Machh ado about the environment: Beloved Pakistan saint is remembered with giant bonfire

A view of the bonfire at Bahram Bari Junejo’s shrine in Sanghar district of Sindh province in Pakistan on February 15, 2022. (AN Photo by Abdul Ghaffar Chang)
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Updated 18 February 2022

Machh ado about the environment: Beloved Pakistan saint is remembered with giant bonfire

  • Machh ritual began to be celebrated in Sindh three centuries ago to mark death anniversary of Bahram Bari Junejo
  • Height of trapezoid-shaped bonfire has shrunkin recent years due to scarcity of wood, environmentalists call it “waste of forest”

SANGHAR, Sindh: For the last three hundred years, thousands of Hindus and Muslims have gathered each year in the southern Pakistani village of Barham Bar to commemorate the death anniversary of a beloved local saint by holding a massive bonfire festival.
But for the last few years, the height of the trapezoid-shaped bonfire structure, which used to be over 90 feet tall, has shrunk due to the scarcity of wood, with environmental experts warning against the hazardous effects of the ritual for Pakistan — among the countries worst affected by climate change.
The ‘Machh’ ritual marks the death anniversary of Bahram Bari Junejo, whose son received a spiritual signal in a dream to build a 90-foot-tall wooden structure to commemorate the saint’s first death anniversary.
This year was the 305th edition of the festival, a caretaker of the saint’s shrine said, and drew thousands of the saint’s Muslim and Hindu devotees from across Pakistan’s southern Sindh province and beyond, who came in remembrance of their beloved saint and to take back ashes from the bonfire, which they believe has healing powers and can be used to enhance crop yield and tame djinns.




A tower of wood is built near Bahram Bari Junejo’s shrine in Sanghar district of Sindh province in Pakistan ahead of the Machh bonfire ritual on February 15, 2022. (AN Photo by Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“The height of the bonfire structure this year is 35 feet, which is quite unique in Pakistan,” Faqeer Saddam Hussain Junejo, the shrine’s caretaker, told Arab News this week, saying the structure used to be as tall as 90 feet just a few years ago. “If investigated, a bonfire of this size could prove to be an international novelty.”
“No government or international organization has officially recognized its distinction yet,” Junejo said. “Official status can enhance tourism in this area.”




Children attend the bonfire ritual of Machh at Bahram Bari Junejo’s shrine in Sanghar district of Sindh in Pakistan on February 15, 2022. (AN Photo by Abdul Ghaffar Chang)

Muhammad Khan Makrani, a 70-year-old man who had traveled 200 kilometers to participate in the festival, said he had returned after 40 years.
“Things have changed here, the bonfire size is too small compared to the past,” he said. “The last time I came to the festival, it was three times taller than what we are witnessing today.”
The caretaker of the shrine confirmed this, attributing the diminishing size of the spectacle to a scarcity of wood.




Musicians entertain the crowd before the bonfire ritual of Machh at Bahram Bari Junejo’s shrine in Sanghar district of Sindh province in Pakistan on February 15, 2022. (AN Photo by Abdul Ghaffar Chang)

“The weight of wood used for the bonfire this year is around 48 metric tons,” he said.
The United Nations recommends every country have a minimum of 25 percent forest cover. Over the years, forest cover in Sindh has dwindled to less than two percent and Makhi Forest in Sanghar is one example where tress have vanished due to illegal logging.
But the festival organizer insisted the wood used to fuel the bonfire always came from “private forests” that were not government property.
Environmental activists in the region said it didn’t matter if the wood came from private or public forests.




A view of the bonfire at Bahram Bari Junejo’s shrine in Sanghar district of Sindh province in Pakistan on February 15, 2022. (AN Photo by Abdul Ghaffar Chang)

“Pakistan does not have enough forest cover,” Mansoor Memon from the Environmental Friends Committee, a local pressure group of activists, told Arab News. “Yet, we see such rituals where people are making huge bonfires without realizing that it is a total waste of forest resources.”
“Whether the wood is coming from government or private lands, this exercise needs to stop since we are already facing the impact of climate change in Pakistan,” he added. “Authorities should take notice of this festival.”
Deputy Commissioner of Sanghar, Dr. Imran-ul-Hassan Khawaja, did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment for this piece.


US extends debt relief to Pakistan after floods

Updated 30 September 2022

US extends debt relief to Pakistan after floods

  • Pakistan faces plethora of economic woes, including balance-of-payment crisis, widening current account deficit
  • Devastating floods meanwhile engulfed large swathes of country in August, causing damage estimated at $30 billion

ISLAMABAD: Washington on Friday rolled over an agreement to suspend service payments on $132 million of Pakistan's debt, the US embassy in Islamabad said, as the South Asian nation faces an economic crisis exacerbated by devastating floods. 

Pakistan's economy is facing a balance of payments crisis, a widening current account deficit, a slide in its currency to historic lows, and inflation crossing 27%. 

Devastating floods meanwhile engulfed large swathes of the country in late August, killing more than 1,500 people and causing damage estimated at $30 billion, fanning fears that Pakistan would not meet its debt obligations. 

The US ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome signed the agreement to extend the loan relief under the G20 debt service suspension initiative, the embassy said in a statement, adding: "Our priority is to redirect critical resources in Pakistan." 

US ambassador to Pakistan Donald Blome signs agreement to extend the loan relief under the G20 debt service suspension initiative on September 30, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @USEmbIslamabad/Twitter)

The rollover is related to the Paris club agreement in April 2020 to support 73 lower income countries during COVID, under which the United States provided relief on $128 million in debt to Pakistan. 

The agreement to suspend payments on that debt, plus an additional $4 million, has now been rolled over again. 

Pakistan's outgoing finance minister Miftah Ismail said last week that Islamabad was seeking debt relief from bilateral creditors in the wake of flooding, but emphasised the government was not seeking any relief from commercial banks or Eurobond creditors. 

The country's bonds had slumped to just half their face value, after the Financial Times said a United Nations development agency was urging the cash-strapped country to restructure its debt. 

Ismail said the $1 billion bond would be paid on time and in full due later this year. 


In meeting with Saudi envoy, Pakistan president urges for steps to increase bilateral trade

Updated 30 September 2022

In meeting with Saudi envoy, Pakistan president urges for steps to increase bilateral trade

  • President Arif Alvi expresses gratitude for the Kingdom's support after deadly floods in Pakistan
  • The president also appreciates Saudi Arabia's role in OIC, highlighting Palestine and Kashmir issues

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia's Ambassador Nawaf bin Said Al-Malki on Friday met with Pakistan's President Arif Alvi, the presidency said, with the latter calling for effective steps to increase bilateral trade between the two brotherly countries. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy cordial relations, with over 2.5 million Pakistanis living in the Kingdom who are one of the biggest sources of remittances to the South Asian nation.  

Both countries enjoy strong political, cultural and defence ties with each other, while the Kingdom has often helped Pakistan with economic aid in difficult times.  

"The current bilateral trade volume of $4.6 billion between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia needs to be further increased," President Alvi was quoted as saying in a statement issued from his office. 

"The current trade volume does not fully reflect the depth of the relationship between the two brotherly countries," he told the Saudi ambassador. 

The Pakistan president appreciated the Kingdom’s support in providing an air bridge for relief assistance to flood affectees in Pakistan. 

Saudi Arabia has so far dispatched at least 10 flights and 100 emergency relief trucks, carrying hundreds of tons of food items to flood-ravaged districts in Pakistan.  

The deadly floods have killed more than 1,600 people, affected 33 million and caused the South Asian country an estimated $30 billion in losses. 

President Alvi also appreciated Saudi Arabia's role in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), highlighting the issues of Palestine and Kashmir as well as matters relating to Afghanistan.


Pakistan set 170-run target for England to win

Updated 49 min 4 sec ago

Pakistan set 170-run target for England to win

  • Pakistan, who lead seven-match series 3-2, hand T20I debut to wicketkeeper batter Mohammad Haris
  • England rest pace duo of Mark Wood and Chris Woakes to bring in Reece Topley and Richard Gleeson

LAHORE: England captain Moeen Ali won the toss and sent Pakistan in to bat in the sixth Twenty20 international at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on Friday. 

Pakistan captain Babar Azam, center, tosses the coin as English skipper Moeen Ali looks on before the start of the sixth Twenty20 international at Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on September 30, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Cricket Board)

Pakistan, who leads the seven-match series 3-2, handed a T20I debut to 21-year-old wicketkeeper batter Mohammad Haris as they rested Mohammad Rizwan. 

Fast bowler Haris Rauf is also rested, making way for Shahnawaz Dahani. 

England rested pace duo of Mark Wood and Chris Woakes to bring in Reece Topley and Richard Gleeson. 

The last match is also in Lahore on Sunday. 

TEAMS

Pakistan: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Haris, Asif Ali, Aamer Jamal, Iftikhar Ahmed, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Haider Ali, Shan Masood, Mohammad Wasim Junior, Shahnawaz Dahani 

England: Moeen Ali (captain), Dawid Malan, Harry Brook, Sam Curran, Ben Duckett, Reece Topley, Alex Hales, Adil Rashid, Phil Salt, Richard Gleeson, David Willey 


Pakistani currency gains 4.8% on appointment of new finance minister, hopes of IMF relief

Updated 30 September 2022

Pakistani currency gains 4.8% on appointment of new finance minister, hopes of IMF relief

  • Finance ministry says economic outlook is uncertain and growth will likely remain below target
  • As weekly inflation soars, government predicts inflows will remain elevated in current fiscal year

KARACHI: Pakistan’s national currency posted gains for the sixth consecutive day on Friday, currency dealers and analysts said, following the return of Ishaq Dar as the new finance minister and amid hopes that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would ease off some harsh conditions. 

The 72-year-old financial wizard took oath as a federal minister on Wednesday, five years after he was ousted from the role in a corruption case. A member of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, Dar has already been the finance minister four times. 

Pakistan's currency market has shown some signs of stability after the change of command at the finance ministry, with the Pakistani rupee gaining 0.52 percent of its value against the US dollar on Friday. The greenback closed at Rs228.45 at the end of week. 

The Pakistani currency has appreciated 4.84 percent during the last six trading sessions and 4.7 percent since September 23, when the dollar was trading at Rs239.65, after the market sentiment changed following Dar's takeover of the finance portfolio. 

“The perception of Ishaq Dar as strict controller of exchange rate has changed the market sentiment. Exporters and individuals who were withholding dollars have come out to sell which has strengthened rupee,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at the Karachi-based Arif Habib Limited brokerage firm, told Arab News. 

“The expectation of around $3.5 billion additional inflows from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and the hopes that IMF will ease off some of the targets set in the program as the country is facing flood disaster have strengthened the rupee.” 

Dar takes the driving seat of Pakistan’s economy at a time when the South Asian country is grappling with a balance-of-payment crisis, depleting foreign exchange reserves, high inflation and a weakened currency. 

On Friday, the finance ministry reiterated the country’s economic growth would remain below 3 percent from a 5 percent budgetary target for 2022-23, amid an uncertain outlook. 

“The economic outlook for Pakistan in the current fiscal year has become uncertain and will likely remain below the target,” the ministry said in its monthly economic report. "Macroeconomic imbalances may ease with the expected slowdown in the economic growth." 

Pakistani currency dealers suggest few steps to control the exchange rate and curb speculations in the currency market. 

“Dar has a reputation of strengthening rupee and improving economy and he seems confident to achieve his goals,” Malik Bostan, president of Forex Association of Pakistan who spoke to the new finance minter after he took over the office, told Arab News. 

“We have pinpointed few factors that were responsible for the rupee's depreciation, including organized maneuvering of exchange rate in the interbank market which is now being probed. He is upbeat for the economic turnaround.” 

The change at finance ministry comes at a time when the South Asian nation is reeling from the impacts of historic floods that have submerged a third of the country and inflicted around $30 billion in economic losses. 

The finance ministry conceded that the outlook of the country’s agriculture sector was not clear after the floods damaged winter crops, including cotton and rice. 

“The agricultural outlook is still not clear as the output of both important and other Kharif crops has suffered significantly due to recent floods and unprecedented heavy monsoon rains,” it said in the monthly economic report, adding that floodwater in agricultural areas might also affect the Rabi crops. 

While the full extent of damages is still being estimated, Islamabad is expecting a debt relief from the Paris Club and G-20 nations that will help strengthen the national currency. 

Apart from the currency's stability, the incoming finance minister has vowed to tame inflation that hit a 47-year high of 27.3 percent in August. 

However, the finance ministry has warned that the inflation will not ease off even after the fall in commodity prices in the global market. 

“Even if international commodity prices would mean-revert in the near future, domestic inflation may still suffer from delayed adjustments and second-round effects,” the ministry said in its report.  

"Also, the depreciation of the PKR continues to exert upward pressure on domestic prices." 

Pakistan’s weekly inflation once again increased by 0.94 percent during the week ending on September 29, after recording a decline of 8.11 percent the previous week, mainly due to the spike in the prices of food items, according to official data released on Friday. 

Pakistan’s stock market also closed bullish on Friday, with key stock index gaining 0.28 percent to close at 41,128.67 points. 


Cholera outbreak surging worldwide, concerned about rising cases in flood-hit Pakistan — WHO

Updated 30 September 2022

Cholera outbreak surging worldwide, concerned about rising cases in flood-hit Pakistan — WHO

  • Average fatality rate so far this year has almost tripled compared with five-year average
  • Only a few million doses of vaccines were available for use before the end of this year

GENEVA: Cholera cases have surged this year, especially in places of poverty and conflict, with outbreaks reported in 26 countries and fatality rates rising sharply, a World Health Organization official said on Friday.

In a typical year, fewer than 20 countries report outbreaks of the disease which is spread by the ingestion of contaminated food or water and can cause acute diarrhea.

“After years of declining numbers, we are seeing a very worrying upsurge of cholera outbreaks around the globe over the past year,” Philippe Barboza, WHO Team Lead for Cholera, told a press briefing in Geneva.

The average fatality rate so far this year has almost tripled compared with the five-year average and is currently around 3 percent in Africa, he added.

While most of those affected will have mild or no symptoms, cholera can kill within hours if untreated.

A cholera outbreak in Syria has already killed at least 33 people, posing a danger across the frontlines of the country’s 11-year-long war and stirring fears in crowded camps for the displaced.

Barboza also expressed concern about outbreaks in the Horn of Africa and parts of Asia, including Pakistan, where some regions are flooded.

He said only a few million doses of vaccines were available for use before the end of this year, citing a shortage of manufacturers among the problems.

WHO maintains an emergency stockpile of cholera vaccines.

“So it’s very clear that we do not have enough vaccine to respond to both acute outbreaks and even less to be able to implement preventive vaccination campaigns that could be a way to reduce the risk for many countries,” he said.

There was no overall estimate of the number of cholera cases across the world because of differences in countries’ surveillance systems, he said.