In Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, locals build artificial glaciers to freeze, store water

A view of ice stupa sit located in Husasain Abad Village of Skardu district of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan on Dec 26, 2021. (AN photo by Nisar Ali)
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Updated 30 January 2022

In Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, locals build artificial glaciers to freeze, store water

  • Each ice stupa holds thousands of gallons of water, providing communities with a freshwater source during dry seasons
  • Idea is inspired by a similar initiative in India’s Ladakh Valley, a region nestled between Greater Himalayan and Karakoram ranges

SKARDU, GILGIT-BALTISTAN: Residents and scientists from Pakistan’s northern Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), known for its picturesque landscapes, glaciers and some of the tallest mountains in the world, have found a unique way to deal with an acute water shortage problem that hampers crop cultivation in the region each year.
Experts at a local institute, the Baltistan University, have joined hands with locals to build artificial glaciers or ice stupas, which resemble towers at Buddhist temples and are used to collect and freeze abundant water in the winter months to be used in the dry season, particularly the months of March and April when water is in high demand for wheat, maize and potato cultivation. The technique was devised by Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer in Ladakh, India, in 2013.
Baltistan University’s Dr. Zakir Hussain Zakir, the focal person for the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Glacial Lake Outburst Flood-2 (GLOF-2) monitoring project, told Arab News though GB was one of the largest glaciated regions in the world, the bodies of ice were rapidly melting and water shortages would be a major challenge for the region in due course of time.

A view of an ice stupa site located in Pari Village of Kharmang district in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, on March 5, 2021. (Photo Courtesy: Rashid-ud-Din). [Water being sprayed into the air through pipes] 

“To avoid a water crisis in the Baltistan region, people are grafting glaciers and building ice stupas or ice towers, also known as Gang Pu in the local Balti language,” Zakir said. “Ice stupas are seasonally made for a short period of time and water is conserved during the months of December, January and February, which are the most favorable months for this process.”
He said the project was conceived entirely by the local community while Baltistan University was providing residents financial and technical support.
Three ice stupas have been built so far in Skardu district this year and one in Kharmang district, Zakir said.

 Residents of Hussainabad Valley of Skardu district in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, pose for a photograph in front of an ice stupa on December 26, 2021. (AN Photo by Nisar Ali). 

The idea is inspired by a similar initiative in India’s Ladakh Valley, a region nestled between the Greater Himalayan and Karakoram ranges. In 2013, an engineer called Sonam Wangchuk invented the first ice stupa as a solution for the extreme droughts plaguing the region.
Wangchuk and his students used a long pipe to channel water from a stream and pump it down toward the valley. They then sprayed the water out of a vertical pipe, creating a fountain. At night, they opened the nozzle, and the water froze as it trickled down to the ground. Ultimately, they built a 20-foot, cone-shaped pile of ice that stored 40,000 gallons of water.
People in Gilgit-Baltistan face similar problems as those in Ladakh: they need water to sustain their livelihoods, but changing weather patterns are shrinking the region’s glaciers, intensifying droughts and triggering flash floods.

A view of ice stupa site located in Pari Village of Kharmang district of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan on March 5, 2021 (Courtesy: Rashid Ud Din)

Israr Hussain, a resident of Hussainabad valley in GB’s Skardu district, said the community faced water shortages in March and April, which continued until mid-May: “We decided to make ice stupas to conserve water during winters as we need more water when we start cultivation in March-April. Glaciers and snow on the top of mountains start melting after mid-May, so these ice stupas will help provide water to cultivate crops during this period.”
Hussain said this was the first time the community had developed the stupas and would build more next year.
Ghulam Ali, another resident of Hussainabad, told Arab News locals visited the site of the ice stupas daily to monitor progress.
“We have a team of volunteers from our village and it comprises 25 people. Four to five volunteers daily visit the site in shifts to check if water isn’t frozen inside the pipes. It is very important to visit and monitor the site,” Ali said. “We are happy! And [we] hope we won’t face water shortage in March and April this year.”

Rashid-ud-Din, a UNDP field officer, poses in a yellow jacket in front of an ice stupa along with residents of Pari village of Kharmang district in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, on March 5, 2021. (Photo Courtesy: Rashid-ud-Din). 

Rashid-ud-Din, a GLOF-2 field officer, said water supply shortages were due to climate change.
“Crop cultivation begins in March-April, but people have to wait for water till May-June owing to the late melting of glaciers. To revert this shift, people are building ice stupas so that they are able to timely cultivate crops,” he said, adding that the process could help freeze hundreds of thousands of liters of water in winter months without the need to construct large water tanks or reservoirs.
Residents of Pari village of Baltistan’s Kharmang district had adopted the technique for the first time in 2019, he added, and had been successfully practicing it since.

Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage

Updated 15 April 2024

Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage

  • The verdict was given on a petition seeking amendments to Child Marriage Act over gender-based distinction
  • The court asks the Punjab government to issue a revised version of 1929 law in 15 days, based on its judgment

LAHORE: A high court in Pakistan on Monday struck down a section of the Child Marriage Act, 1929 that dealt with gender-based age distinction and ordered the government in the Punjab province to revise the legislation.

The verdict was given on a petition seeking amendments to the Child Marriage Act over apparent distinction on the basis of gender. The petitioner had stated in his petition that the Constitution of Pakistan granted equal rights to men and women.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) declared as “discriminatory” the 95-year-old act’s Section 2(a) and (b), which respectively fixed 18 and 16 years as legal ages for boys and girls for marriage. 

“In sum, the words in section 2(a) viz . ‘if a male ….and if a female is under sixteen years of age’ being unconstitutional are held to be without lawful authority and of no legal effect. They are struck down,” Judge Shahid Karim wrote in his five-page verdict.

“The Govt. of Punjab (its relevant department) is directed to issue the revised version of 1929 Act (based on this judgment) within the next fifteen days and shall also upload that version on its website for information.”

Though the aforementioned law had been replaced by the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 2015 to criminalize child marriage in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

Women in Pakistan are often deprived of their basic rights and forced to marry against their will, in some cases even before reaching the legal age for marriage.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), about 500 women are killed each year by their family members over accusations that their “honor” has been violated, which are often triggered when women marry by choice.

The court observed there was a need to take effective steps against child marriages as the marriage laws in the country were meant to primarily keep in view the “social, economic and educational factors rather than religious.”

In his verdict, the judge referred to Article 25 of the constitution, which says: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.”

“The definition of ‘child’ in the 1929 Act while making a distinction on the basis of age, is not based on an intelligible criteria having nexus with the object of the law,” the court ruled.

“The definition is indeed a special provision for the protection of women but in the process it tends to afford greater protection to males by keeping their age of marriage higher than females.”

Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill

Updated 15 April 2024

Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill

  • Pakistan lacks adequate resources to run its oil- and gas-powered plants and imports most of its energy needs
  • The country is currently faced with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday directed the Pakistani energy ministry to maximize utilization of renewable energy resources in order to reduce the country’s oil import bill, Pakistani state media reported.

The remarks came at a meeting he presided over to review the country’s power sector, according to a report published by the Radio Pakistan broadcaster.

The prime minister said that oil imports worth billions of dollars could be controlled by using alternative resources like solar, wind and hydel power.

“The country currently imports oil worth 27 billion dollars to meet its power and transportation needs,” Sharif was quoted as saying in the report.

“In the future, only clean and low-cost hydropower and renewable plants will be installed in the country.”

Pakistan, which has been struggling with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation, lacks adequate resources to run its oil- and gas-powered plants and imports most of its energy needs.

The South Asian country is currently looking to secure cheaper energy imports and alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation.

The prime minister asked authorities to speed up efforts for foreign investment in solar energy projects as well as to accelerate the process of privatization of power generation companies and auction of inefficient power houses.

He lauded the performance of the Punjab government in the ongoing drive against power theft and expressed hope that other provinces would also follow suit to overcome the challenge.

“All possible measures are being taken to reduce the per unit price of electricity for the common man,” PM Sharif added.

Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 

Updated 15 April 2024

Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 

  • Muhammad Aurangzeb arrived in the US on Sunday to participate in spring meetings of the IMF, World Bank
  • Pakistan is in need of external financing to shore up forex reserves to escape another macroeconomic crisis

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on Monday met with a delegation from the US-Pakistan Business Council (USPBC) in Washington D.C. and discussed with them his government’s commitment to improving business climate in Pakistan.

Aurangzeb arrived in Washington D.C. on Sunday to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, amid Islamabad’s efforts to reach an agreement with the IMF for a new loan program by June this year.

The South Asian country of more than 240 million people remains in desperate need of external financing to shore up its foreign exchange reserves and escape yet another macroeconomic crisis after it barely averted a default last year, thanks to a $3 billion IMF program.

In order to overcome the present economic woes, Islamabad has been making efforts to attract foreign direct investment to keep the $350 billion economy afloat.

“During the meeting, the Finance Minister highlighted the government’s dedication to attracting both foreign and domestic investments in key sectors,” Aurangzeb’s ministry said in a statement. “These sectors include agriculture, IT, mines & minerals, and energy.”

Pakistan's Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue, Muhammad Aurangzeb (5L), meets with a delegation from the US Pakistan Business Council in Washington, US, on April 15, 2024. (Pakistan Finance Ministry)

The statement came days after Aurangzeb met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to discuss Pakistan’s economic strategy ahead of his meetings with IMF and World Bank officials.

“He discussed with the prime minister his scheduled meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other organizations during the visit,” the Pakistani finance ministry said. “The overall economic situation of the country was also discussed in the meeting.”

Pakistan this month completed a final review of its current $3 billion IMF deal that cleared the way for the disbursement of a final tranche of nearly $1.1 billion. The South Asian country is now looking for another bailout program.

Last week, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva confirmed Pakistan was in discussions with her organization on a potential follow-up loan program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA).

The IMF chief recognized Pakistan’s commitment to structural economic reforms during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. She, however, noted that some important issues, including the tax base and overall economic transparency, were yet to be addressed by Pakistani authorities.

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

Updated 15 April 2024

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

  • Prince Faisal accorded red-carpet welcome at Nur Khan air base, received by Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar
  • Former diplomats, analysts say visit shows further deepening of relations between two brotherly countries

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Pakistan today, Monday, on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation, with local media widely showing footage of the Saudi official being received by Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar.

The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion that was previously discussed.

Upon his arrival at the Noor Khan air base in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, the Saudi foreign minister, who is leading a high-level delegation comprising several top ministers, was accorded a red-carpet welcome by Pakistani officials.

“A week after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia (April 6-8), a high-level delegation of Saudi Arabia is coming to Pakistan,” the Pakistani information ministry said in a statement shared with journalists.

“The Saudi delegation will consult on the next stages of investment and implementation issues,” the statement added, saying Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project would also be discussed during the visit.

Pakistan's foreign minister Ishaq Dar (right) receives his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan (left), at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on April 15, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, one of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold areas.

Riyadh was also interested in investing in agriculture, trade, energy, minerals, IT, transport and other sectors in Pakistan, the statement said.

“As a result of this visit, Pakistan’s export capacity will increase, joint ventures will be launched and new opportunities will be paved.”

The Pakistani foreign office said last week the Saudi delegation would comprise the foreign minister, minister of water and agriculture, minister of industry and mineral resources and deputy minister of investment as well as senior officials from the Saudi energy ministry and the Saudi Fund for General Investments.

The Saudi delegation is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and other ministers, as well as the army chief and members of the apex committee of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign funding.

The Saudi government has not yet commented on the agenda of the visit.

Former diplomats and analysts said the visit showed further deepening of relations between the two brotherly countries.

“This is a high-powered Saudi delegation led by the foreign minister and it is purely focused on investments in Pakistan,” Javed Hafeez, a former Pakistani diplomat, told Arab News, pointing to a recent indication by Saudi Arabia to expedite $5 billion investment in Pakistan.

“This delegation will also be exploring different fields and options during the visit to materialize the investment pledges as quickly as possible.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, termed the visit “very significant,” saying the potential Saudi investment in Pakistan was a “welcoming step” in the Saudi-Pakistan friendship.

“The Saudi’s investments under the banner of the SIFC will be safe and secure, and this will help further deepen the ties between the two countries,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expired this month.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally.

“We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms,” Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January.

“We are taxing our people, we are expecting also others to do the same, to do their efforts. We want to help but we want you also to do your part.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have increasingly moved toward investing rather than extending direct financial aid.

Pakistan says probe suggests India behind Lahore death of suspect in killing of Indian spy

Updated 15 April 2024

Pakistan says probe suggests India behind Lahore death of suspect in killing of Indian spy

  • Alleged Indian spy Sarabjit Singh died at a prison in Pakistan's Lahore city in 2013 after inmates attacked him
  • Islamabad has previously accused Indian intelligence agency of being involved in killings inside Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said on Monday that an investigation had suggested India was behind the death of a Pakistani man, who was suspected of killing alleged Indian spy Sarabjit Singh in 2013.

Amir Tamba was shot dead inside his home in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Saturday. He was a suspect in the death of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national who was convicted of spying in Pakistan and handed a death sentence in 1991.

Singh died in 2013 after inmates attacked him in a Lahore prison. His killing stoked tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Tamba was accused of being involved in Singh’s death but was not convicted.

Asked about possible Indian involvement in Tamba’s killing, Naqvi told reporters that India had been directly involved in a few killings inside Pakistan and police were suspecting Indian involvement in Tamba’s murder too.

“Right now, the evidence is pointing to them [India],” the minister said. “It is not ideal to say anything until the investigation is completed, but [the killing] has the same pattern.”

Islamabad has previously accused India’s intelligence agency of being involved in killings inside Pakistan, saying it had credible evidence linking two Indian agents to the deaths of two Pakistanis last year.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a report this month, saying the Indian government had killed about 20 people in Pakistan since 2020 as part of a broader plan to eliminate militants residing on foreign soil. Pakistan denies harboring militants.

Last year, both the United States and Canada accused Indian agents of links to assassination plots on their soil. India dismissed the allegation of its involvement in the killing in Canada as “absurd.”

In the case involving the US, India’s foreign ministry said it had set up a high-level committee to investigate the accusations, adding that the alleged link to an Indian official was “a matter of concern” and “against government policy.”