Pakistan reels from havoc of ‘monster monsoon of the decade’

Special Pakistan reels from havoc of ‘monster monsoon of the decade’
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Updated 30 August 2022

Pakistan reels from havoc of ‘monster monsoon of the decade’

Pakistan reels from havoc of ‘monster monsoon of the decade’
  • Torrential rains have destroyed homes, damaged roads and washed away bridges in Sindh and Balochistan
  • Authorities are accused of failing to adequately prepare flood defenses despite forecasts of extreme weather

KARACHI, Sindh / QUETTA, Balochistan: Torrential monsoon rains and resultant flooding have caused widespread death and destruction in Pakistan’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces. As of Monday, more than 600 lives had been lost and 1.5 million people displaced in the two worst-hit regions.

The downpours have killed at least 1,136 people in Pakistan since the onset of the monsoon season, according to the National Disaster Management Authority, with Sindh and Balochistan accounting for 646 of the total fatalities since mid-June.

In Sindh, 402 people have died, while the official figure for Balochistan is 244. The floodwaters are reported to have damaged 3,328 kilometers of roads and washed away nearly 80 bridges in the two provinces.

In Sindh, rains have partially or fully damaged 43,874 houses, while at least a further 61,000 homes have been damaged in Balochistan. These figures are conservative estimates as thousands of villages in the two provinces are either inaccessible or authorities have yet to reach them.

“Almost a month has passed since our village was inundated but no one has reached out to us with any help,” Abdul Rehman Narejo, a teacher in Abdullah Narejo village, on the bank of the Indus River in Sindh’s Khairpur district, told Arab News.

“Our children are starving. We sleep in the open out of fear that that roof will fall on us.”

A two-room government school was sheltering more than 50 women and children on Sunday when Arab News visited the village, where many homes have been damaged.

Speaking to Arab News, Murad Ali Shah, the chief minister of Sindh, described the rainfall this season as “unprecedented.”

“The ongoing monsoon rains are unprecedented,” he said. “July has witnessed 308 percent higher, while August has recorded 784 percent above the average rainfall.

“The flooding in Sindh has affected 23 districts and 201 sub-divisions and has caused an estimated damage of PKR550 billion ($2.49 billion).”

Thousands of people living near flood-swollen rivers in Pakistan's north were ordered to evacuate on August 27 as the death toll from devastating monsoon rains neared 1,000 with no end in sight. (AFP)

He said standing crops of cotton, date, sugarcane, rice, and vegetables on 2,845,046 acres of cultivated land had been destroyed, inflicting an estimated loss of PKR295 million.

On the positive side, Shah said 105,000 tents had been distributed and 750,000 ration bags had been ordered for distribution in Sindh, but the aid was insufficient to cover the 1.67 million people displaced throughout the province.

“To provide relief to over 1.67 million people, Sindh needs immediate help from the international community. We have spoken to diplomats of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, and Iran for their assistance,” he said.

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign minister, who last week called off his Europe trip and reached his hometown of Larkana in Sindh, has also appealed to the international community for help in dealing with the “overwhelming” floods.

Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief was the first international charity to step in, sending 100 trucks carrying 950 tons of food items to 17 flood-ravaged districts of Pakistan last week. The consignment included 10,000 food packages. So far three convoys of essential food items have been dispatched.

Humanitarian assistance has also arrived from Turkey, while a flight from the UAE brought more than 3,000 tons of critical aid. At least another 15 flights carrying relief supplies are expected to arrive in Pakistan from the UAE in the coming days.

According to Shah, there was every prospect of more flood damage in Sindh. “The province has not only received record rains, the Indus River is taking more and more water from northern Pakistan, aggravating the situation. The situation is complicated.”

An auto-rickshaw drives past temporary tents of people who fled their flood hit homes set along a road in Sukkur, Sindh province, on August 27, 2022. (AFP)

Shah said more than 550,000 cusecs of water were flowing through the Guddu and Sukkur Barrages that had inundated large areas along the riverbanks and displaced thousands of families.

“More flooding is expected as the Indus, which has been overflowing its banks, is taking more water southward,” said Shah, who has visited around 20 affected districts.

Qasim Soomro, the Sindh parliamentary secretary for health, said the health department was helping people with support from the World Health Organization and other partners.

“But a huge health crisis is looming as the stagnant water in villages will result in all kinds of infectious and water-borne diseases,” Soomro told Arab News. He appealed to non-government organizations to make medical supplies available.

The torrential monsoon rains and floods have exacted a tragic toll, which keeps rising with every passing day.

Volunteers carry relief food bags to load on a truck for flood affected people in Karachi on August 28, 2022. (AFP)

Abdul Wahab Jamali, 37, a resident of Naseer Faqeer Lalani union council, died after he climbed a dune to escape flooding in his village.

Six-year-old Maula Bux, whose family resides in Khairpur, died after his family failed to take him to the hospital despite several attempts.

“He was the only son of my brother, but we couldn’t save him,” Bux’s uncle Asif Ali told Arab News. “My brother is devastated and hasn’t spoken for the last four days.”

The floods in Balochistan are being described as the worst natural calamity in the history of the province since the devastating earthquake of 1935 that destroyed the entire city of Quetta.

Abnormally heavy monsoon rains led to urban and rural flooding in all 34 districts of the province. Balochistan has been cut off from the rest of the country, with mobile networks and gas and electricity supplies suspended in many parts of the province for the past five days.

On Sunday, Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, visited the flood-ravaged Jaffarabad district of Balochistan, where he pledged the full support of the federal government to people affected by the natural disaster. Sharif, who described the flood devastation as “horrifying,” announced a PKR10 billion grant for the province.

Floods caused by monsoon rains and melting glaciers have left more than 1,000 dead and displaced millions since mid-June. (AFP)

“The magnitude of destruction and damage in Balochistan is on a very large scale, and the government of Pakistan will assure rehabilitation of people affected by rains and floods,” he told people in Haji Allah Dinu village.

Floodwaters have damaged around 80 percent of crops in Naseerabad division, comprising Naseerabad, Jaffarabad, Jhal Magsi, and Suhbat Pur districts, over the past month.

A few miles away from the spot visited by Sharif, Gul Khatoon, 55, lives with her ailing husband and three daughters in a makeshift tent built from blankets in the Noran Goth area of Osta Muhammad tehsil.

“In this scorching heat, we have no food and clean drinking water. We have set up this camp in front of a collapsed home,” Khatoon told Arab News. “It's been 12 days, but no government assistance has reached this area. The prime minister should have come here and seen our plight.”

According to the Climate Change Risk Index 2021, Pakistan is among the 10 countries most vulnerable to severe climate change threats. Many experts ask why, despite the alerts issued by the Met Office, the country was unprepared for the deluge that followed the unusually heavy monsoon rains.

Satellite images show the Indus River in Rajanpur, Pakistan, before and after recent major flooding. (AFP)

“In November 2021, the South Asian monsoon alert said that Pakistan would receive more than normal rains in July and August, but the unpreparedness of the government caused massive destruction in all four provinces, including the northern Gilgit-Baltistan,” Afia Aslam, a climate change activist, told Arab News.

“The localities near the water channels in urban and rural areas need to be remodeled because we can no longer skip our responsibility by providing food rations and cash to the people who lost their homes. We have to stop them from planning on new construction near water channels.”

She said the vulnerability to climate change had reached an alarming level, and Pakistan’s rank might further deteriorate on the Climate Change Risk Index 2022.

“The capital of Balochistan, Quetta, and many dry areas received additional rains because of weather changes. The government in the province needs to be more cautious and alert for the winter rainy season.”

Asfand Yar Kakar, Balochistan’s environment and climate change secretary, said the province received unexpectedly heavy rains this season and authorities failed to take action against people's violation of environmental protection laws.

“We consider small embankments as dams that were not properly designed. The water discharged from poorly constructed dams flowed into various populated areas across the province,” he told Arab News.

KSRelief dispatches a third emergency relief convoy of 100 trucks with emergency aid for Pakistani flood victims, Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug. 22, 2022. (AN Photo)

He said there was a need to map water channels and remove encroachments on waterways in urban areas. For good measure, he said, the Balochistan environment department would issue notices to departments and officials that failed to abide by environmental protection laws.

For 80 percent of the estimated 12.34 million people of Balochistan, agriculture and livestock are their only livelihoods, but the deluge has wreaked havoc. More than 200,000 acres of rice and wheat crops have been destroyed and an estimated 145,936 farm animals were washed away.

According to Arshad Hussain Bugti, the Balochistan livestock and dairy development secretary, the floods have inflicted huge losses as almost the entire rural population of the province used livestock to supplement their incomes.

“Right now, people are sitting on roads with their cattle and our teams have been traveling to all accessible areas to vaccinate animals. But there are many inaccessible areas that cannot be reached until the water level drops,” he told Arab News.

He said those with livestock preferred to live close to rivers and water channels where there were green lands, but now the authorities had made them aware of the reality of climate change and its consequences.

Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties

Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties
Updated 9 sec ago

Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties

Malaysia moves to abolish mandatory death penalties
  • New bill to also replace life sentences with 30 to 40-year prison terms 
  • Activists hail reforms as timely and progressive

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government has taken its first step to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 offenses including drug trafficking, illegal firearms possession and kidnap.

Its parliamentary bill, introduced on Monday, will also replace life sentences with prison terms between 30 and 40 years and whipping of more than 12 lashes.

“The abolition of the mandatory death penalty aims to value and respect the life of every individual … The policies proposed through this bill are a middle ground to ensure justice is preserved for all,” Law Minister Azalina Othman S, who tabled the bill, said in a statement.

“I am very grateful that the unity government has taken concrete steps in abolishing the mandatory death penalty.”

The move championed by the unity government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who took office in November, is expected to affect hundreds of prisoners who have yet to complete their appeals in court.  Those cases will instead be reviewed by the Federal Court.

While the new bill does not completely remove capital punishment, it allows judges the discretion to pass alternatives.

“The effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent is questionable at best,” Dobby Chew, executive director of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, said in a statement.

“There are significant indicators that demonstrate that the death penalty is counterproductive in that it supports or enables crime syndicates, especially for drug offenses,” he said.

He called Malaysia’s move “a progressive step towards significant reform of the criminal justice system.”

A moratorium on the death penalty has been in effect since 2018 in Malaysia, where more than 1,300 prisoners are on death row, representing a disproportionately high number compared to other countries in the region.

“It is timely and I am pleased with the decision by the government,” Malaysian politician and anti-death penalty activist Kasthuri Patto told Arab News.

“Let’s not forget that the death penalty is a colonial law but even colonial masters have removed them from their country, take for example the UK,” Patto said.

“This alternative is worth exploring now. I hope with this announcement, the government will seriously look into prison reforms as well.”

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 
Updated 17 min 27 sec ago

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 

Philippines arrests suspected Sikh separatists in first Khalistan detection 
  • In the 1980s, the violent separatist movement called for an independent Sikh state 
  • Though banned in India, Khalistan has support from some in Sikh diaspora community 

MANILA/NEW DELHI: Philippine authorities have arrested suspected members of a Sikh separatist group banned in India, a government agency announced on Monday, as demands for an independent Sikh homeland are rising abroad. 

Officers from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, the Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center and the Military Intelligence Group arrested three suspected members of the Khalistan Tiger Force in the central Philippine city of Iloilo on March 7, the CICC said in a statement issued Monday. 

“It is out of the ordinary, their presence here,” CICC Executive Director Alexander K. Ramos told Arab News. 

The three suspects are all Indian nationals in their 20s, who were named in a red notice issued by the global police agency Interpol, Ramos said. They are currently in the custody of the Philippine military. 

“It appears they are a group. In fact, there may be more that we are still trying to track down. This is the first time that the Khalistanis were detected here,” he added. 

Their group KTF supports a movement banned in India known as Khalistan, which calls for an independent Sikh homeland and was known as a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, then prompting a controversial military operation by the Indian government that killed thousands of people. 

The Philippine development follows Indian police launching on March 21 a manhunt in Punjab province for Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh, who has captured national attention and revived talks of Khalistan. 

The crackdown has triggered fresh demands abroad for an independent Sikh state, including protesters gathering in front of Indian missions in Canada and the UK this month, which has sparked concerns from Indian authorities. 

Though recent developments are stoking fears of a return to the violence that occurred decades ago, the Khalistan movement does not have much support within India, said Delhi-based counterterrorism expert Ajai Sahni. 

Sahni said Khalistan supporters are most active in Canada and the UK, but they also have a presence in the US, across Europe, and even in Malaysia and the Philippines. 

“At present, the overwhelming support is from outside, from Sikh extremist diaspora communities,” Sahni told Arab News. “The movement is not securing very much traction on the ground in India.” 

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say
Updated 27 March 2023

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say

Asylum seekers in UK face being moved into camps and ferries, reports say
  • Temporary structures on old military bases and disused ferries to be used for new arrivals, sources tell media

LONDON: Asylum seekers in the UK face being held in camps on abandoned military bases and on disused ferries under government plans, reports say.

Sources told the BBC that former bases in Lincolnshire and Essex are to be confirmed next week and the first people will be moved in within weeks. An announcement on old ferries is also due in the same time frame, the sources said.

The plans come as the government pushes the “Illegal Migration Bill” through parliament, which will ban people arriving in small boats from across the Channel from ever applying for asylum, and confirm plans to send some of them to Rwanda with no chance of return. The law has been condemned by rights groups and international bodies alike.

According to reports, the planned camps on military bases would house between 1,500 to 2,000 migrants. They would be used initially for new arrivals rather than relocating the nearly 51,000 asylum seekers being housed in hundreds of hotels at a reported cost of £6.8 million a day.

The proposals, first reported by the Daily Telegraph, have not been denied by government sources. 

A Home Office spokesperson told the BBC that the government had been “upfront about the unprecedented pressure being placed on our asylum system, brought about by a significant increase in dangerous and illegal journeys into the country.”

In 2018, 300 people reached Britain via the channel. The number rose to 45,000 last year. 

The spokesperson added: “We continue to work across government and with local authorities to identify a range of accommodation options.”

Hotels housing asylum seekers have been targeted for protests by far-right groups, including in Knowsley, Merseyside, where a crowd fought police and set fire to a police van last month. 

Last week residents near the former RAF Scampton base in Lincolnshire, heard that the site could house about 1,500 people, including in temporary cabins on the former runway.

Meanwhile, Europe’s top human rights body wrote to British MPs on Monday urging them to prevent the passing of the “Illegal Migration Bill”, saying it was “incompatible with the UK’s international obligations.” 

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, said in the letter that the bill created a “clear and direct tension with well-established and fundamental human rights standards.”

Female shooter kills 3 children, 3 adults in Nashville school attack

Female shooter kills 3 children, 3 adults in Nashville school attack
Updated 27 March 2023

Female shooter kills 3 children, 3 adults in Nashville school attack

Female shooter kills 3 children, 3 adults in Nashville school attack
  • Deadly mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States, but a female attacker is highly unusual
  • There have been 89 school shootings — defined as anytime a gun is discharged on school property — in the US so far in 2023

At least three children and three adults were killed in a shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday before police shot dead the shooter, who appeared to be a teenage girl.
Police began receiving calls of a shooter at The Covenant School at 10:13 a.m.. Officers could hear gunfire coming from the school’s second floor, Don Aaron, a spokesperson for Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, told reporters.
The shooter had at least two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, Aaron said. Two officers from a five-member team shot at her in what Aaron described as a lobby area and she was dead by 10:27 a.m..
“We do not know who she is at this juncture,” Aaron said.
Deadly mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States, but a female attacker is highly unusual. Only four of the 191 mass shootings since 1966 catalogued by The Violence Project, a nonprofit research center, were carried out by a female attacker.
There have been 89 school shootings — defined as anytime a gun is discharged on school property — in the US so far in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, a website founded by researcher David Riedman. Last year saw 303 such incidents, the highest of any year in the database, which goes back to 1970.
Three students were pronounced dead after arriving at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with gunshot wounds, John Howser, a hospital spokesperson, said in a statement. Three adult staff members were killed by the shooter, police said.
Besides the deceased, no one else was shot, Aaron said.
Students’ parents were told to gather at a nearby church.
The Covenant School, founded in 2001, is a ministry of Covenant Presbyterian Church in the Green Hills neighborhood of Nashville with about 200 students, according to the school’s website. The school serves preschool through 6th graders and held an active shooter training program in 2022, WTVF-TV reported.

UK travel agent makes millions off migrant accommodation crisis

UK travel agent makes millions off migrant accommodation crisis
Updated 27 March 2023

UK travel agent makes millions off migrant accommodation crisis

UK travel agent makes millions off migrant accommodation crisis
  • Hoban’s company made over £6m in 2022 primarily by finding bridging hotels for Afghan refugees

LONDON: A former travel agent made £2.19 million ($2.7 million) in 2022 from winning UK government contracts to house migrants in hotels, the Daily Mail reported on Monday.

Debbie Hoban is one of the most prominent private-sector chiefs profiting from the UK’s crippling refugee crisis.

Her Leeds-based company, Calder Conferences, made more than £6 million last year, primarily by finding bridging hotels for Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban’s takeover in 2021.

The company is now among many being paid to house small-boat arrivals and other asylum seekers in nearly 400 hotels throughout the UK, the Daily Mail reported.

Hoban lives in a £3 million country farmhouse with four bedrooms, a triple garage, swimming pool, jacuzzi, and basement wine cellar. Social media shows on her lavish trips to India’s Taj Mahal and attending the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi.

The BBC revealed that due to a severe scarcity of official accommodation a total of 395 hotels in the UK are being used to house 51,000 asylum seekers. This costs taxpayers more than £6.8 million per day.

“The number of people arriving in the UK who require accommodation has reached record levels and has put our asylum system under incredible strain,” a British Home Office spokesperson told the Daily Mail.

“The Home Office is committed to making every effort to reduce hotel use and limit the burden on the taxpayer,” they added.

In early 2020, Calder was reported to have had secret talks on behalf of the Ministry of Justice to support housing up to 2,000 prisoners in a Butlin’s holiday camp in the English east-coast town of Skegness to alleviate the jails crisis during the coronavirus pandemic, the Daily Mail reported.

Calder’s representatives met with Butlin’s executives and discussed a £10 million scheme to place low-risk prisoners in leisure facilities. However, senior government officials halted the plan before it could be implemented.

The Daily Mail approached Calder Conferences for a comment, but were told, “we decline to comment.”