Month: September 2014
ISLAMABAD(DT): The Senate today unanimously adopted a resolution moved by Senator Farhatullah Babar calling upon the government to amend the GB (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 to empower the people of the area.
Speaking on the resolution, Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the people of Gilgit Baltistan had voluntarily joined Pakistan and the area has critical geo-strategic importance as the route of Pakistan’s security, foreign policy and economy passes through it. He said that the 12-member GB Council, led by the prime minister, governed the people of GB. This supreme body for ruling GB is manned by the bureaucracy of the federal government. Talking to reporters, he said that it was a colonial mindset that seeks to control GB through executive order from Islamabad and refuses to empower the GB Assembly to control their own affairs. Under the Rules of Business, the powers of the GB Council are exercised in its name by the Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ministry, which regulates and controls the administration of GB directly. He said, “It is wrong to say that we cannot do anything for them until a permanent settlement on the status of GB is arrived. This is a ploy of the bureaucracy in Islamabad.”
Empowerment orders in 1994 and 2009 were issued from Islamabad. The Islamabad-based GB Council has the powers to extend any Pakistani law to GB. Several laws, including those against terrorism, have been extended to GB, he said and debunked the argument that Pakistani laws could be extended so why more autonomy be devolved to GB. Babar said the Empowerment Order 2009 was issued before 18th Amendment. The 18th Amendment has set new standards for local autonomy and parliamentary control over the government, which must also be applied to GB. This calls for revisiting the Empowerment Order 2009 with a view to granting more autonomy and to protect the fundamental rights of the people of GB, he said.
The Senate chairman put the resolution to vote, which was adopted by the Senate.
GILGIT (ET): At least 7,500 people in Gilgit-Baltistan’s Ghizer and Hunza valleys will benefit from drinking water and sanitation schemes being launched by the German government in collaboration with a local NGO. Earlier this week, the projects were inaugurated in Faizabad and Dal Sandhi in Ghizer district and Aliabad in Hunza-Nagar district to meet the longstanding demands of locals.
“We have been saved from the curse of diarrhoeal diseases,” Hunza resident Tasleem Bano said on Saturday. The facilities were inaugurated by German Ambassador to Pakistan Dr Cyrill Nunn. He was accompanied by German First Secretary Barbara Voss and officials of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).
“The German government and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) have inaugurated the schemes as part of a €9.4 million grant (Rs1.25 billion) announced in 2010,” read a press release issued by AKDN. Speaking on the occasion, Dr Nunn applauded the role of AKDN and its affiliated agencies, saying that over 300 villages in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral now have access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. He also commended the communities which contributed to the implementation of the scheme.
Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS) Chairman Hafiz Sherali urged community members to ensure proper maintenance of what he called one of their most valuable assets.
Nearly half the population in GB and Chitral reportedly does not have access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation facilities. Families usually collect water from open and contaminated channels, thus falling victim to water borne diseases.
Gilgit (ET): Our elders used to say this glacier was very high, so high there was no one living here. This was a giant glacial lake, Sajjad Ali said.
Standing on a cliff, he pointed down at the Hopar Glacier, more than a thousand metres below, its surface covered by massive boulders it had swept out of its way as it carved a valley through the Karakoram Mountains.
In the distance rises Mt Spantik, the snow-covered, 7,027 metre-high confluence of five major glaciers, including two of the largest five bodies of ice outside the Polar Regions. One of the tallest peaks of the Karakoram Mountains, Spantik is part of the Upper Indus Basin, the source for most of the rivers in South Asia, making it a vitally important environmental resource for the lives of people across the region.
Down below, lines of vegetation cut across otherwise barren valley walls. Trees and shrubs grow along artificial irrigation canals – some of them centuries old – built by locals to carry water from lakes formed by melting glaciers to their homes. If the glaciers melt too rapidly, those villages are at risk of flooding.
“Not just here, but all over Gilgit-Baltistan [region], most [glaciers] are downsizing, retreating in their positions,” said Ali, a researcher at the Karakoram International University. “It could be due to carbon emissions, or shifting monsoon precipitation, or to a natural cycle, maybe an inter-glacial age, or some combination – but it needs to be studied.”
Until recently it has not been. Despite the environmental importance of the area, there are only a handful of climate monitoring stations installed in the Karakoram Mountains. In the absence of field measurements, Ali and other local scientists say international researchers are using unreliable data, often not shared with others, to reach conclusions that do not reflect what is being observed on the ground.
“I can tell you my observations, but without data, how can I make a model, how can I make a forecast?” asked Ali. “I need parameters – temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, pressure. Until you have a [historical] record [of these], you cannot say anything.”
Now new initiatives are aiming to collect and share more climate change data, which could enable scientists and policy makers to make better decisions on where to build dams, potentially protecting millions downstream from devastating floods.
Gathering and sharing data
In April, a team of 45 Pakistani and international climate experts took part in a rare field visit to the region to get a first-hand look at the problem. The researchers spent nine days trekking to remote glaciers and meeting communities in the Karakoram Mountains.
“Before, everybody was operating on their own, there was no networking, no data sharing,” said Abdul Wahid Jasra, the country representative for the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which organised the visit.
ICIMOD is working to connect three major sources of data in the region – the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), which collects weather data; the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), which monitors water levels in rivers and streams; and the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), which handles satellite data. The aim is to enable scientists to better understand and predict the impact of global warming.
As part of a pilot phase, four weather stations have been provided to PMD, and four water-monitoring stations to WAPDA. Dozens of officials from the agencies have been trained on how to identify potential sites for installing monitoring stations, and use software to remotely collect and share the data.
Meanwhile, Gilgit-Baltistan government authorities are setting up a database resource centre to house climate data locally. “We will sign MOUs [Memorandums of Understanding] with WAPDA and PMD, [saying] the data you are collecting – give us a copy too, so we can have a copy of it here,” said Shahzad Hassan Shigri, director-general of the Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency. The initiative has already received about US$30,000 in initial funding from the UN Development Fund.
WAPDA estimates it will need at least 200 additional monitoring stations along the Indus river and adjoining waterways to meet the demand of climate researchers. PMD needs at least 52 stations collecting temperature, humidity, and wind data. ICIMOD’s Jasra says the World Bank has already promised some funding for the additional stations, which would also be part of a system to provide early flood warnings to downstream communities.
“Nobody bothers to study things in a scientifically complete way. Instead we are scuffling over whether to construct or not construct dams. People have still not realised there is a direct correlation between increases in temperature and the hydrological cycle.”
“It’s a major accomplishment. They [Pakistani authorities] are very much [getting used] to the importance of the situation now,” said Jasra, adding that it will take 5-10 years before enough data is being collected on the ground to enable scientists to start improving predictions.
Climate impact of big dams
Better climate data in the upper Indus basin is not just important for those looking to understand the impact of global warming on the glaciers, it is also crucial to understanding the effect of major engineering projects such dams, meant to produce electrical power and protect downstream settlements from flooding rivers.
The federal government has even set up a cabinet-level department to study climate change, but observers say in the absence of field data, no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) are meeting the standards they were originally meant to.
The Diamer-Bhasha dam which, when constructed on the Indus River in Gilgit-Baltistan’s southern Bhasha District, would be one of the tallest concrete dams in the world. A 104 sq km reservoir is expected to be formed upstream, accounting for some 100 million cubic metres a year of evaporation, which scientists expect to have a major impact on the local and regional climate.
“If such a large evaporation happens, in such as small area, water is trapped in the valley. What the impact will be on our environment – how much rainfall, how much snowfall in the winter, and the impact on adjacent glaciers and its consequences – none of these are discussed in the EIA,” said Shigri of the Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency, whose department helps review the assessment reports.
In addition to generating around 4,500 megawatts of electricity to help alleviate Pakistan’s crippling power crisis, the Diamer-Bhasha dam will help regulate the flow of the Indus river and prevent downstream floods, like the one in 2010 which inundated a fifth of the country and displaced some 10 million people. But without accounting for the project’s interaction with the climate, or how the Indus river will be affected by rising temperatures, the dam may turn out to be more harmful than helpful. A July 2014 review of the EIA by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which is considering funding the project, found the EIA report was “based mainly upon qualitative considerations, opinions and judgments, without substantial supporting quantitative analysis.”
“Nobody bothers to study things in a scientifically complete way,” explained Ali. “Instead we are scuffling over whether to construct or not construct dams… People have still not realised there is a direct correlation between increases in temperature and the hydrological cycle.”
GILGIT (ET): The government and army have joined hands in GB after a decade to mark August 14 with much fanfare. The festivities formally started on Wednesday morning as legislators of the GB Legislative Assembly paid visits to the families of martyrs and laid floral wreaths on their graves. The decision was taken in the backdrop of Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched by the Pakistan Army in North Waziristan.
“This is a special occasion for us to pay tribute to our brave army fighting a war against militancy,” said G-B Minister for Information Sadia Danish on Wednesday.
The ‘Azadi polo match’ took place at about 5pm at Shahi Polo Ground, with the force commander participating as chief guest along with the chief secretary. At about 11pm, the armed forces held a march, followed by fireworks. The events are scheduled to continue well into Thursday.
Residents of G-B are not unfamiliar with 14 August celebrations. Until the mid-1990s, the day used to be marked on a massive scale in the region. The army and police would arrange parades to the beat of deafening drums and odes in front of huge crowds. Likewise, all cars, shops and homes would be adorned with Pakistani flags.
“I remember how schools would hold sporting events and speech competitions on the day,” says Afaq Wali, a resident of Gilgit. “But then it discontinued and the day passed almost unnoticed for years.”
“The official patronage of the festivities this time around has reenergised residents of Gilgit, especially the youth,” said a shopkeeper in Gilgit, Basharat Hussain. “The spirit with which shops and plazas have been decorated with Pakistan flags is very refreshing.”
GILGIT (ET): Six hundred kilometers from the federal capital, a school teacher in Gilgit is feeling the anguish of the looming political crisis in Islamabad. “I am disturbed over the impasse although I had no role in electing the prime minister,” Masroor Ahmed.
Gilgit-Baltistan is not represented in the parliament. The nearly 1.5 million residents of G-B are not allowed to vote in the general elections. It is also the least likely to be affected by any political upheavals. Yet, the uncertainty created by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s call to march to Islamabad on August 14 for ‘change’ and ‘revolution’ has captured every ones imagination, and fears.
It is not just politicians who are keeping a close watch on developments. Many others like Ahmed are anxious about what the country’s future holds, eagerly waiting to see if democracy is still as elusive as ever. PTI chief Imran Khan and PAT chief Tahirul Qadri have both vowed to rid the nation of the ‘corrupt government’. And despite hectic efforts by the government to frustrate their efforts, none of the two seem to be in any mood to give the ruling party room to manoeuvre.
Politicians associated with mainstream parties in G-B are especially keen to know what will become of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
At the PML-N Secretariat in Gilgit, party workers are flocking to regional chief Hafizur Rahman, discussing the likely outcome; starving for insight on the imminent turmoil.
“It is unfortunate, PTI has been hijacked by undemocratic forces,” said Rahman, asking Imran Khan to part ways with Tahirul Qadri, whose demands have been vague at best and provocative at worst. “But we are quite confident democracy will triumph,” said Rahman, not willing to dwell too much on the many ‘what ifs’. The legislative assembly, too, thought it best to convene again when the situation simmers.
“The session is put off till [next] Monday in the hope that things in Islamabad will be settled by then,” G-B Assembly Speaker Wazir Baig told the house during the current session’s first day on August 11.