Pakistan monitor says COVID-19 figures at all-time low since first wave

People enjoy a funfair ride in Karachi, Pakistann, on June 15, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 April 2022

Pakistan monitor says COVID-19 figures at all-time low since first wave

  • No COVID death reported last week, the National Institute of Health says 
  • Over 80 percent of eligible Pakistani population stands fully vaccinated 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s pandemic response monitor, the National Institute of Health (NIH), on Tuesday said the country had recorded the lowest COVID-19 prevalence since the first wave of coronavirus infections two years ago. 
The development comes a month after the Pakistani government scrapped all COVID-related restrictions in view of a major decline in the daily virus case count. 
In the last 24 hours, the monitor said, health authorities conducted 21,437 tests, of which 62 turned out to be positive. 
“As of today, COVID-19 disease statistics are all-time low since the first wave,” the NIH said on Twitter. 

“Alhamdulillah (thank God), no COVID-related death was reported last week,” it said in a separate tweet. “This improvement happened for the first time in over 2 years!” 

Pakistan, which is home to roughly 220 million people, rolled out its anti-COVID vaccination campaign in February 2021, prioritizing health care workers and the elderly. It has since expanded its campaign to include the entire eligible population. 
Last week, the NIH announced that 80 percent of eligible Pakistani population stood fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

 


Pakistan says will ‘soon’ introduce country's first comprehensive solar policy

Updated 07 July 2022

Pakistan says will ‘soon’ introduce country's first comprehensive solar policy

  • Pakistan is seeking to cut its huge import bill and reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources
  • Budget 2022-23 speech includes proposal to exempt import and local supply of solar panels from sales tax

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Thursday Pakistan would soon announce its first comprehensive solar policy as the South Asian nation looks to cut its huge import bill and reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources.  

Hours-long power outages are a common occurrence in Pakistan, where the demand for power outstrips generation during the peak summer months. The rising price of oil globally has also hit Pakistan’s already low foreign exchange reserves, putting more pressure on its resources and weakening its currency.

The Sharif government has blamed the situation on the mismanagement of the power sector by the previous administration of ousted prime minister, Imran Khan. Khan and his aides have denied any blame.  

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Miftah Ismail announced during his budget 2022-23 speech the government’s proposal to exempt the import and local supply of solar panels from sales tax. He also said consumers using fewer than 200 units of electricity would be facilitated in obtaining soft loans on easy terms from banks to buy solar panels.

On Thursday, PM Sharif chaired an Energy Task Force meeting in Islamabad where he was briefed on the steps being taken to promote solar energy in Pakistan.  

“Coalition govt will soon introduce the country's first comprehensive solar policy after approval of the CCI [Council of Common Interests],” Sharif said in a post shared on social media.

He said the initiative would “drastically cut” Pakistan’s imports and bring down the cost of electricity.

During the task force meeting, the prime minister was informed that up to 1,000 MW solar power plants would be installed on government buildings in the next 10 years on a ‘Build, Own, Operate and Transfer’ basis, according to state-run Radio Pakistan.  

The premier was told about the government’s efforts to power tube wells via solar energy and that a project in Balochistan was under consideration for that purpose.  

Sharif was quoted by Radio Pakistan as saying that the Prime Minister House and Prime Minister’s Office would be converted to solar energy on an emergency basis in a month’s time. The Presidency in Pakistan is already fully powered by green energy.

Earlier this month, Sharif’s government decided to reduce the official working week across Pakistan from six days to five.  

After taking office in April, Sharif had increased the working week to six days from five, with only Sunday as a day off, saying he wanted to increase productivity. However, the enhanced work week resulted in greater electricity and fuel consumption by government offices and employees.


Child among nine killed in Pakistan mine flood

Updated 07 July 2022

Child among nine killed in Pakistan mine flood

  • Police said torrential monsoon rain inundated the mine in Jhampir in Sindh province
  • Poverty and the weak implementation of labour laws see millions of children exploited

KARACHI: A 12-year-old boy suspected to be working illegally at a coal mine was among at least nine people killed by a flash flood at a quarry in southern Pakistan, officials said Thursday.
Police said torrential monsoon rain inundated the mine in Jhampir, 120 kilometres (75 miles) east of Karachi.
Poverty and the weak implementation of labour laws see millions of children exploited in often hazardous work environments in Pakistan.
"The mine is about 350 feet (110 metres) deep and we are trying to recover the body of the boy," Zahid Sheikh, a local police officer told AFP.
The chief minister of southern Sindh province, where the mine is located, has ordered an enquiry, officials said.


'Mack Solo': Weather delays Karachi landing of youngest pilot on round-the-world record attempt

Updated 07 July 2022

'Mack Solo': Weather delays Karachi landing of youngest pilot on round-the-world record attempt

  • 17-year-old Mack Rutherford inspired by sister who became youngest woman to fly solo around the world
  • Had to cancel scheduled flight from Dubai to Karachi on Thursday afternoon due to unfavorable weather 

KARACHI: A 17-year old Belgian-British pilot who is attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the world solo in a small plane canceled his scheduled flight to Karachi from Dubai on Thursday afternoon due to unfavorable weather conditions, his team said.

Mack Rutherford was scheduled to land in Karachi at 2pm PST and stay for two-days before flying onwards to the Indian city of Ahmedabad as part of his journey to fly to 52 countries in five continents to break the record of Travis Ludlow, who completed the feat in 2021 at 18.

Rutherford will now re-attempt to fly to the Pakistani port city on Friday morning.

Rutherford comes from a family of aviators and was inspired to take on his latest journey by his sister, Zara Rutherford, who in January this year became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. He wanted to fly since he was eleven, having flown hundreds of hours with his father who is a professional pilot. He received his microlight pilot’s license when he was 15.3 years old, making him at the time the youngest pilot in the world.

“With this trip, I hope to show that young people can make a difference and that you don’t have to wait until you are 18 to follow your dreams,” Rutherford told Arab News from Dubai. “You can start working toward them now.”

“I am expecting an amazing and unique experience in Pakistan,” he added. “I have heard Pakistan is very different from other places with deserts and mountains and I can’t wait to see it for myself.”

“I am happy to find out what the local food is and try it out,” he added.

Mack Rutherford, who is attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the world solo in a small plane, seen before kicking off his world mission from Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 23, 2022 (Photo Courtesy: Team Mack Rutherford)

Rutherford started his journey in March from Sofia, Bulgaria, from where he flew south across the Mediterranean and through the Sahara to the Congolese jungle. Turning east through Mozambique and Madagascar, he reached the far eastern Mauritius island of Rodrigues. He then north through his first antipodal point before continuing through the Seychelles and the Yemeni island of Socotra.

He then went onwards through Oman and the UAE. Rutherford arrived in Dubai five weeks ago and struggled to get an Iranian visa but changed his plan and decided to skip Iran. He also couldn’t make it to Russia due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

He will now fly onwards to India, China, South Korea and Japan, then enter Alaska and go down the West Coast of the US, to Baja California, and a small island in the Pacific, Isla Socorro, his second and last antipodal.

The last leg of Rutherford’s journey will take him through mainland Mexico and Texas, to New York and Canada. He will also visit Greenland and Iceland to cross the Atlantic to Scotland before continuing through England to Belgium and returning to Sofia.

“I want to use the opportunity to meet young people on my route who do incredible things, making a difference to their communities or even to the world,” Rutherford said. “Often few people know about them. Together we can show that young people make a difference.”

Mack Rutherford, who is attempting to become the youngest person to fly across the world solo in a small plane, in Dubai, UAE, in June, 2022 (Photo Courtesy: Team Mack Rutherford)

Rutherford said his journey had been “amazing” so far.

“I had some amazing flights over Kenya and Sudan,” he told Arab News. “Where I was able to see incredible deserts and wildlife.”


Pakistani policeman killed, 4 wounded in hand grenade attack

Updated 07 July 2022

Pakistani policeman killed, 4 wounded in hand grenade attack

  • Officers transported the dead and wounded to a nearby hospital after the assault in Mardan
  • No one immediately claimed responsibility and the attackers’ identities were not released

PESHAWAR: Attackers threw a hand grenade at a roadside police post in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing an officer and wounding four people before fleeing the scene, local officials said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility and the attackers’ identities were not released after the assault in Mardan, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.

Police spokesman Adnan Khan said officers transported the dead and wounded to a nearby hospital. He provided no further details and said officers were still investigating.

Pakistan’s northwestern former tribal regions share a lengthy porous border with Afghanistan and for years served as a safe haven for militants. The military carried out massive operations to clear the area, forcing the militants to escape into Afghanistan or hide in other areas near the border. 


'In the mouth of dragons': Melting glaciers threaten Pakistan’s north

Updated 07 July 2022

'In the mouth of dragons': Melting glaciers threaten Pakistan’s north

  • Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere else on Earth outside the poles 
  • Rising global temperatures linked to climate change are causing the glaciers to rapidly melt 

HASSANABAD, Pakistan: As dawn broke over Javed Rahi’s Pakistani mountain village, a loud boom shattered the silence and a torrent of water came cascading down from the melting glacier nearby, followed by a thick cloud of smoke.

Rahi, a retired maths teacher, had been due to attend his nephew’s wedding the day the flood rushed through the village of Hassanabad.

“I expected women and children to sing and dance... Instead I heard them screaming in terror,” the 67-year-old said.

“It was like doomsday.”

In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, the remains of two electrical power stations are seen after they were swept away by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

The flood — which occurred as a heatwave was gripping South Asia in May — swept away nine homes in the village and damaged half a dozen more.

The water also washed away two small hydro plants and a bridge that connected the remote community to the outside world.

In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, locals and tourists drive through a temporary bridge after the main bridge was swept away by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere else on Earth outside the poles.

Rising global temperatures linked to climate change are causing the glaciers to rapidly melt, creating thousands of glacial lakes.

The government has warned that 33 of these lakes — all located in the spectacular Himalaya, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain ranges that intersect in Pakistan — are at risk of bursting and releasing millions of cubic meters of water and debris in just a few hours, like in Hassanabad.

At least 16 such glacial lake outburst floods linked to heatwaves have occurred this year already, compared with an average of five or six per year, the Pakistani government said earlier this week.

The devastation caused by such floods makes recovery for impacted communities an arduous task.

After disaster struck Hassanabad, Rahi and fellow villagers who lost their homes had to move to a nearby camp for displaced people.

In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, local resident Javed Rahi shows damages in his home caused by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. Pakistan is home to more than 7,000 glaciers, more than anywhere else on Earth outside the poles. (AFP)

Inside their makeshift tents are the few belongings they managed to salvage and mattresses to sleep on.

“We never thought we would fall from riches to rags,” Rahi said.

In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, local residents pick cherries from a tree beside tents setup after their homes were swept by a lake outburst because of a melting glacier, in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

Pakistan is the world’s eighth most vulnerable country to extreme weather caused by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by the environmental NGO Germanwatch.

The country is experiencing earlier, hotter and more frequent heatwaves, with temperatures already hitting 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) this year.

Floods and droughts in recent years have killed and displaced thousands of people, destroyed livelihoods, and damaged infrastructure.

In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, residents removes a door from a damaged house after a lake outburst because of a melting glacier in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

According to the UN Development Programme, a lack of information on glacial changes in Pakistan makes it difficult to predict hazards originating from them.

Although Hassanabad had an early warning system in place — including cameras that monitor water flow in glacial lakes — the villagers believed they were living high enough above the water to avoid any impact, according to local officials.

Zahida Sher, who lost her home in the Hassanabad flood, said the power of the water took out buildings that had previously been considered safe.

The mountain communities depend on their livestock, orchards, farms and tourism for survival, but climate change threatens all of it.

“Our economy is agrarian and people don’t have enough resources to move from here,” said Sher, a researcher for a local development NGO.

In this picture taken on June 9, 2022, residents removes a door from a damaged house after a lake outburst because of a melting glacier in Hassanabad village of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan region. (AFP)

Siddique Ullah Baig, a disaster risk reduction analyst in the northern region, said around seven million people are vulnerable to such events, but many are not aware of the gravity of the threat.

“People are still constructing homes in areas declared as a red zone for flooding. Our people are not aware and prepared to deal with any possible disaster,” he told AFP.

Further north of Hassanabad lies Passu, another precarious hamlet that has already lost around 70 percent of its population and area after being hit by floods and natural river erosion.

The village is sandwiched between White glacier in the south, Batura glacier in the north and the Hunza River in the east — three forces given the respectful title of “dragons” because of their destructive power.

“Passu village lies in the mouths of these three dragons,” said local scholar Ali Qurban Mughani, pointing to the centuries-old bodies of dense ice towering over the village.

As he spoke, laborers worked on a protective concrete wall on a riverbank — a bid to shield the village from further erosion.

Kamran Iqbal invested 500,000 rupees (around $2,400) that he borrowed from a local NGO to open a picnic spot for visitors with a breathtaking view.

The beauty of the glaciers has made the region one of the country’s top tourist destinations.

Business was flourishing until a “horror night” last year when a flash flood washed away Iqbal’s investment.

Even the most ambitious international climate targets of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century could lead to the melting of one third of Pakistan’s glaciers, the Nepal-based scientific organization the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development said in a 2019 study.

“In 2040 we could start facing problems of (water) scarcity that could lead to drought and desertification — and before that we may have to cope with frequent and intense riverine flooding, and of course flash floods,” said Aisha Khan, head of the Mountain and Glacier Protection Organization, which researches glaciers in Pakistan.

Home to more than 220 million people, Pakistan says it is responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Yet it remains highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture and natural resources.

“There are no factories or industries here that can cause pollution... We have a clean environment,” said Amanullah Khan, a 60-year village elder in Passu.

“But when it comes to the threats posed by climate change, we are at the forefront.”

Asif Sakhi, a political activist from Passu, said mountain communities were increasingly fearful about the perils posed by glaciers.

“This area belongs to glaciers; we have occupied it,” the 32-year-old said.