Pakistani teens sue government over misreporting of smog levels 

Three Pakistani teenagers took the government to court this week for violating their right to life and health by underreporting the severity of air pollution in Lahore. (Photo Courtesy: Laiba Siddiqui)
Updated 06 November 2019

Pakistani teens sue government over misreporting of smog levels 

  • Lahore regularly figures on air quality indexes as one of the most polluted cities in the world 
  • Three teenagers have filed a court petition seeking that Punjab government provide citizens true picture of pollution levels

Islamabad — Three Pakistani teenagers took the government to court this week for violating their right to life and health by underreporting the severity of air pollution in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s populous Punjab province. 
Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, is choking on smog, driven in part by smoke from brick kilns and steel mills, burning of rice stubble and garbage, growing numbers of vehicles on the road and large-scale losses of trees as the expanding city makes way for new roads and buildings.
Many in the city of 11 million have complained of headaches and burning eyes and throats as air pollution levels have hit an all-time high. Air quality monitors installed in Lahore’s Gulberg area have recorded Air Quality Index (AQI) levels of 600. Levels of 250 to 300 are considered ‘hazardous’ and require people with heart and lung disease and the elderly and children to remain indoors.
Mishael Hyat, 17, Leila Alam, 13, and Laiba Siddiqi, 18, filed a petition before the Lahore High Court on Tuesday, presenting medical reports from Lahore hospitals and testimonials from doctors and environmental activists to show the discrepancies between research by international organizations and reports by the Punjab’s government on smog conditions in Lahore. The girls are represented by environmental lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam, Leila’s father. 




Three Pakistani teenagers took the government to court this week for violating their right to life and health by underreporting the severity of air pollution in Lahore. (Photo Courtesy: Mishael Hyat)


Speaking to Arab News, lawyer Alam said the court had adjourned the case till next Tuesday — the short date an indication of the priority it was given to the issue — and directed the Government of Punjab and the Environmental Protection Agency, Punjab, to respond to the girls’ complaints. 
“If we are successful, the AQI classification system will be regularised and people will know what measures to take in episodes of air pollution,” Alam said. 
The main concern of the petition, he said, was that Pakistanis have a true picture of pollution levels.
“We’re not asking the court to shut stuff down,” Alam said. “We’re asking the court to make sure the information being provided to the public is accurate and properly reflects the severity of the air pollution.”
Lahore, once known as the Garden City but now choked with cars, regularly figures on air quality indexes as one of the most polluted cities in the world — and many of the pollutants are also drivers of climate change.
Leila, Hyat, and Siddiqi met at Lahore’s climate change march in September this year and decided to join forces to approach the courts. 
“Each has a personal reason why the air quality prevents them from leading normal lives,” Alam said. “All three are impacted differently by air pollution. Mishael is an ace swimmer and it’s impacting her training. Leila and Laiba find it hard to study and concentrate.”
Siddiqi was one of the organizers of the climate march and has been actively involved in climate change activism since 2016.
“After the march, we were all just trying to plan our future course of action and we really wanted to engage with the legislative system and policymakers head-on,” Siddiqi told Arab News “The petition was Rafay’s idea really because he’d been involved in some lawsuits as an environmental lawyer already. And we decided the petitioners would be students who are most impacted by smog.”
The petition includes reports from Lahore’s Children’s Hospital stating that the medical center has seen a threefold increase in admissions presenting chest or cardiovascular complaints in the past decade, as well as discrepancies between what the government has reported on the toxicity of the air versus what World Health Organization (WHO) and other groups have deemed an alarming environmental phenomena.
“The WHO reports that over 95% of children in lower and middle-income countries are exposed to high levels of particulate pollution. Pakistan and Pakistani cities are no exception,” Alam said, adding that the EPA, Punjab, was “underreporting the severity of air pollution.”
An AQI reading of 185 is classified as “Satisfactory” by the EPA, Punjab, but “Unhealthy” by the US EPA, Alam said. 
“In other words, people are not properly informed of how bad the air pollution is, and accordingly their response underestimates the severity of impure air,” he added. 
Hyat said the girls were pleased to see the LHC chief justice taking an interest in their case. Now, the activists are hoping the government also responds responsibly.
“We hope that the government takes action to give the public up to date information that is in accordance with international standards, and takes measures to reduce emissions from industry, transport and agricultural sectors so that future years can see cleaner air,” Hyat said.


Pakistan’s top court orders re-election for Punjab chief minister’s post on July 22

Updated 01 July 2022

Pakistan’s top court orders re-election for Punjab chief minister’s post on July 22

  • All parties agree Hamza Shehbaz will stay as Punjab CM till July 17
  • CM Shehbaz says he has 'nothing to hide,' accepts the court verdict

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Friday directed authorities to hold a re-election for the post of Punjab chief minister on July 22, local media reported, a day after a high court ordered a recount of votes for the election held in April.   

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday ordered a recount of votes for the April 16 election which was won by Hamza Shehbaz, ruling the votes of 25 dissident lawmakers of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party who voted for Shehbaz would not be counted. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) de-seated these 25 lawmakers in May for deviating from the party’s policy and voting for Shehbaz in the election for CM's slot.   

The PTI challenged the high court’s verdict in the Supreme Court on Friday and after much back-and-forth, all parties to the case — the PTI, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and Shehbaz —agreed to the chief minister’s election on July 22 and that Shehbaz would stay as the CM till July 17.  

"The apex court issued the verbal order as a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Jamal Khan Mandokhail, took up the petition filed earlier today," Dawn news website reported. 

Shehbaz told reporters outside the court that the CM's election would be held five days after the July 17 by-polls for the Punjab Assembly seats that fell vacant after the ECP de-seated 25 PTI members.   

“I told them [Supreme Court judges] that this is acceptable to me,” CM Shehbaz said. “I have nothing to hide.”  

Shehbaz, a member of the now ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, got 197 votes in the chief minister's election but was left with the support of 172 members in the house after the disqualification of the 25 MPs. 

The high court’s verdict had said if the required majority for Shehbaz, which is 186 votes in the 371-member house, was not secured, the election would be held again under Article 130(4), unless another candidate secured majority votes.  

Article 130(4) says in the second round of voting, a member would not require 186 votes but simply needed a majority of those “present and voting” to be elected the chief minister.  

The top post in Punjab had fallen vacant after the resignation of former Punjab chief minister Usman Buzdar, a close aide of PTI leader Imran Khan, in early April. 

Much of political drama has since surrounded the coveted post in the country's most populous and resourceful province. 


Congo virus threat looms in southwest Pakistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha

Updated 01 July 2022

Congo virus threat looms in southwest Pakistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha

  • Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province reported four cases of Congo virus in the month of June
  • Cattle markets being fumigated to curb virus spread, animals vaccinated against lumpy skin disease

QUETTA: The number of Congo virus cases could rise in the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan ahead of Eid Al-Adha, a top health official said on Friday, weeks after the province reported four cases of the virus. 

Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, or Congo virus, is an infectious disease transmitted by ticks to humans and animals. These ticks can be found on the skin of goats, sheep, cows, buffalos and camels that are sacrificed by Muslims during the Islamic festival of Eid Al-Adha. 

The disease, which is still endemic in Africa and parts of Asia, has a high fatality rate of 10-40 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

This undated file photo shows the premises of the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital in Quetta, in Pakistan's Balochistan province. (Photo courtesy: social media)

Balochistan last month reported at least 16 suspected cases of the virus, of which four people tested positive who were treated at the Fatima Jinnah Chest Hospital in the provincial capital of Quetta.  

"Sixteen suspicious Congo cases were brought to the Fatima Jinnah Hospital. Two of them were in critical condition who were discharged in the last week of June," Dr Saqiq Baloch, the hospital's medical superintendent, told Arab News. 

"Following the imminent threat of Congo, we are prepared to handle any emergency-like situation and have urged livestock officials to fumigate cattle markets with anti-Congo spray." 

Just like elsewhere in the Muslim world, people have been preparing for Eid Al-Adha, one of the two biggest religious festivals in the Islamic calendar, and buying animals to offer as sacrifice. 

With the influx of livestock traders from Sindh and Punjab provinces, the threat of a spread of Congo virus and other diseases has also increased in Balochistan. 

The Balochistan Livestock Department has intensified fumigation across the province against the Congo virus and deputed teams at entrances to the province to check and administer lumpy skin disease (LSD) vaccines to animals. 

“A total of 8,150 cases of LSD have been reported in many districts of the province, particularly those bordering Sindh and Punjab, since the outbreak was first reported in Pakistan,” said Dr Jumma Babar, director of the Balochistan Animal Health Department. 

"The Animal Health Department has started a mass vaccination campaign in Lasbela, Uthal and Jaffarabad districts that has been effective in controlling the spread of the disease." 

Prevalent in Africa since 1929, LSD is transmitted by bloodsucking insects like ticks and mosquitoes. It does not affect people and is rarely fatal. In Pakistan, LSD was first reported in animals in the Punjab province in October 2021. 

Khuda Buksh, 40, who came to main cattle market in Quetta to buy animals, said previously they only heard of the Congo virus, but this Eid season they have been hearing about LSD too, which is why a majority people are buying small animals. 

“We have seen people splashing spray on animals in the market and hope this would be helpful in eradicating the disease among sacrificial animals,” Buksh told Arab News. 

Muhammad Yousuf, a 38-year-old trader who brought with him 35 cattle from Sindh's Jacobabad district, said they await customers throughout the day, but a majority of people is interested in buying goats and sheep instead of cows and buffaloes. 

“We haven’t heard about this animal pox disease before, but many customers here keenly observe the cattle skin. This would impact our business this Eid season,” Yousuf said. 


Indian court orders BJP spokeswoman to 'apologise to whole nation' over anti-Islam remarks

Updated 01 July 2022

Indian court orders BJP spokeswoman to 'apologise to whole nation' over anti-Islam remarks

  • Anger engulfed Islamic world last month after Nupur Sharma's incendiary comments during a TV debate
  • Nearly 20 countries called in their Indian ambassadors for explanation, rallies erupted around South Asia

NEW DELHI: A ruling party spokeswoman whose remarks on Islam embroiled India in a diplomatic row and sparked huge protests should apologize for having “set the country on fire,” New Delhi’s top court said Friday. 

Anger engulfed the Islamic world last month after Nupur Sharma’s incendiary comments during a TV debate on the relationship between the Prophet Muhammad and his youngest wife, with nearly 20 countries calling in their Indian ambassadors for an explanation. 

Rallies also erupted around South Asia, with police killing two demonstrators in India, while this week two Muslim men were accused of the grisly murder of a Hindu tailor who had posted in support of Sharma on Facebook. 

“She and her loose tongue have set the country on fire,” India’s Supreme Court said during a procedural hearing on several criminal complaints filed against Sharma. 

“This lady is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country,” it added. “She should apologize to the whole nation.” 

Since her comments, Sharma has been subjected to multiple police complaints filed against her across India by members of the public. 

While the 37-year-old’s whereabouts are unknown, her lawyer was in court asking that the cases be consolidated in New Delhi, a request denied Friday. 

Sharma was at one time seen as a rising star in the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but her remarks forced it into damage control. 

The party soon suspended the spokeswoman from her post and issued a statement insisting it respected all religions. 

Since coming to power nationally in 2014, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of championing discriminatory policies toward followers of the Islamic faith. 

Critics also say the government has presided over a crackdown on free speech and rights activists. 

This week police arrested the Muslim journalist Mohammed Zubair, a vocal critic of the government who had helped draw attention to Sharma’s remarks. 

He was arrested on Monday and remains in custody over a four-year-old tweet about a Hindu god that police said had been the subject of complaints by Hindu groups.


Pakistan urges caution over Eid holidays as coronavirus cases rise

Updated 01 July 2022

Pakistan urges caution over Eid holidays as coronavirus cases rise

  • Pakistan has had few COVID-19 cases in recent months and had done away with almost all precautions
  • 694 positive cases reported in last 24 hours, nearly double the number at the start of the week on Monday

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel on Friday called on the public to take precautionary measures as coronavirus cases once again rise in the country, calling masks “essential” during the upcoming Eid Al-Adha holiday and urging people not to shake hands and hug.

Pakistan has had very few COVID-19 cases over recent months and had done away with almost all precautions.

But over the past 24 hours, the national COVID positivity ratio had risen to 3.93 percent with 694 positive cases, nearly double the number at the start of the week on Monday, according to data released on Friday by the National Institute of Health, Islamabad (NIH).

“We must take precautionary measures against coronavirus and ensure social distancing,” Patel said in a statement. “Mask wearing is essential during the time of Eid-ul-Adha and avoid going to crowded places.”

The minister appealed to religious scholars to ensure social distancing at mosques and urged the public to avoid hugging and shaking hands during the Eid holidays. 

On Thursday, Pakistan issued fresh standard operating procedures (SOPs) for government office.

The NIH in a notification urged government staffers to avoid shaking hands and mandated wearing face masks and incorporating social distancing in seating plans and during prayers.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif chaired a meeting to take stock of the coronavirus situation urging masses to take precautions against the infection.

Pakistan disbanded the National Command and Operations Center, its main pandemic response body, on March 31 as infections fell to the lowest since the outbreak began in 2020.

However, the South Asian country on May 23 reconstituted the NCOC at the NIH after health officials detected a new omicron sub-variant in a passenger arriving from Qatar. The new sub-variant of omicron is said to be highly infectious, though not as deadly as previous coronavirus strains.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) last week once again made it mandatory for all passengers on domestic flights to wear masks. Authorities are also urging eligible individuals to get booster vaccine shots.

There have been 1,536,479 infections and 30,395 coronavirus-related deaths reported in Pakistan since the pandemic began.


Pakistan inflation rose 21.3% in June 2021, highest rate in 13 years

Updated 01 July 2022

Pakistan inflation rose 21.3% in June 2021, highest rate in 13 years

  • In May, consumer price index was recorded at 13.8 percent, year-on-year
  • Fuel prices have been raised by about 90 percent since end of May

KARACHI: Pakistan’s consumer price index (CPI) rose 21.3% in June from a year earlier, the statistics bureau said on Friday, for the South Asian nation's highest inflation in 13 years.

In May, the CPI was up 13.8% on the year. The month on month rise in June was 6.3%.

The spike comes as fuel prices have risen about 90% since end May after the government scrapped costly fuel subsidies in a bid to cut its surging fiscal deficit and secure resumption of an IMF bailout programme.

Transport saw the biggest rise, with its index rising 62.2% in June on the year.

The price index for food items, which make up about a third of the CPI basket, rose 25.9%.

Pakistan has been struggling with high inflation for the last few months.

Despite rising global oil prices, subsidies for fuel and power were adopted in March 2022 by the government of previous prime minister Imran Khan, as he faced mounting discontent over his handling of the economy and rising inflation.

He was ousted in April, and the new government began reversing the costly subsidy, which it brought on par with international prices late last month.

Prices of fuel were hiked further on Thursday, with the cash-strapped government imposing a petroleum levy in its battle to reduce the fiscal deficit.

The levy, which officials expect to rise even further, was part of fiscal consolidation measures agreed with the IMF to resume the bailout programme.