Pakistan looks to new tech to curb crop burning and cut smog

A farmer burns straw stubble after harvesting a paddy crop in a field near the India-Pakistan Wagah border, some 35 kms from Amritsar on October 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2020

Pakistan looks to new tech to curb crop burning and cut smog

  • Punjab government is providing 500 rice farmers around Lahore with a set of machines that together eliminate the need to burn crop stubble
  • Among underlying causes of smog in Punjab, agriculture — mainly rice residue burning — accounts for 20% of total air pollutant emissions, UN says 

LAHORE: Air pollution is a long-standing problem in Pakistan, but every October and November contaminates in the air in Punjab province shoot up as farmers burn rice stalks left behind after harvesting to clear their fields to plant wheat.
During these cooler months, the provincial capital Lahore, which is surrounded by rice-growing districts, is covered with thick smog.
“It is a health emergency – the air quality monitors in Lahore routinely show hazardous levels in November,” said Farah Rashid, a climate and energy program coordinator for green group WWF-Pakistan.
Now the Punjab government hopes to tackle the problem by providing 500 rice farmers around Lahore with a set of machines that together eliminate the need to burn crop stubble.
The machines include a shredder that breaks down rice stubble and mulches it into the ground and a seed drill — called the Happy Seeder — that follows to sow wheat through the mulch.
“It’s a useful technology,” said farmer Aaamer Hayat Bhandara, who has used both machines at a friend’s large farm, and has pushed the government to subsidise them.
“These machines used together could really make life much easier for us farmers,” said Bhandara, from Pakpattan in Punjab province.
Malik Amin Aslam, climate change adviser to Prime Minister Imran Khan, called air pollution a “silent killer” and said Lahore’s smog had increased in intensity and frequency over the last five years.
He explained that rice farmers traditionally use combine harvesters to cut their rice in October, leaving behind about four inches of stubble.
With less than two weeks before they have to ready their fields to sow wheat, burning is the fastest way to clear the land, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In Pakistan, rice is grown on an area of about 2 million hectares (5 million acres), mainly in the Punjab and Sindh provinces. Many of the fields are cleared by burning every year.
In October and November, Lahore’s Air Quality Index level can jump to over 300, a number that the US Environmental Protection Agency says corresponds to a “health warning of emergency conditions.”
CUTTING EMISSIONS
Farmers say the new farm equipment can help combat smog, but note that crop burning produces only a small share of the province’s pollution.
“The stubble is burned only for a few weeks in the winter. It is a fact that the problem becomes worse during this short period,” Bhandara said.
“But farmers are not the only reason for this pollution,” he added.
A 2018 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the underlying causes of smog in Punjab noted that agriculture — mainly rice residue burning — accounts for 20% of total air pollutant emissions.
That puts it behind industry, which produces a quarter of the air pollution in the province, and transport, which contributes more than 40%.
Tackling air pollution — and leaving stubble on the soil as mulch, rather than burning it — also has the benefit of reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
In India, where farmers have been using the rice stubble shredder and Happy Seeder for the past few years, a group of scientists published a report last year stating the technology could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 78%.
Ejaz Ahmad, an environmental expert with the Institute of Urbanism in Islamabad, said any efforts to curb air pollution will benefit Pakistanis.
“The Happy Seeder seems like a useful machine,” he said.
CHOSEN BY LOTTERY
In Mandi Bahauddin district, where famed Basmati rice is grown, Muhammad Afzal, an agriculture officer at Punjab’s Government Agriculture Seed Farm, has been experimenting with the Happy Seeder for the past two years.
“Stubble management is a serious issue for farmers,” said Afzal, who helps farmers adopt new farming techniques.
Pakistan has penalties for rice stubble burning, including fines of up to 20,000 Pakistani rupees ($125) per acre — but most farmers have little other choice and simply continue the practice and pay the penalty when they are charged.
But a growing number are looking for alternative solutions, Afzal said.
The total cost for the stubble shredder and Happy Seeder is about 637,500 rupees ($4,000), and the government this year is paying about 80% of the price for 500 farmers, he noted.
“For those who can’t afford it, bigger farmers are willing to rent out the machines. In the future, more service providers will come up to rent them out,” Afzal said.
One drawback to the machines, he noted, is the need to mount them on the back of a tractor — and not just any tractor will do.
“It requires a large, 85-horsepower tractor,” he noted, something most rice farmers in Pakistan do not have.
Bhandara, the farmer in Pakpattan, said the subsidised machines also are only available in certain districts around Lahore, in the so-called smog “red zone.”
“The subsidised machines should be made available to rice farmers in South Punjab and Sindh as well, otherwise they are too expensive for most farmers,” he said.
Despite the limitations, the Happy Seeder has proven so popular that the government has had 10 applicants for each of its 500 machines, according to Aslam, the climate change adviser.
He said authorities are using a lottery system to decide who gets the subsidised equipment.
The government has plans to expand the Happy Seeder program next year and cover the whole of the Punjab rice belt by 2023, Aslam noted.
In the meantime, he added, it is already working on a technology upgrade.
“The agriculture extension department has developed a prototype to combine the two shredder (and) seeder machines into one ‘Pak Seeder’, which will be even more effective and efficient” — plus 30% cheaper, he said. ($1 = 159.3100 Pakistani rupees) 


Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

Updated 12 sec ago

Saudi king, crown prince congratulate Pakistan on Independence Day 

  • Saudi leadership wishes “steady progress and prosperity” for Pakistanis 
  • Islamabad, Riyadh enjoy deep-rooted, cordial ties with one another 

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman congratulated President Arif Alvi on Saturday on the occasion of Pakistan’s 76th Independence Day, the Saudi State News Agency (SPA) said. 
On August 14, 1947, British India was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan. Every year, Pakistanis celebrate their independence from British rule with fanfare and festivities throughout the day. 
Islamabad and Riyadh have always cherished close diplomatic relations and are collaborating in various sectors. 
In their messages, the Saudi leadership wished President Alvi health and happiness and hoped Pakistan’s masses enjoy steady progress and prosperity. 
“The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has sent a cable of congratulation to President Dr. Arif Alvi, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, on the anniversary of his country’s Independence Day,” the SPA said. 
In his message, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “wished the President constant good health and happiness and the government and friendly people of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan steady progress and prosperity.” 
Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis and has been the top source of workers’ remittances to the South Asian nation. 


Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

Updated 14 August 2022

Military says reports of TTP's large presence in northwestern Pakistan ‘grossly exaggerated’ 

  • Militants will be dealt with full use of force if required, says Pakistan Army 
  • Thousands protested in Swat on Friday over reports of TTP militants’ presence in area 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s military said on Saturday that reports of a large presence of Pakistani Taliban or the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley are “exaggerated and misleading.” 

Thousands protested in two main towns of Pakistan’s Swat valley in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Friday. Protestors took to the streets to denounce violence after reports that said Pakistani militants had increased their presence in the area. 

The TTP have carried out some of the bloodiest attacks inside Pakistan since 2007, including a 2014 assault on a school in which 134 students were killed. The group is not directly affiliated with the Afghan Taliban, but pledges allegiance to them. 

Pakistan military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement that a misperception about the alleged presence of a large number of TTP’s armed members has been created on social media over the past couple of days.  

“After confirmation on ground, these reports have been found as grossly exaggerated and misleading,” the ISPR said. “Presence of a small number of armed men on a few mountain tops between Swat and Dir has been observed, located far away from the population,” it added.  

The military said that these individuals “sneaked in” from Afghanistan to resettle in their native areas, adding that security forces are keeping a close watch on their limited presence and movement in mountains.  

“Required measures are in place by all LEAs (law enforcement agencies) for the safety and security of the people of the adjoining areas,” it said.  

“Presence of militants anywhere will not be tolerated and they will be dealt with full use of force if required.” 

Swat Valley used to be a TTP bastion in 2009 before a military operation by Pakistan’s army drove them out, causing thousands of families in the region to be displaced.  


Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

Updated 13 August 2022

Monsoon death toll climbs to 188 in flood-ravaged southwestern Pakistan

  • Provincial disaster management authority reports six new deaths over last 24 hours
  • 582 people have died in rain-related incidents across Pakistan since mid-June

QUETTA: The death toll from rain-related incidents since the onset of monsoon season has killed at least 188 in Balochistan, authorities said on Saturday, as rains continue to lash the southwestern Pakistani province, triggering flash floods.

Monsoon rains have wreaked havoc in Pakistan since mid-June, killing at least 582 people. Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by size and its most impoverished one, has reported the highest number of casualties.  

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) recorded six new deaths in rain-relates incidents in the past 24 hours.

“Six more bodies were recovered in the last 24 hours in Balochistan’s Killa Abdullah and Lasbela districts who were swept away in flash floods due to heavy rains on Friday,” Meer Zia Langove, advisor to the chief minister on disaster management, told reporters in the provincial capital, Quetta.

PDMA Balochistan director general Naseer Khan Nasir said four out of Friday’s six deaths were recorded in Killa Abdullah district, where the victims were trying to cross a flooded road.

Many roads are impassable, and traffic has been suspended also on the Quetta-Karachi highway due to the overflowing of the Lunda River in the Lasbela district.

“Our teams are fully engaged with the National Highway Authority (NHA) to clear the roads. It will be opened for traffic in the next 24 hours,” Langove said.

“Twenty-six out of 34 districts in Balochistan are badly affected by monsoon rains and floods which destroyed 40,000 homes and crops cultivated on 500,000 acres of agricultural land.”

Last month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif visited the province’s worst hit areas, ordered immediate aid for their residents, and set up a relief fund for flood victims.

According to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department (PMD), the coming week may bring even more torrential rains to the region.

“Flash floods are expected in Killa Saifullah, Loralai, Barkhan, Kohlu, Mosa Khel, Sherani, Sibbi, Bolan, Kalat Khuzdar Awaran, Turbat Panjgur and other cities of Balochistan,” the PMD said in a notification on Saturday.

Downpours are also forecast for the provinces of Punjab and Sindh province.


Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

Updated 13 August 2022

Pakistan to expand COVID-19 vaccination to children next month as cases rise

  • Government expects to receive vaccines and special syringes by next week
  • Pakistan Medical Association says vaccine for children is safe and effective

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government said on Saturday it will start vaccinating children aged five to eleven against COVID-19 from mid-September as infection figures are again on the rise.

After reporting a significant decline in COVID-19 cases earlier this year, Pakistan did away with almost all coronavirus restrictions. It has been witnessing a spike in infections since June, although health authorities say the situation largely remains under control and has fully vaccinated against COVID-19 over 88 percent of the population aged above 12 years.

“We will be starting COVID-19 vaccination of children aged between five to eleven years by mid-September,” Muazzam Abbas Ranjha, a vaccination lead at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Islamabad told Arab News.

“The process for procurement of the vaccine and special syringes for the purpose is underway, and we’ll be receiving them next week.”

Ranjha said that Pakistan has done “extremely well” in immunizing its population against the pandemic and that’s why the numbers of deaths and infections have remained low compared to the neighboring countries.

“Now it’s time to immunize our children against the disease to curb the virus spread,” he said. “It is vital to administer the vaccine to our children as well to immunize the whole population against the virus.”

The country has conducted 20,272 COVID-19 tests in the last 24 hours, out of which 728 turned out to be positive or 3.59 percent with three deaths. A total of 161 patients are in critical condition, the official data says.

Ranjha said the number of daily infections in the country was under control as the government was constantly monitoring the situation.

“There is nothing alarming so far, but the people should still keep following health guidelines like mask wearing and social distancing at public places to evade the infection,” he said.

Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, secretary general of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News the vaccination of children would help boost general immunity.

“The scientific data available shows the vaccine for children is safe and effective,” he said, adding that the government should roll out an awareness before starting the drive.

“Developed countries have already started vaccination of the children to curb the virus, and it is highly recommended that we should also start it as quickly as possible.”


Summer home where Pakistani founder spent final days lives on as monument to his memory

Updated 13 August 2022

Summer home where Pakistani founder spent final days lives on as monument to his memory

  • Two-story wooden building called Quaid-e-Azam Residency was built by British in Ziarat Valley in 1892
  • It was a summer retreat of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, today one of Pakistan’s most widely visited heritage sites

QUETTA: A single bed, modest wooden furniture, and black and white photographs on the walls of a small bedroom in a 19th-century residence in southwest Pakistan present an unassuming setting. 

But this is no ordinary room: it has special significance for Pakistanis as the place where the country's founding father spent some of the last days of his life.  

The Ziarat, or Quaid-e-Azam, Residency, has a two-story wooden structure amidst a juniper forest and was built during British rule in 1892. Located in Ziarat Valley, a picturesque hill station in Balochistan province, the house was a summer retreat of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader). It was also where Jinnah stayed for two months as he tried to recover from a lung disease a year after the success of his movement to separate Pakistan from India on Aug. 14, 1947 after the end of British colonial rule. 

Decades later, people from across the country visit Ziarat to pay tribute to Jinnah's memory.

Chairs and a table used by Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah for political meetings on display at his summer residence in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)  

“We have read about the Quaid Residency in books and heard stories from our elders … but when I stepped inside the residency, my feelings changed,” Chanda Ashraf, a 21-year-old student from Gujranwala, told Arab News.  

“Inside this residency, I have experienced how the Quaid lived here and his existence was tangible,” she said. “I request all Pakistanis to visit this place once in their lifetime.”

The house has eight rooms, fitted with cedar wood. Jinnah’s bedroom is on the second floor, in front of his sister’s, Fatimah Jinnah, who took care of him in Ziarat.

Tourists take photos in front of Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s summer residence in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)

Jinnah had had tuberculosis since the 1930s, but hid his condition because he believed it would hurt him politically, historians say. In July 1948, Jinnah arrived in Quetta and journeyed to the higher retreat at Ziarat, where the Pakistani government sent the best doctors it could find to treat him. It was here that a diagnosis of tuberculosis and advanced lung cancer was confirmed. 

On August 13, on the eve of the first anniversary of the independence for which he had fought so hard, the founding father was moved to the lower altitude of Quetta and finally back to Karachi on September 11, 1948. 

Jinnah died later that night at 10:20 pm at his home in Karachi. He was 71 years old and Pakistan was a little over one. 

Today, the Quaid’s clothes and the tableware he and his sister had used at the Ziarat summer home are on display at the residency - now a museum and one of Pakistan’s most widely visited national heritage sites. 
The Quaid-e-Azam Residency has also appeared on the 100-rupee note since 2006.

A dining table used by Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah is on display at his summer residence in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)  

Muhammad Rahim, who for the past 19 years has been working as an official tour guide at the residency, said he was proud to be working at the house belonging to the man who had “struggled for an independent country for our future generations.”

“My late uncle Toti Khan had performed duties in the residency when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had come to live here back in the summer of 1948,” he told Arab News.  

Muhammad Rahim, a guide at the Quaid-e-Azam Residency, poses at the museum’s gallery with photos of Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in Ziarat, Balochistan, on Aug. 2, 2022. (AN Photo)  

“Despite two janitors hired for cleaning Quaid’s residence, I clean the entire residency with my hands, because I consider it as my service for the Quaid.”

The building was damaged in 2013, when a blaze tore through its wooden structure after a grenade attack by a Baloch separatist group. It was restored within four months.

Balochistan has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency, and a few attacks have been reported in Ziarat district in recent years, but the province’s tourism minister, Abdul Khaliq Hazara says, told Arab News the security situation was normal and thousands of people visited Jinnah’s residence every year.

“The government has been developing the infrastructure in Ziarat to facilitate tourists,” he said. “The Quaid Residency is a national heritage.”

A visitor Mohamad Alam Qasim said: "Not just for Balochistan, this is Pakistan’s heritage. Quaid-e-Azam was our national hero. He was everyone's leader."