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

Special Pakistan reels from havoc of ‘monster monsoon of the decade’
Short Url
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.

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India
Updated 11 sec ago

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India

US report lists ‘significant human rights’ abuses in India
  • Human Rights Watch has said the Indian government’s policies and actions target Muslims while critics of Modi say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014

WASHINGTON: The annual US report on human rights practices released on Monday listed “significant human rights issues” and abuses in India, including reported targeting of religious minorities, dissidents and journalists, the US State Department said.
The findings come nearly a year after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was monitoring what he described as a rise in human rights abuses in India by some government, police and prison officials, in a rare direct rebuke by Washington of the Asian nation’s rights record.
US criticism of India is rare due to close economic ties between the countries and India’s increasing importance for Washington to counter China in the region.
Significant human rights issues in India have included credible reports of the government or its agents conducting extrajudicial killings; torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by police and prison officials; political prisoners or detainees; and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, the US report added.
Advocacy groups have raised concerns over what they see as a deteriorating human rights situation in India in recent years under the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Human Rights Watch has said the Indian government’s policies and actions target Muslims while critics of Modi say his Hindu nationalist ruling party has fostered religious polarization since coming to power in 2014.
Critics point to a 2019 citizenship law that the United Nations human rights office described as “fundamentally discriminatory” by excluding Muslim migrants from neighboring countries; anti-conversion legislation that challenged the constitutionally protected right to freedom of belief; and revoking Muslim-majority Kashmir’s special status in 2019.
The government dismisses the accusations by saying its policies are aimed at the development of all communities.
In 2022, authorities also demolished what they described as illegal shops and properties, many of them owned by Muslims, in parts of India. Critics say the demolition drive was an attempt to intimidate India’s 200 million Muslims. The government defended the demolitions, saying they were enforcing the law.
“Human rights activists reported the government was allegedly targeting vocal critics from the Muslim community and using the bulldozers to destroy their homes and livelihoods” without due process, the US report released on Monday added.
Since Modi took office in 2014, India has slid from 140th in World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking by non-profit Reporters Without Borders, to 150th place last year, its lowest ever. India has also topped the list for the highest number of Internet shutdowns in the world for five years in a row, including in 2022, Internet advocacy watchdog Access Now says.
“Civil society organizations expressed concern that the central government sometimes used UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) to detain human rights activists and journalists,” the US report said.


Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin

Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin
Updated 21 March 2023

Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin

Biden signs law declassifying US intel on COVID origin

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden on Monday signed into law a bill requiring the release of intelligence materials on potential links between the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“We need to get to the bottom of Covid-19’s origins..., including potential links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Biden said in a statement.
“In implementing this legislation, my administration will declassify and share as much of that information as possible,” he added.
“I share the Congress’s goal of releasing as much information as possible about the origin” of Covid, he said.
Biden said that in 2021, after taking office, he had “directed the Intelligence Community to use every tool at its disposal to investigate.”
That work is “ongoing,” but as much as possible will be released without causing “harm to national security,” he said.
The bill posed political risks for Biden, who is negotiating a difficult relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Beijing vehemently rejects the possibility that a leak during research at the Wuhan lab could have unleashed the global pandemic.
However, much of Congress wants to pursue the theory further, and the issue has become a rallying point in particular for Biden’s Republican opponents.
Congress passed and sent the bill to Biden in March.
The Covid-19 outbreak began in 2019 in the eastern Chinese city of Wuhan, leading to almost seven million deaths worldwide so far, according to official counts, over a million of them in the United States.
But health officials and the US intelligence community remain divided over whether it was spread randomly to humans from an infected animal or leaked during research undertaken at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The US Energy Department — one of the US agencies investigating the disaster — concluded with “low confidence” that the virus probably came from a lab, agreeing with the assessment of the FBI, but contradicting the conclusions of several other agencies.

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration
Updated 21 March 2023

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration

Biden pays tribute to Iranian women at Nowruz celebration
  • US President said that he wished Nowruz holiday would be a moment of ‘hope for the women of Iran fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms’
  • Joe Biden: ‘We’re going to continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people’

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden used a White House event to mark Persian New Year on Monday to pay tribute to Iranian women and girls who took to the streets of Iran to protest following the death last year of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini and vowed to keep pressure on Tehran.
Biden said he wished the Nowruz holiday, a nearly 4,000-year-old tradition known as the Festival of Fire that’s linked to the Zoroastrian religion, would be a moment of “hope for the women of Iran fighting for their human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“The United States stands with those brave women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their conviction,” Biden said, describing the reception as the biggest White House Nowruz celebration to date. “We’re going to continue to hold Iranian officials accountable for their attacks against their people.”
The United States, Europe and the United Kingdom have imposed a series of fresh sanctions on dozens of Iranian officials and organizations, including the country’s special military and police forces, for their violent clampdown.
The protests began in mid-September when Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
The protests mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution.

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official
Updated 20 March 2023

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official

Serbia’s refusal to sign agreement with Kosovo will not halt progress, says US official
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has verbally agreed to normalize relations with the breakaway former province but will not sign any legally binding international documents
  • US State department official Gabriel Escobar said the ‘important and historic’ deal is binding nonetheless and leaders on both sides had shown political courage and vision
  • Both countries seek EU membership and the bloc set normalized bilateral relations as a condition for this; Escobar said they will now be judged by their actions under the agreement

CHICAGO: The refusal by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to sign a formal agreement for establishing diplomatic ties with its breakaway former province, Kosovo, will not prevent the normalization of relations process from moving forward, a US official said on Monday.

Gabriel Escobar, the deputy assistant secretary for the Department of State’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said that Serbia had verbally agreed to implement a Western-backed plan to establish ties. But he acknowledged it represents just the first step in efforts by the formerly warring nations to resolve their differences.

Vucic has made it clear that he wants Serbia to join the EU, but the latter has made it a condition of membership that the former normalize its relations with Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority but a large community of Serbs.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008 but Serbia refuses to recognize this and continues to consider it a province. During a meeting with EU officials on Saturday, Vucic verbally agreed to the normalization proposal but declined to sign any legally binding international documents.

“The United States is very happy to welcome this important and historic agreement,” said Escobar. “It sets the conditions for normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, on European terms, and in that regard it took a lot of political courage and a lot of vision from both Serbian President Vucic and Kosovan Prime Minister (Albin) Kurti to reach this agreement.

“This agreement is a legally binding obligation on both parties and both parties will be judged by their performance under the agreement. And that agreement will continue to be the basis of our policy for the United States going forward, and the basis for European engagement in the region.”

Escobar reiterated that despite the lack of formal signing, the agreement reached by the negotiators from Kosovo and Serbia is nonetheless “legally binding in every respect” and both sides have made commitments as they seek EU membership.

“So the signature was not the issue,” he added. “It was the obligation that both countries freely entered into and, again, the understanding, the clear understanding from both sides, of what was expected and what each side would receive. So, it is an agreement in every respect.

“The next steps, really, are for both sides to start on the implementation as it was outlined on Saturday. Both sides have legally binding obligations that they have to meet.”

On the Serbian side, Escobar said, this means the beginning of a process of recognizing “Kosovo’s documents and other national symbols … and things of that nature.”

He added: “For Kosovo, it’s important for them to begin the drafting of their version of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities. There are many other obligations but I think those are the most important ones.”

The significance of the negotiations and the agreement between the two nations marks “the start of the reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo,” Escobar said. “So there will be a lot of work to continue to be done beyond this agreement. Additionally, the EU-facilitated dialogue will also continue.

“So there’s a lot here but what’s important is that we have set clear markers on how the two countries are going to relate to each other going forward.”

As the two nations move forward they “will receive the benefits flowing” from European nations and from the US, he added.

In turn, the responsibilities that both Serbia and Kosovo have accepted are clear, he said.

“I think … for Kosovo the most important thing, and the thing that will get them the most benefit, is greater Euro-Atlantic integration. So that’s our focus: Integration into European structures,” said Escobar.

“For Serbia, their insistence on the implementation of the legally binding obligation to … begin talks and implementation of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities remains key.”

While acknowledging that it has only been two days since the agreement was announced, he added that everyone is hopeful it will succeed and lay the foundations for further progress for both nations.

After generations of conflict dating back to when the Balkans were controlled by the Ottoman Empire, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 on June 10, 1999, which placed Kosovo under transitional UN administration and authorized the deployment of a NATO-led peacekeeping force called the Kosovo Force. It provided for Kosovo to be granted autonomy, initially under the former Yugoslavia and then under successor nation Serbia.

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return
Updated 20 March 2023

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return

Rohingya refugees ask for citizenship, rights guarantee before Myanmar return
  • Bangladesh hosts, supports around 1.2 million Rohingya people
  • Myanmar now more willing to start repatriation process: Bangladesh foreign ministry official

DHAKA: Rohingya refugees said on Monday their citizenship and basic rights must be guaranteed before returning to Myanmar, as the first step of a potential repatriation got underway.

Around 1.2 million Rohingya people are living in squalid camps in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, most of whom fled violence and persecution in neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017.

A team from Myanmar arrived last week to verify Rohingya refugees in Bangladeshi camps for their potential return as part of a pilot repatriation project, which has been delayed for years.

Authorities were expecting 400 people to be cleared to return to their homeland, part of more than 1,100 listed as a potential first batch of returnees. The documents of the rest were already cleared by Myanmar authorities remotely.

“I am willing to return to Myanmar if we are guaranteed citizenship and other associated rights, like freedom of movement,” Abdur Rahman, an 18-year-old Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News.

Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group. Most were rendered stateless under the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law and had been excluded from the 2014 census. Many in the Buddhist-majority country refer to members of the community as Bengalis, suggesting they belong in Bangladesh.

“Our houses were burnt down,” Rahman said. “Some of my relatives are still living in Rakhine, I talk with them almost every day. As they told me, the situation in Rakhine is far better now.”

Rakhine State, one of Myanmar’s poorest states, was at the center of the 2017 violence.

Though Rahman’s village is still deserted, his relatives told him that some public facilities, including schools and hospitals, in other areas have been rebuilt.

However, repatriation was still uncertain even with the ongoing verification process, a Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News.

“At the moment, it’s difficult to specify any time frame in this regard. We can say that both parties are working to solve the problems,” the official said, adding that the Myanmar delegation was expected to conclude its mission on Tuesday.

For a long time, Myanmar authorities “were going very slow” in verifying Rohingya refugees, leading to an extended delay of the repatriation process, the official said, adding that Myanmar officials now appeared “a little bit more willing than before” to start the project.

However, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said conditions in Rakhine State were still “not conducive to the sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.”

In a statement, the UNHCR said it was “not involved in the discussions” of a potential return of the Rohingya people in Bangladesh to Myanmar, though it was aware of the bilateral repatriation project between the two countries, which was reportedly mediated by China.

“We reiterate that every refugee has a right to return to their home country based on an informed choice, but that no refugee should be forced to do so,” the UNHCR added.

Mohammed Nur, a 22-year-old Rohingya refugee living in Kutupalong camp, told Arab News that he wanted to go back to Myanmar.

“I am very much willing to return to my homeland,” he said. “But it cannot happen without the rights of citizenship in Myanmar.

“If our rights are ensured, I believe all of us would return to Myanmar, because a refugee’s life has no dignity.”