Extreme temperatures compound poverty in Pakistan’s hottest city

In this picture taken on May 11, 2022, a woman uses a paper sheet to fan her child amid a power cut during a heatwave in Jacobabad, in the southern Sindh province. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2022

Extreme temperatures compound poverty in Pakistan’s hottest city

  • Jacobabad in arid Sindh province is in the grip of latest heatwave to hit South Asia
  • Temperatures were peaking at 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit) at the weekend

JACOBABAD: By the time Pakistani schoolboy Saeed Ali arrived at hospital in one of the world’s hottest cities, his body was shutting down from heatstroke.
The 12-year-old collapsed after walking home from school under the burning sun, his day spent sweltering in a classroom with no fans.
“A rickshaw driver had to carry my son here. He couldn’t even walk,” the boy’s mother Shaheela Jamali told AFP from his bedside.
Jacobabad in Pakistan’s arid Sindh province is in the grip of the latest heatwave to hit South Asia — peaking at 51 degrees Celsius (124 Fahrenheit) at the weekend.




In this picture taken on May 11, 2022, a boy fills a container from a hand pump during a heatwave in Jacobabad, in the southern Sindh province. (AFP)

Canals in the city — a vital source of irrigation for nearby farms — have run dry, with a smattering of stagnant water barely visible around strewn rubbish.
Experts say the searing weather is in line with projections for global warming.
The city is on the “front line of climate change,” said its deputy commissioner Abdul Hafeez Siyal. “The overall quality of life here is suffering.”




A vendor holds carries drinks for customers at a market during a hot summer day in Rawalpindi on May 17, 2022. (AFP)

Most of the one million people in Jacobabad and surrounding villages live in acute poverty, with water shortages and power cuts compromising their ability to beat the heat.
It leaves residents facing desperate dilemmas.
Doctors said Saeed was in a critical condition, but his mother — driven by a desire to escape poverty — said he would return to school next week.
“We don’t want them to grow up to be laborers,” Jamali told AFP, her son listless and tearful at her side.
Heatstroke — when the body becomes so overheated it can no longer cool itself — can cause symptoms from lightheadedness and nausea to organ swelling, unconsciousness, and even death.
Nurse Bashir Ahmed, who treated Saeed at a new heatstroke clinic run by local NGO Community Development Foundation, said the number of patients arriving in a serious condition was rising.
“Previously, the heat would be at its peak in June and July, but now it’s arriving in May,” Ahmed said.
Laborers forced to toil in the sun are among the most vulnerable.




A man cools off as water splashes from a broken water pipe during a hot summer day in Karachi on May 17, 2022. (AFP)

Brick kiln workers ply their trade alongside furnaces that can reach up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.
“The severe heat makes us feel like throwing up sometimes, but if I can’t work, I can’t earn,” said Rasheed Rind, who started on the site as a child.
Life in Jacobabad is dominated by attempts to cope with the heat.
“It’s like fire burning all around. What we need the most is electricity and water,” said blacksmith Shafi Mohammad.
Power shortages mean only six hours of electricity a day in rural areas and 12 in the city.
Access to drinking water is unreliable and unaffordable due to scarcity across Pakistan and major infrastructure problems.
Khairun Nissa gave birth during the heatwave, her last days of pregnancy spent wilting under a single ceiling fan shared between her family of 13.
Her two-day-old son now occupies her spot under its feeble breeze.




A boy carries water bottles on his return from school during a hot summer day in Rawalpindi on May 17, 2022. (AFP)

“Of course I’m worried about him in this heat, but I know God will provide for us,” said Nissa.
Outside their three-room brick home, where the stench of rotting rubbish and stagnant water hangs in the air, a government-installed water tap runs dry.
But local “water mafias” are filling the supply gap.
They have tapped into government reserves to funnel water to their own distribution points where cans are filled and transported by donkey cart to be sold at 20 rupees (25 cents) per 20 liters.
“If our water plants weren’t here, there would be major difficulties for the people of Jacobabad,” said Zafar Ullah Lashari, who operates an unlicensed, unregulated water supply.
In a farming village on the outskirts of the city, women wake up at 3am to pump drinking water all day from a well — but it is never enough.
“We prefer our cattle to have clean drinking water first, because our livelihood depends on them,” said Abdul Sattar, who raises buffaloes for milk and sale at market.
There is no compromise on this, even when children suffer skin conditions and diarrhea.




A ragpicker searches for recyclable materials in Rawalpindi on May 17, 2022. (AFP)

“It is a difficult choice but if the cattle die, how would the children eat?” he said.
Pakistan is the eighth most vulnerable country to extreme weather caused by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch.
Floods, droughts and cyclones in recent years have killed and displaced thousands, destroyed livelihoods and damaged infrastructure.
Many people choose to leave Jacobabad in the hottest months, leaving some villages half empty.
Sharaf Khatoon shares a makeshift camp in the city with up to 100 people surviving on a few meagre rupees that male family members earn through menial labor.
They usually relocate the camp in the hottest months, 300 kilometers away to Quetta, where temperatures are up to 20 degrees Celsius cooler.
But this year they will leave late, struggling to save the money for the journey.
“We have headaches, unusual heartbeats, skin problems, but there is nothing we can do about it,” said Khatoon.
Professor Nausheen H. Anwar, who studies urban planning in hot cities, said authorities need to look beyond emergency responses and think long term.
“Taking heatwaves seriously is important, but sustained chronic heat exposure is particularly critical,” she said.




A man uses a water pipe to cool off on a hot summer day in Karachi on May 17, 2022. (AFP)

“It’s exacerbated in places like Jacobabad by the degradation of infrastructure and access to water and electricity which compromises people’s capacity to cope.”
Along a dried up canal filled with rubbish, hundreds of boys and a handful of girls in Jacobabad pour into a school for their end-of-year exams.
They gather around a hand pump to gulp down water, exhausted even before the day begins.
“The biggest issue we face is not having basic facilities — that’s why we experience more difficulties,” said headteacher Rashid Ahmed Khalhoro.
“We try to keep the children’s morale high but the heat impacts their mental and physical health.”




In this picture taken on May 11, 2022, a woman fans her children amid a power cut during a heatwave in Jacobabad, in the southern Sindh province. (AFP)

With extreme temperatures arriving earlier in the year, he appealed to the government to bring forward summer vacations, which normally begin in June.
A few classrooms have fans, though most do not. When the electricity is cut just an hour into the school day, everyone swelters in semi-darkness.
Some rooms become so unbearable that children are moved into corridors, with youngsters frequently fainting.
“We suffocate in the heat. We sweat profusely and our clothes get drenched,” said 15-year-old Ali Raza.
The boys told AFP they suffered from headaches and frequent diarrhea but refused to skip lessons.
Khalhoro said his students are determined to break out of poverty and find jobs where they can escape the heat.
“They are prepared as though they are on a battlefield, with the motivation that they must achieve something.”


Pakistan approves imports in local currency from neighboring Afghanistan

Updated 12 sec ago

Pakistan approves imports in local currency from neighboring Afghanistan

  • The move is mainly aimed at buying coal to help ease energy shortages
  • Pakistan has shortage of forex reserves to buy LNG, oil in international market 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Tuesday approved imports from neighboring Afghanistan in exchange for local currency, a move mainly aimed at buying coal to help ease an energy shortage.
The decision was taken in a meeting of Pakistan’s Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), a finance ministry statement said.
The ECC approved amendment in the Import Policy Order 2022 “to allow import of goods of Afghan origin against Pak Rupee” for a period of one year, it said.
The move is aimed at importing Afghan coal for Pakistan as it faces an energy crises due to a shortage of foreign reserves to buy LNG or oil in the international market to run its power plants.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced plans last week to import coal from Afghanistan using local currency to save foreign reserves.
Islamabad has already announced an easy visa regime for Afghan nationals to help facilitate trade on both sides of the border. An Afghan finance ministry spokesman did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Customs duties from coal exported to Pakistan are a key source of revenue for cash-strapped Afghanistan. Sanctions on the banking sector and the cut in development aid since the Taliban took control last August year have severely hampered its economy.
No country has officially recognized the Taliban government, which has meant international financial assistance has dried up while Afghanistan faces a humanitarian and economic crisis.
The Afghan Taliban have lately stepped up coal exports to Pakistan to generate more revenue from its mining sector in the absence of direct foreign funding.
Kabul has raised duties on sales and increased rates recently.
Pakistan has also been facing an economic crises, with foreign reserves falling as low as hardly enough for 45 days of imports.


Media watchdog demands Pakistan ensure safety as two reporters killed in two days

Updated 05 July 2022

Media watchdog demands Pakistan ensure safety as two reporters killed in two days

  • Gunmen killed Ishtiaq Sodharo of Sindhi weekly Chinag in Khairpur district in Sindh province on July 1
  • Iftikhar Ahmed from Daily Express shot dead in northwestern Pakistani district of Charsadda the next day

ISLAMABAD: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on Tuesday demanded the Pakistani government ensure the safety of journalists, days after gunmen killed two reporters within two days in two separate incidents.

Unidentified assailants killed Ishtiaq Sodharo, associated with the Sindhi weekly Chinag, in Khairpur district of the southern Sindh province on July 1. A day later, Iftikhar Ahmed, a reporter for the Daily Express, was shot dead in the northwestern Pakistani district of Charsadda. Police are investigating the motive behind Ahmed’s death, including personal enmity, while Sodharo’s wife has alleged he was killed on the orders of a local policeman. 

The IFJ condemned the murders and called on the Pakistani authorities to fulfil their international obligations under Pakistan’s constitution to safeguard press freedom.

“Pakistan’s government must take appropriate measures to ensure journalists’ safety and security, as required by law, and act to reduce assaults on journalists so that they may carry out their work without fear,” the IFJ said in a statement on its website.

Pakistan is considered a dangerous country for journalists who often have to face violence, legal cases, abductions, detentions and threats from both state and non-state actors. 

In May, the country fell 12 points on the World Press Freedom Index from 145 in 2021 to 157 in 2022.


Pakistan concludes Hajj flights, all 83,312 pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia

Updated 05 July 2022

Pakistan concludes Hajj flights, all 83,312 pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia

  • 34,453 pilgrims traveled under government scheme and over 48,000 through private operators
  • 52 flights have utilized the Route to Makkah immigration facility at Islamabad airport this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s director-general of Hajj in Jeddah said on Tuesday the country’s Hajj flight operation was complete and all 83,312 Pakistani pilgrims had arrived in Saudi Arabia. 

One of Islam’s five main pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to only 1,000 people living in the Kingdom in 2020 and to 60,000 domestic participants last year, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million pilgrims annually. 

This year, after Saudi Arabia lifted COVID-19 restrictions, the kingdom will welcome one million domestic and foreign pilgrims. A quota of 81,132 pilgrims was initially allocated for Pakistan this year, which was later increased by 2,000.

“Our Hajj flights have been completed and all 83,312 Pakistani pilgrims have arrived in Makkah,” DG Hajj, Abrar Ahmed Mirza, told Arab News over the phone from Makkah.

He said 34,453 pilgrims had traveled under the government scheme and over 48,000 through private operators.

“We are now giving them training on Hajj rituals which are starting from Wednesday especially preparing them for Mina, Arafat, and Muzdalifah where pilgrims from all over the world move at the same time,” Mirza said.

Haseeb Ahmed Siddiqui, the director of the Hajj Complex in Islamabad, said 52 flights had utilized the Route to Makkah facility at Islamabad airport this year. 

The Route to Makkah initiative allows pilgrims to fulfil all immigration requirements at the airport of origin. This saves them several hours upon reaching the kingdom since they can enter the country, having already gone through immigration at home. 

“17,077 pilgrims proceeded to the Kingdom under Route to Makkah project using 52 flights this year,” Siddiqui told Arab News.

Adeel Ahmed, a pilgrim from Rawalpindi, said he had no words to express his happiness at being selected for the pilgrimage.

“My name was not part of the first draft and I got a chance at the last moment,” Ahmed told Arab News. “I am unable to share my feelings and happiness as Allah has granted me this privilege to fulfill my dream.” 

Sumera Kiran, another pilgrim from Rawalpindi, expressed satisfaction with arrangements at the airport.

“The [Saudi] government and Pakistani authorities have done very good arrangements at the airport,” she said, adding that she had received her luggage at the hotel.


Pakistan central bank may raise rates by 125 bps to tame 13-year high inflation

Updated 05 July 2022

Pakistan central bank may raise rates by 125 bps to tame 13-year high inflation

  • The South Asian nation is wrestling with economic turmoil, a fall in reserves and a weakening currency
  • Another hike would increase government debt servicing costs as well as hurt industries, says an economist

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s central bank looks set to raise its key policy rate by 125 basis points at its review on Thursday, as it attempts to tackle 13-year high retail inflation, according to the median estimate in a snap poll of 10 economists and market watchers. 

The economists, analysts and senior professors surveyed were widely split on the quantum of increase by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), with views ranging from 50 to 200 basis points. 

Two respondents did not see a need for a rate increase. 

The central bank raised the benchmark interest rate by 150 bps in May, taking the total increase to 400 bps so far this year to counter rising inflation. 

The South Asian nation is wrestling with economic turmoil, a fall in reserves and a weakening currency. 

Data on Friday showed consumer prices in June leapt 21.3 percent from a year earlier, largely on account of a 90 percent spike in fuel prices since the end of May after the government scrapped costly fuel subsidies. 

With the current policy rate at 13.75 percent and inflation running well above, real interest rates in the economy have turned sharply negative. 

“The last monetary policy committee statement is proof that the State Bank of Pakistan is way behind the curve on anticipating inflation,” said Yousuf Nazar, an economist who writes for various publications and formerly with Citigroup. 

“Another hike would increase government debt servicing costs as well as hurt industries. 

It is not going to have much of an impact on exchange rate or overall demand,” he added. 

Most believed a hike was inevitable, given persistently high global energy prices, the abrupt ending of fuel subsidies as well as the need to control demand after SBP said in its last policy statement the economy had rebounded much more strongly than anticipated. 

“The overall policy mix is geared toward stabilization and demand management,” CEO of Macro Economic Insights Sakib Sherani said, adding that this will induce a sharp slowdown in the economy, possibly a recession, in the short run. 

But Fahad Rauf, head of research at Ismail Iqbal Securities, said he does not see the need to increase rates further. 

“The economy is already slowing down. The layoffs have started and are expected to increase further. 

Further cost pressures would only enhance the burden on industries and workers,” Rauf said. 

“The fiscal arm is working now, tough measures have been taken. SBP needs to wait for the results before further tightening,” he added. 

With Pakistan expecting a restart of the much-awaited bailout package from the International Monetary Fund after the country agreed on some tough economic policy adjustments to promote stability, the SBP’s decision is being closely watched. 


Dubai-bound Indian airline plane makes ‘emergency landing’ in Karachi

Updated 05 July 2022

Dubai-bound Indian airline plane makes ‘emergency landing’ in Karachi

  • India’s SpiceJet airline says plane diverted to Karachi due to indicator light malfunctioning
  • The B737 aircraft landed at Karachi airport at around 9am where it’s currently being repaired

ISLAMABAD: A Dubai-bound Indian airline plane on Tuesday made an “emergency landing” in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) said. 

The B737 aircraft flew from New Delhi for Dubai this morning, according to the PCAA. The pilot requested Pakistani aviation authorities for an “emergency landing” because of a fuel leak. 

“An aircraft of SpiceJet going from Delhi to Dubai sought permission for emergency landing which was granted and the aircraft with 138 passengers on board landed at Karachi airport after 9am today,” PCAA spokesman Saifullah told Arab News. 

“The aircraft was diverted to Karachi airport for landing after fuel leakage.” 

SpiceJet, however, said the plane was diverted due to “indicator light malfunctioning.” 

“No emergency was declared and the aircraft made a normal landing. There was no earlier report of any malfunction with the aircraft,” the airline said in a series of tweets. 

“A replacement aircraft is being sent to Karachi that will take the passengers to Dubai.” 

 

 

The PCAA spokesman said all passengers had been moved to the transit longue of the airport, where they were provided food and refreshments. 

“The aircraft is currently being repaired,” Saifullah added.