facilities, and that way we lost critical hours. She died because of a problem with her respiratory system.”

Experts have questioned whether health care facilities in India are being overstretched purely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Anant Bhan, a Delhi-based independent researcher in global health, policy and bioethics, said: “Is there a real shortage of beds or is it the shortage caused by lack of efficient management? If the cases increase further, we might find it difficult to provide care.”