‘Start my life from zero’: Poor Pakistanis face heavy cost of floods

A flood-affected carrying firewood wades through a flooded area after heavy monsoon rains on the outskirts of Jacobabad, Sindh province on September 6, 2022. (AFP)
A flood-affected carrying firewood wades through a flooded area after heavy monsoon rains on the outskirts of Jacobabad, Sindh province on September 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 07 September 2022

‘Start my life from zero’: Poor Pakistanis face heavy cost of floods

  • Helicopters have dropped parcels of rice and beans but “it’s far too little” and villagers cannot cook it without kitchens or dry firewood, Baluch said via a patchy telephone line interrupted by the wail of the village call to prayer

CHARSADDA, Pakistan: When the swollen Swat River shifted course in late August and roared into Naeem Ullah’s village in northwest Pakistan, it swept away his home and all 13 of his relatives’ houses too.
His sugarcane crop — planted on five hectares (12.4 acres) of leased land — also was wrecked, leaving the 40-year-old jobless, homeless and with few prospects of repaying the money he had borrowed to buy seed and fertilizer.
“I have to start my life from zero,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in his village of Dagi Mukarram Khan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. “I have lost everything. I can only pray to Allah to give me the strength to face this biggest challenge of my life.”
Floodwaters, driven by months of relentless rain and by extreme spring heat that accelerated the melting of glaciers, have covered a third of Pakistan, an area larger than England and Wales combined, affecting 33 million people.




Men perform ablution with the flood water, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Bajara village, at the banks of Manchar lake, in Sehwan, Pakistan September 6, 2022. (REUTERS)

More than 1,300 people have died, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, and the cost of the damage is estimated at $10 billion, with 1.6 million homes lost or damaged, 5,000 km (3,100 miles) of roads destroyed and over 700,000 livestock gone.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to travel to hard-hit areas of the country this week to see the devastation from what he has termed “a monsoon on steroids.”
Across Pakistan, millions of families have lost their homes and belongings, crops, animals and even relatives, with many struggling just to find dry patches of land to erect tarpaulin shelters and keep themselves and their remaining livestock safe.
Key roads and bridges have been washed away, hampering aid efforts and forcing authorities in some places to deliver limited emergency help mainly by costly helicopter.
In Awaran district, in hard-hit southwest Balochistan province, floods in some areas still stretch toward the horizon, having destroyed many of the impoverished province’s mud homes.
Dilshad Baluch’s family saw their house washed away and a neighbor killed when his home collapsed, as floods swamped their village in July.
Downed power cables presented an electrocution threat amid the standing water, he said — and with bridges to Karachi impassable, the area’s major supply route remains cut off.
Helicopters have dropped parcels of rice and beans but “it’s far too little” and villagers cannot cook it without kitchens or dry firewood, Baluch said via a patchy telephone line interrupted by the wail of the village call to prayer.
“We are living on open ground,” noted the 21-year-old university student, home for the summer from his studies in Islamabad.
Many residents are angry, he added, “but most of them are just feeling helpless. There is no one to take care of them, and no one cares about them.”

HELP ARRIVING?
With Pakistan saddled by heavy debt and international humanitarian agencies overwhelmed by global demand for assistance, Pakistan’s families may have to fund much of the cost of recovery themselves.
Under existing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial policy, farmers can receive compensation of 5,000 rupees ($23) per acre for damage to crops and orchards, with each family eligible for a maximum of 50,000 rupees, said Taimur Ali, media coordinator for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Disaster Management Authority.




Men perform ablution with the flood water, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Bajara village, at the banks of Manchar lake, in Sehwan, Pakistan September 6, 2022. (REUTERS)

That could potentially be raised after a fuller assessment of the damage, he added.
The provincial government also has announced it will provide up to $1,370 in compensation for each damaged home, and has distributed 1.75 billion rupees ($7.9 million) for rescue and relief efforts since the start of July, he said.
The International Monetary Fund last week agreed to release $1.1 billion in funding for cash-strapped Pakistan, with politicians saying the money would help keep the inflation-racked economy afloat.
But farmers, especially, are not sure the support on offer will be enough, as some say their fields have been devastated and the land will need to be restored before planting again.
Sher Alam, 47, of Mera Khel Sholgara village on the outskirts of Charsadda city, lost his sugarcane crop after heavy floods swept his land on Aug. 26.
He has already borrowed $450 to repay the lender who provided the seeds and fertilizer for this year’s ruined crop and is now seeking another $230 loan to pay for help to restore his farmland — something he will have to do in his spare time.
Alam, who has five children, said he had found a job at a private parking lot in Charsadda to make ends meet.
With his flattened crop now good only for animal feed rather than the lucrative sugar he expected, “I don’t know how I can survive,” he said, sitting under a tree in front of his home.
The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that about 2 million acres of crops have been spoiled by flooding in Pakistan, which could not only affect the economy but also put food security at risk.
Baluch, from Balochistan, said the crop and livestock losses were a huge worry for his community and the country.
“This is not only putting in danger people’s lives, it is putting in danger even their future,” he said.
As the price of remaining scarce supplies of fruit, vegetables and meat soar, the poorest in particular are struggling, he said.
“There are some people who have savings but most of the population, particularly in Balochistan... survive on daily work. But the work is affected by the floods, so they are not getting paid. They are suffering drastically,” the student said.
Floods also have contaminated most of the wells communities in his area rely on, he said, threatening a health disaster.
“People will be suffering, and too many people are going to die,” he predicted.

EARLY WARNING
Many of those hit by flooding said they had not been given adequate warning — or that repeated alerts over months of soaking rain had dampened their will to act.
Alam said his village had received no formal government notice of the late August flooding, but nearby villages had passed on a warning they received.
That, combined with social media alerts residents were seeing on their phones, gave his community about three hours to move some of their livestock and goods to safety, he said.
Ali, of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said flood monitors had been installed on five rivers and at two other locations in the province, which had helped provide early warning.
In response, as many as 180,000 people were relocated from the Charsadda region, he said.
Losses from this year’s floods are expected to be less in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than during the devastating 2010 floods, in part because of lessons from the earlier disaster, he said.
Now, “we prepare winter and monsoon contingency plans every year and allocate funds to every district to cope with any disaster,” he explained.
 

 


Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
Updated 16 sec ago

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
  • The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7

BEIJING: Residents and travelers sought shelter after a strong earthquake rocked a remote part of northwestern China on Monday morning.
No injuries or major damage have been reported following the temblor that struck the Xinjiang region at 7:49 a.m., according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of people evacuating an airport departure hall and ceiling fixtures swaying as the ground rocked. Ground crews were seen inspecting the airport’s exterior as the sun began to rise over the region’s Shahe county.
The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7.
A vast, resource-rich region of mountains and deserts, Xinjiang is one of China’s most seismically volatile regions, though most quakes strike in sparsely inhabited areas outside major cities.
Investigators were checking on the epicenter but no disruptions had been reported to the local power grid, oil and gas production or petrochemical industries, Xinhua said.
China’s deadliest recent earthquake was magnitude 7.9 that struck Sichuan province, south of Xinjiang, in 2008, killing nearly 90,000 people.

 


China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
Updated 5 min 57 sec ago

China’s Sichuan to scrap three-child limit as birth rates drop

Visitors enjoy skating on the crowded frozen Houhai Lake near the Drum Tower, background, in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (AP
  • The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward

BEIJING: Southwest China’s Sichuan province will lift its three-child birth limit and remove restrictions on single parents as the world’s most populous nation faces a looming demographic crisis.
China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than six decades, official data released this month showed, and the nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages.
China ended its strict “one-child policy” — imposed in the 1980s out of fears of overpopulation — in 2016 and began allowing couples to have three children in 2021.
But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline.
Faced with falling birth rates, authorities in Sichuan on Monday said they would remove the limit on the number of children a family can have and lift a ban on single women registering a birth.
The Sichuan Provincial Health Commission said the new rules would take effect on February 15.
Out-of-wedlock births are frowned upon in China, with the National Health Commission saying in 2017 that they were “against the public order and against good morals.”
The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward.
The population stood at around 1,411,750,000 at the end of 2022, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported recently, a decrease of 850,000 from the end of the previous year.
Many point to the soaring cost of living — as well as a growing number of women in the workforce and seeking higher education — as being behind the slowdown.
Many local authorities have already launched measures to encourage couples to have children.
The southern megacity of Shenzhen, for example, now offers birth bonuses of up to 10,000 yuan (around $1,500) and pays allowances until the child is three years old.


What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?
Updated 29 min 16 sec ago

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?

What’s behind the Pakistani Taliban’s insurgency?
  • TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP

ISLAMABAD: When a suicide bomber struck a mosque inside a police compound in the northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, suspicion immediately fell on the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
In a post on Twitter, a commander for the group, Sarbakaf Mohmand, claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent months.
But more than 10 hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques or other religious sites, adding that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action under TTP’s policy. His statement did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The TTP’s denial also came after the Afghan Foreign Ministry condemned attacks on worshippers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Relations already are strained between Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, who are sheltering the TTP leadership and fighters.
A look at the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has waged an insurgency in the country for 15 years:
Why is the TTP fighting an insurgency?
Angered by Pakistan’s cooperation with Washington in the war on terrorism, the TTP was officially set up by Pakistani militants in 2007 when different outlawed groups agreed to work together against Pakistan and support the Afghan Taliban, who were fighting US and NATO forces.
The TTP seeks stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody, and a reduction in Pakistani military presence in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the province bordering Afghanistan that it has long used as a base.

Caption

The TTP has stepped up attacks on Pakistani soldiers and police since November, when it unilaterally ended a cease-fire with the government after the failure of months of talks, hosted by Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in Kabul. The TTP has repeatedly warned police not to take part in operations against its fighters in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
What is the relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban?
The TTP is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, and that group’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 emboldened the TTP, which shares the group’s ideology.
TTP fighters used to hide in Pakistan’s tribal northwest and also had sanctuary in Afghanistan, but they mostly lived a fugitive existence.
However, the Afghan Taliban started openly sheltering the TTP when they came to power. The Afghan Taliban also released TTP leaders and fighters who had been arrested by previous administrations in Kabul.
The Taliban have repeatedly said they will not allow anyone, including the TTP, to use Afghan soil for attacks against any country, including Pakistan. But Pakistani officials say there is a disconnect between the words and actions of the Afghan Taliban, who could stop the TTP from launching attacks inside the country but are failing to do so.


ALSO READ: 59 killed, 157 wounded, as suicide blast rips through Pakistan police mosque

The Pakistani Taliban have expressed their allegiance to the head of the Afghan Taliban, said Abdullah Khan, a senior defense analyst and managing director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.
He added, however, that they have their own agenda and strategy.
TTP’s operations have largely been aimed at targeting Pakistani forces, similar to the Afghan Taliban’s agenda of ousting foreign forces from the country.
Khan fears that Pakistan will see a surge in militant violence in the coming weeks and months.
Has viollence increased recently?
Pakistan has seen innumerable militant attacks in the past two decades, but there has been an uptick since November, when the TTP ended a cease-fire with the government that had lasted for months.
The Pakistani Taliban regularly carry out shootings or bombings, especially in the rugged and remote northwestern Pakistan, a former TTP stronghold.
The violence has raised fears among residents of a possible military operation in the former tribal regions of North and South Waziristan, now two districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Hours after Monday’s mosque bombing, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan told the independent Geo news channel that Afghan Taliban rulers must stand by their commitment to the international community to not allow anyone to use their soil for attacks against another country.
“They should honor their promises,” he said.


US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare
Updated 31 January 2023

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare

US seeks to expand birth control coverage under Obamacare
  • If the new rule is implemented, women enrolled in plans governed by the ACA would gain birth control coverage regardless of employer exemption, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement

WASHINGTON: Women whose employers have opted out of covering contraceptives under their health insurance plans on religious grounds would gain no-cost access to birth control under a rule proposed by the Biden administration on Monday.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, requires private insurance plans to cover recommended preventive services including contraception without any patient cost-sharing, but current regulations grant exemptions for religious or moral objections.
If the new rule is implemented, women enrolled in plans governed by the ACA would gain birth control coverage regardless of employer exemption, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement.
“Today’s proposed rule works to ensure that the tens of millions of women across the country who have and will benefit from the ACA will be protected. It says to women across the country, we have your back,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Under existing regulations, those enrolled in plans that do not cover contraception on religious or moral grounds can only access contraceptive services through an accommodation that employers can decline to offer.
Under the new rule, a provider would offer contraception at no cost to the employee and be reimbursed by an insurer, who would receive a credit from the government.
The rule would also remove employer moral objections as grounds for exemption from coverage but keep religious ones in place.

 


UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism

UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism
Updated 31 January 2023

UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism

UK police face calls to prosecute Iranian accused of promoting terrorism
  • Sayed Ataollah Mohajerani, a former senior Iranian government official living in London, is accused of backing the fatwa against author Sir Salman Rushdie
  • Human rights lawyers who filed the complaint said UK authorities have an obligation to prosecute international crimes and protect citizens from all forms of terrorism

LONDON: The UK’s Metropolitan police is facing calls to prosecute a former senior Iranian government official accused of endorsing the fatwa against author Sir Salman Rushdie.

Met officers are examining a legal case file that accuses Sayed Ataollah Mohajerani, who lives in London, of violating the Terrorism Act 2006 by promoting terrorism, the Guardian newspaper reported on Monday.

The fatwa against Rushdie, following publication of his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” was issued in February 1989 by Ayatollah Khomeini, who was Iran’s supreme leader at the time. It has never been lifted. In August 2022, Rushdie was stabbed several times and seriously injured while appearing on stage at a literary festival in New York.

A complaint was filed against Mohajerani that same month by Iranian human rights lawyer Kaveh Moussavi and British solicitor Rebecca Mooney, according to the Guardian. It states that Mohajerani was deputy to the Iranian prime minister in 1988 and vice-president for parliamentary and legal affairs between 1989 and 1997, a period of time during which the regime in Tehran ordered the assassinations of hundreds of dissidents in Europe.

Moussavi and Mooney allege that Mohajerani did not attempt to prevent the killings and, since moving to the UK, he has on several occasions lauded as an Iranian national hero Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, who was killed by a US drone strike in January 2020 in Iraq.

They also say that in his 1989 book, “A Critique of the Satanic Verses Conspiracy,” Mohajerani defended the fatwa against Rushdie and clearly expressed his view that it was religiously justified and irrevocable, and therefore impossible to withdraw.

Mohajerani denied the allegations and said his book is simply a critique of Rushdie’s novel that aims to shed light on its religious origins, the Guardian reported.

“When Salman Rushdie was attacked by an American citizen, I tweeted that I hope Salman Rushdie will recover from this event, and based on William Falkner’s advice, write a novel through concentrating on the beauties and moral values, at the service of human beings,” Mohajerani told the Guardian.

“On the contrary, in ‘The Satanic Verses,’ he added a huge amount of oil to the fire. Hopefully he will find a proper chance to correct himself.”

Mohajerani also said that because of the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive in Iran, he had no role in the executions of prisoners in 1988.

Moussavi condemned Mohajerani’s defense as being “indicative of his culpability.”

“The idea that this is or was an independent judiciary is plain absurd. That he repeats it confirms again who he really is,” he told the Guardian.

“In law, he was required to protest and do his utmost to stop these crimes and, if unable, he must resign. I doubt very much if his defense counsel will offer these concoctions in a court case, as defense or mitigation.”

Police in London have reportedly said that the complex issues raised by the case file will require significant resources and additional time to investigate.

Mooney, representing the human rights charity Ending Immunity, highlighted the obligations on UK authorities to prosecute international crimes under international law.

“The first duty of the state is to protect its citizens — that requires preemptive, prosecutorial and punitive measures where appropriate,” she said. “That is why we have terrorism laws, including (laws against) promoting terrorism through speech. It is meaningless to have these laws if we do not prosecute.”