With smog season looming, Pakistan shuts polluting brick kilns

In this file photo, Pakistani youths play cricket amid heavy smog in Lahore on Nov. 12, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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With smog season looming, Pakistan shuts polluting brick kilns

ISLAMABAD: To combat worsening smog, Pakistan’s government has ordered all traditional brick kilns closed for 70 days starting Saturday, as it promotes new cleaner kilns that could cut pollution up to 70 percent.
But the measure has produced an outcry both from kiln owners, who want incentives to make the switch, and from kiln workers who fear losing income.
“How I will provide food to my three children during closure of the kilns?” asked Sumaira Bibi, 35, who with her 60-year-old husband frames up 1,200 bricks a day for a kiln near Islamabad, earning about $8.
Under the government order, all traditional kilns must shut from October 20 until December 31 to cut smog that has blighted parts of Punjab province, and other areas of the country, in recent years.
Pakistan has about 19,000 such kilns, said Shoaib Khan Niazi, president of the All Pakistan Brick Kiln Association.
The government has also ordered that all kilns be converted to “zig-zag” technology, a design change that makes more efficient use of fuel, according to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency. No deadline for the switch has been set.
An internal zig-zag structure in kilns, combined with the use of an air blower, can cut the consumption of coal, slash emissions substantially and improve the quality of bricks produced, said Malik Amin Aslam, an adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan on climate change issues.
Traditional kiln owners, however, are demanding a shutdown of no more than a month, and insisting on government help to make the design change.
Mehar Abdul Haq, a brick kiln owner in the Kasur district of Punjab province, said kilns should be shut for a maximum of 30 days or only on days when there is smog.
He said about 20 kilns in Punjab are in the process of being converted to zig-zag technology, with five or six now operating using it.
The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a Nepal-based non-governmental organization, has carried out two training programs on the technology for kiln owners in Pakistan, aiming to cut smog and climate-changing emissions.
But Haq said converting a conventional kiln to the new technology costs $15,000 to $20,000, a hefty investment.
“We have demanded the government either give loans on easy terms or provide interest-free loans to convert to the technology — but in vain,” he said.
EFFICIENT — BUT INCONVENIENT
Niazi, of the brick kiln owner’s association, said a 70-day closure would cause unemployment not only at brick kilns but in the coal and construction industries.
It would also drive up the cost of bricks in Pakistan, he said.
He said an average of 100 to 150 people worked at each brick kiln.
“Neither are we getting financial nor technical support from the government,” he said — though he admitted the zig-zag technology was environmentally friendly and energy efficient.
The technology uses 30 to 40 percent less energy than traditional kilns, and cuts the costs of bricks produced by up to half, Niazi said.
Naseem-ur-Rehman, a Punjab spokesman for Pakistan’s Environmental Protection Agency, said brick kilns were a major contributor to smog, along with vehicle emissions and burning of crop stubble.
Smog is a particular problem from late October through mid-January in Pakistan.
“We cannot end smog at all but we are trying to reduce it through steps at all levels,” Rehman said.
The new technology has benefits for kiln owners as well, he said, including cost and time savings, and a reduction in sub-standard bricks produced.
“What we are seeing is that this technology reduces carbon emissions more than 70 percent,” he said — which means those kilns using zig-zag technology will be allowed to operate during smog season.
But other kiln owners should expect that “we will keep on shutting these kilns after intervals to force them to covert to zig-zag,” he said.
Mome Saleem, an Islamabad-based environmentalist, said the closure of the kilns would help cut smog but other industries needed attention too.
“The government should formulate an inclusive strategy to combat the smog instead of just shutting the kilns,” she suggested.
Arif Jeewa, former chairman of the Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan (ABAD), said a shutdown of brick kilns would have no impact on Pakistan’s commercial construction industry because it relied instead on cement blocks.
Aslam, the Prime Minister’s adviser, said the government was moving now to try to avoid smog problems in the months to come.
“We are shutting down brick kilns and factories that emit greenhouse gases in excess,” he said.
“The closure will have an economic impact — but so does their continued and unabated operation, which has a huge environmental impact,” he said.


Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government promises action against polio vaccination spoilers

Updated 1 min 11 sec ago
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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government promises action against polio vaccination spoilers

  • Traders in Bannu, one of province’s worst-hit districts, had earlier refused to administer drops to protest new taxes, call off boycott
  • Provincial Information Minister says government will ensure polio teams reach every child no matter the obstacles

PESHAWAR: The government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province warned on Tuesday it would take strict action against anyone misusing the anti-polio drive just days after traders in Bannu, a district worst hit by the virus, refused to allow the administering of polio drops to protest new taxes.
Pakistan’s polio eradication campaign has hit serious snags in recent months, with an alarming spike in reported cases that has raised doubts over the quality of vaccination reporting and prompted officials to review their approach to stopping the crippling disease.
The country is one of only three in the world where polio is endemic, along with neighboring Afghanistan and Nigeria, but vaccination campaigns have cut the disease sharply, with only a dozen cases last year compared with 306 in 2014 and more than 350,000 in 1988, according to Pakistani health officials.
However, there has been a worrying jump this year, with 53 new cases recorded, 32 of them in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Senseless people who are misusing the anti-polio drive for their personal interests, the government will take action against them and we will not spare them,” Provincial Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai told Arab News. “Polio is no less a threat than terrorism. We will make our province and our country polio-free the way we won the war against terrorism.”
“Despite being a nuclear power, do you want Pakistan to stand with Nigeria and Afghanistan [as countries where polio persists]?” Yousafzai asked. “Never ever. We will ensure polio teams reach every child.”
A new round of vaccinations is scheduled to be launched from August 26 to September 1 in 24 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including Bannu, said Kamran Afridi, the coordinator of the Emergency Operation Center for polio eradication. Around 30 polio cases out of 32 reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year have emerged in Bannu.
Afridi said following the recent announcement of protests by traders in Bannu traders, all District Coordination Officers had been directed to engage the community and launch awareness campaigns. 
On August 18, traders in Bannu, a district to the volatile North Waziristan tribal district, threatened to boycott anti-polio drives to build pressure on the government to reverse “heavy taxes’” levied on small businesses. Although the boycott has since been called off, it highlights the complexity of Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign. 
“We have called off our polio boycott but we had to announce the boycott just to get the government’s attention to reverse unprecedented increase in taxes,” Shah Wazir, president of the Bannu Chamber of Commerce, said.