Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods

Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods
A psychiatrist examines a patient at the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas in southern Pakistan on Oct. 3, 2022. (AN Photo)
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Updated 08 October 2022

Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods

Pakistan confronts mental health crisis among survivors of deadly floods
  • Over 2,000 people came to Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas in Sindh between June and September seeking psychiatric treatment
  • Trauma cases rise by at least 10 percent over the past four months, according to data from the facility and doctors’ testimonies

MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan: Nasir Khan, a 40-year-old laborer from the southern Pakistani district of Mirpurkhas, Sindh province, stood outside the Civil Hospital last week, complaining of anxiety, and feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

In August, Khan’s home and livestock were washed away in deadly floods that have affected at least 33 million people in Pakistan since mid-June and killed almost 1,700.

The father of four has since been living with his family at a relief camp in Sindh, the province worst hit by the floods, where water and vector-borne diseases are now rampant and a return to normality is months, if not years, away.

Last year, the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London said that intensifying climate change impacts, from fiercer heatwaves to flooded homes, were driving a growing mental health crisis around the world.

“Before the floods, I did not have any psychiatric issues,” Khan told Arab News, describing sleepless nights spent swatting mosquitoes and days with little food. “Now, I feel scared for my and my family’s future.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s minister for climate change, has highlighted the need for urgent medical supplies to protect against fast-spreading water-borne diseases due to stagnant water, urging the developed world to accelerate funding for a disaster that she said has no parallel in known history.

But little to no attention is being paid to the psychological toll of the catastrophe.

Already, the damage from the floods is reflected in a jump in the number of people reporting mental health problems. Over 2,000 people came to the Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas between June and September this year to seek psychiatric treatment, at least a 10 percent increase from the past four months, according to data from the facility.

“At Civil Hospital Mirpurkhas, the number of patients coming to the psychiatric outpatient department has increased by 10 percent as compared to the average number of patients in the previous four months,” Dr. Lakesh Khatri, the district psychiatrist, told Arab News.

“The increased number of cases are flood-affected people who have faced trauma due to the widespread devastation.”

Mental health patients, most of them male, were also arriving at the hospital from the nearby Sanghar and Umerkot districts, Khatri added.  Diagnosed mental health problems were caused by financial stress, as well as a lost sense of security.

The Sindh Mental Health Authority said the surge in mental health cases was mostly due to uncertain and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions in the wake of the floods.

It would take months, according to the body, to quantify the exact damage to mental health in the province, where over 750 people have been killed, 2 million homes damaged and 435,000 livestock lost.

Officials say more than 2 million acres of agricultural land have been flooded countrywide, destroying most standing crops and preventing farmers from sowing new ones.

“This monsoon and floods affected farming communities’ dual crops, standing and upcoming. It also washed away their houses and uprooted them,” SMHA Chairman Dr. Karim Ahmed Khawaja told Arab News last week.

“At this stage quantifying the number of mental health patients related to Sindh flood devastation is difficult and the SMHA will conduct a study after the floodwaters recede close to the end of the year.”

Stagnant floodwater in agricultural fields means a large number of farmers are likely to miss the coming winter cultivation season, Khawaja said.

With the next cultivation season beginning in March 2023, many farmers will have no livelihood for at least the next six months, a worry that is triggering mental health problems.

Referring to a 2020 mental health study in Sindh focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, Khawaja said the prevalence of depression was assessed at 42 percent, while 85 percent of the 1,494 people surveyed had anxiety.

Among the participants, 10 percent were reported to have received a psychiatric diagnosis.

“Since the COVID pandemic is still continuing and so are its impacts, the devastation from floods has added to the mental health impacts (already) present in the society,” the SMHA chairman said.

“Floods have caused depression and anxiety among survivors,” he added. “They find their future bleak because of poor health, economic and livelihood conditions.”

The province also faces a shortage of doctors to deal with the surge in mental health concerns, Khawaja said.

“Sindh has a total of 145 psychiatrists,” he said. “Out of 30 districts in the province, more than 20 districts do not even have a single psychiatrist.”
 

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Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
Updated 48 min 22 sec ago

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight
  • Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a ‘historic’ first
  • Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s ‘neo-colonial approach’

BAMAKO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday promised the Kremlin’s help for states in West Africa’s Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea which are facing a ruthless extremist insurgency.
“The fight against terrorism is of course an issue for the other countries in the region,” Lavrov said during a visit to Mali, which Russia is already helping militarily.
“We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a “historic” first.
Since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s ruling junta has brought in Russian planes, helicopters and paramilitaries to strengthen its fight against extremist militants.
The closer ties with the Kremlin have coincided with the departure of France, the country’s former colony and traditional ally, which says the Russian operatives are Wagner mercenaries.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN have implicated Wagner and the Malian army in an alleged massacre at Moura in central Mali last March in which several hundred people were rounded up and killed.
The landlocked state is the epicenter of an extremist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
Thousands of civilians have died across the three countries, and millions have fled their homes.
Discontent within the military in Mali and Burkina has spurred two coups in both countries.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place in Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast in recent years, spurring fears that the extremists are seeking to push southwards to the Gulf of Guinea.
France wound down its long-running military presence in Mali in the face of mounting hostility with the junta and pulled out its last troops in 2022.
Similar tensions have recently broken out between France and Burkina Faso. The French military contingent there, a unit of special forces numbering around 400 men, is to be withdrawn this month.
Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s “neo-colonial approach.”
“We are going to provide our support for resolving problems on the African continent,” he said.
“We always start from the basis that African problems must be resolved by African solutions.”


German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
Updated 07 February 2023

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW

German court rejects climate lawsuit against automaker BMW
  • The group Environmental Action Germany argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people's right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions

BERLIN: A German court on Tuesday rejected a lawsuit by environmental campaigners seeking to force automaker BMW to stop selling vehicles with combustion engine by 2030.
The group Environmental Action Germany, also known by its German acronym DUH, argued that manufacturers such as BMW pose a threat to people’s right to property, health and life if they continue making vehicles that produce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Munich regional court ruled Tuesday that while the plaintiffs’ arguments couldn’t be dismissed from the outset, “at present there is no threat of illegal encroachment” of their rights.
Judges noted that German and European lawmakers, spurred partly by a 2021 ruling by Germany’s top court, have taken numerous measures to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris climate accord. As such there was no absence of laws that would warrant civil action against BMW “at last not at this time,” they said.
The Munich-based automaker welcomed the ruling, saying efforts to cut emissions should be determined by democratically elected parliaments, not in the courts.
DUH said it was satisfied the court had recognized the permissibility of their lawsuit in principle. It plans to appeal the ruling.
The group said vehicles sold by BMW in 2021 were responsible for more emissions of planet-heating carbon dioxide than countries such as Finland or Portugal produce in a year.
A similar lawsuit against Mercedes-Benz was rejected by a German court last year and the appeal is pending.
A third lawsuit, against energy company Wintershall Dea, is scheduled to be heard in August.


Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
Updated 07 February 2023

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 

Calls mount on Philippine government to review labor agreements with Kuwait 
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases
  • Over 268,000 Filipino workers, mostly women employed as domestic helpers, live in Kuwait 

MANILA: Philippine lawmakers are calling on the government to review labor agreements with Kuwait after increasing reports of abuse, including a brutal murder, of Filipino migrant workers. 

The murder of 35-year-old maid Jullebee Ranara, whose charred body was found abandoned in a desert in late January, had sent shockwaves across the Philippines. She was one of over 268,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait, a group of mostly women employed as domestic helpers. 

After Ranara’s murder, Philippine authorities tightened rules for recruitment agencies in Kuwait. In another case that emerged in the media recently, a Filipina worker in Kuwait was reportedly paralyzed after trying to escape her abusive employer. 

“There is growing clamor for a review of all labor agreements entered by the Philippines with countries of destination to determine specific guidelines and mechanisms needed for the protection of their human rights,” lawmaker Marissa Magsino said in a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday. 

The agreements, Magsino said, must not only ensure the welfare of overseas Filipino workers and guarantee their access to legal support but also “provide for serious consequences” in cases of abuse. 

She told Arab News on Tuesday that such bilateral labor agreements are very important, “especially with Kuwait,” where about 100 overseas Filipino workers were now at a shelter, waiting for repatriation. 

“They are those who were maltreated, abused, and then they ran away (from their employer),” the lawmaker, who is also a member of the House’s Overseas Workers Affairs committee, said. 

“The only reason why they are in the shelter is that it’s the last recourse for them to seek refuge, to be able to run away from their abusive employers.” 

Ranara’s murder was not the first such incident in Kuwait, where the 2018 killing of a Filipina domestic helper, Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment, led to the Philippines imposing a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country. 

The ban was partially lifted that same year after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. 

But it was again introduced in January 2020, after the 2019 killings of Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag and Jeanelyn Villavende, who was tortured by her employer to death. 

The ban was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging. 

According to Sen. Rafael Tulfo, another ban might be needed following the latest incidents. He has also called for a “tighter screening process on foreign employers to avoid abuse and maltreatment of (Overseas Filipino Workers),” his office said in a statement on Monday. 

“The senator,” the statement said, “maintained that his proposed deployment ban to Kuwait can be used as a leverage when the Philippine government sits down with Kuwait for bilateral talks.” 


India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 February 2023

India’s new Hajj policy promotes women’s pilgrimage, abolishes VIP quota

Muslim Indian pilgrims wait at Jeddah airport prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah. (File/AFP)
  • 500 spots in India’s annual Hajj quota previously reserved for VIPs
  • New policy allows women pilgrims to embark on Hajj individually

NEW DELHI: Indian authorities have abolished the VIP quota for pilgrims and allowed single women to apply as well, in a step they said on Tuesday was aimed at making the country’s pilgrimage policy more inclusive.

With more than 200 million Indians professing Islam, the Hindu-majority South Asian nation has the world’s largest Muslim-minority population. Every year, more than 150,000 Indian Muslims embark on Hajj, a spiritual journey and one of the five pillars of Islam.

While some of them need to wait years for their turn, there were 500 reserve spots set aside annually for top government officials — a practice that was stopped on Monday under the new Hajj policy released by the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

The new policy also increased the number of pilgrimage embarkation points from 10 to 25, and waived application fees.

A.P. Abdullakutty, chairman of the Haj Committee of India, a statutory body of the Indian government that organizes Islamic pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia, said: “In front of Allah everyone is the same therefore there is no need to have special quotas.”

The policy also allows women to apply individually.

“So far the policy was that women above 45 can travel in groups of four without a male companion, but this time a single woman can also apply,” Abdullakutty added.

A total of 175,000 pilgrims from India will embark on Hajj this year, with the journey of 80 percent of them being handled by the committee, and the remaining 20 percent by private operators.

S. Muawari Begum, vice chairperson of the Hajj committee, told Arab News the new policy was “people friendly and more inclusive toward women.”

India’s civil society saw the move also as a step for India in becoming more accepting of women’s independence.

“To be independent is a different thing and the society accepting the independence of a woman is a different thing,” Jamila Nishat, a women’s rights activist based in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, said.

“This is a good step. This is a step to accept the independence of women.”


Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures
Updated 07 February 2023

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures

Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf buried in Karachi amid tight security measures
  • Top military leadership, former army chiefs and politicians attend the funeral at Malir garrison
  • In 1999, after a military career spanning 38 years, Musharraf took power in Pakistan in a bloodless coup

KARACHI: Top military leaders and politicians attended the funeral prayers of former Pakistani president and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, at a military garrison in the seaside metropolis of Karachi, before he was laid to rest in an army graveyard.

In 2022, Musharraf’s family said he had been hospitalized due to complications from a rare organ disease called amyloidosis. He died on Sunday at a Dubai hospital, aged 79. 

Musharraf’s body and his family reached Karachi via a special flight from Dubai on Monday night, state-run Radio Pakistan reported. 

Strict security arrangements were made for the funeral which media was not allowed to cover. Army and paramilitary forces were deployed outside Malir cantonment and around the military graveyard to prevent any media or members of the public from entering. 

Dr. Muhammad Amjad, former chairman of the Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League, told Arab News the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Sahir Shamshad, former army chiefs Generals Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Qamar Javed Bajwa, former governor Moinuddin Haider and other ex-military officers attended the funeral. 

“Leaders of the PMLN, PTI and MQM also attended,” said Amjad, referring to three major political parties in Pakistan. 

In 1998, after a military career spanning 37 years, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the brother of Pakistan’s current prime minister, appointed Musharraf as army chief. The following year, he seized power and toppled Sharif’s government, citing the deteriorating political and economic conditions in Pakistan. 

In 2002, Musharraf was appointed president, a title he held in addition to army chief, after winning more than 90 percent of the vote in a controversial national referendum. He stepped down as army chief in 2007 and as president in 2008. 

Musharraf subsequently lived in London but returned to Pakistan in 2013 aiming to contest elections later that year. However, he instead faced a slew of court cases and was subsequently banned for life from holding public office. 

In 2016, he left Pakistan for medical treatment in Dubai, where he died on Feb. 5. 

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