Devastating rains fuel major climate migrant crisis in southern Pakistan

A man poses with children at a climate migrants’ relief camp in Umerkot, Pakistan on August 28, 2022. (AN Photo/ Zulfiqar Kunbhar)
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Updated 25 September 2022

Devastating rains fuel major climate migrant crisis in southern Pakistan

  • Hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan are forced to migrate every year because of rapidly changing weather patterns
  • Experts call for a national rehabilitation plan as Pakistan is expected to have around 2 million climate migrants by 2050

UMERKOT/THATTA: Ameer Ali, a 54-year-old agricultural worker, traveled some 70 kilometers to the southern Pakistani coastal district of Thatta from his native village in Sujawal district in mid-August, when floods washed away his home and the rice crop on the field where he worked. Ali is one of hundreds of thousands of people in Pakistan who have been forced to migrate because of heavy monsoon rains resulting from changing weather patterns.

Monsoon downpours and subsequent floods have caused widespread death and destruction in Pakistan, with more than 1,100 people killed, 33 million affected and large swathes of prime farmland washed away. The southern Sindh province is worst affected, where rains and flash floods have damaged 840,723 houses.

Officials have blamed the devastation on human-driven climate change, saying Pakistan is unfairly bearing the consequences of irresponsible environmental practices elsewhere in the world.

Ali, who has rented a house in Thatta for his 11-member family, says he has migrated at least thrice in the last 35 years as a natural calamity hit the region every decade or so.

 Climate migrant Ameer Ali poses with a computerized national identity card in Thatta, Pakistan on August 27, 2022. (AN Photo/ Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

“I migrated in 1988 because of floods, followed by a cyclone in 1999. I still remember many among us died in the cyclone,” the 54-year-old told Arab News in Thatta on Sunday.

“In 2010, I migrated because of floods.”

Ali says they no longer feel safe because of rains, floods and cyclones hitting the region after every few years. But his problems do not just end here.

“Here in Thatta, my sons and I hardly find any livelihood. So I am worried about paying rent,” he said. “Until the flood water drains out, we cannot return whether it takes two months or three.”

Meals are being served to migrant women in Umerkot, Pakistan on August 28, 2022. (AN Photo/ Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Sindh’s Umerkot district in the Thar desert region traditionally witnesses migrant outflux in the drought season from March till early-June. Locals migrate with their livestock toward riverine areas of the province along the Indus River. But the ongoing monsoon rains have caused a reverse migration this year and people have been migrating toward the desert from riverine areas.

Sakeena Bibi, 40, also traveled around 40 kilometers along with her family from Bachaband area in Mirpurkhas district to Umerkot. She and her neighbors, mostly agricultural workers, were forced to vacate their area after flash floods destroyed their houses. Like Ali, this meant a loss of her livelihood as well.

“We were drowned. Floods left nothing for us. Only helpless people leave their houses,” Bibi told Arab News in Umerkot.

“I am living in open camps with my adult daughters. Mostly we starve here. Mosquitoes and contaminated water are making us sick, especially children.”

In 2020, more than 18 million people in South Asia were climate migrants who were forced to move to other areas due to slow-onset impacts of sea-level rise, water stress, crop yield reductions, ecosystem loss and drought, according to a report by ActionAid, a Johannesburg-based international organization working on a range of development issues.

Women pose for a photo inside a tent at a rain migrants’ relief camp in Umerkot, Pakistan on August 28, 2022. (AN Photo/ Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

Pakistan alone is expected to have around 2 million climate migrants by 2050, not including those who would be displaced due to the sudden onset of climate disasters, such as floods and cyclones, the report said.

Experts stress the need for a national rehabilitation plan to address the issue of climate-induced migration.

“In wake of future climate change challenges, climate-induced migration is likely to increase in big cities. With already poor infrastructure, our big cities cannot bear the huge influx of climate migrants. So there is a need to improve infrastructure at the town level,” said Professor Noman Ahmed, dean at the department of architecture and planning at Karachi’s NED University.

“As per estimates, Pakistan’s urban population would increase to 50 percent by 2030 from the existing 36 percent. Fifty-four percent of the country’s urban population lives in 10 big cities. At present there are 550 towns and big cities. In order to stop the inflow of population into these big cities, we need to improve facilities, health, education and livelihood infrastructure in the remaining 540 towns.”

Women form queues for meal at a rain migrants’ relief camp in Umerkot, Pakistan on August 28, 2022. (AN Photo/ Zulfiqar Kunbhar)

For the people uprooted nowadays, he said, it was very important to return to their respective areas and start their life positively when the flood water receded.

Climate-induced displacement and migration influenced the society’s socio-economic dynamics, causing greater inequalities, whereas displaced rural communities in Pakistan were least prepared to cope with floods and droughts, according to a 2020 study by the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA), a coalition of over 250 civil society organizations working in eight South Asian countries.

Maryam Shabbir Abbasi, a US-based Pakistani who co-authored the SDPI study, says it is high time for the government to make a national and sub-national level migration policy that would focus on climate-induced migration planning and management.

“The better way to manage climate induced migration is to invest in capacity building of locals. They should be provided with necessary funds to use for mobility during disasters like floods,” Abbasi told Arab News.

“It is important to form an effective approach with institutional support and take adaptive measures if we want to reduce vulnerabilities as well as the number of migrants.”

Climate migrant Sakeena Bibi communicates over a mobile phone at a rain migrants’ relief camp in Umerkot, Pakistan on August 28, 2022. (AN Photo/ Zulfiqar Kunbhar)


After months of acrimony, ex-PM Khan’s party says wants to improve ties with army

Updated 05 December 2022

After months of acrimony, ex-PM Khan’s party says wants to improve ties with army

  • PTI had a particularly tense relationship with the military since Khan was ousted from power in April last year
  • PTI confirms “informal communications” had begun with federal government on announcement of snap polls

ISLAMABAD: A top leader of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said on Monday the party wanted to improve its relations with the country’s all-powerful army, confirming that discussions on early elections were ongoing with the federal government. 

Khan was ousted from the office of prime minister in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in April. He has since blamed his removal on a conspiracy hatched by the United States, the country’s military, and his political opponents, all of whom deny the charge. 

The ex-premier particularly criticized former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa for not blocking his ouster and backing the new collation government of PM Shehbaz Sharif instead. However, after Bajwa retired last month and a new army chief, General Asim Munir, was appointed, Khan expressed hope of an end to what he called a “prevailing trust deficit between the army and the public.”

The army has ruled Pakistan for nearly half its 75-year history and plays a central role in internal politics and foreign policy. 

Speaking at a presser in Lahore, PTI’s Senior Vice President Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said the Sharif government was trying to sabotage the PTI’s recent repeated attempts to mend ties with the army.

“While we are trying to lessen the tension that has existed between the PTI, the armed forces, and the judiciary for the last few months, some people, the federal government precisely, is trying to derail that process,” he said.

However, Hussain said the PTI wanted to move on toward general elections, confirming that “informal communications” between the PTI and the federal government on announcement of snap polls had begun.

“Either they can sit with us and talk, give us a date for the general elections ... or else we will dissolve our assemblies,” Hussain said, reiterating the PTI’s warning it would dissolve assemblies in the two provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, where the party is in majority. 

“We have tried to make them understand that no system other than elections can bring stability in the country,” Hussain told reporters.

PM Sharif has so far rejected the demand for snap polls, saying the election would be held as scheduled late next year.

Five militants, soldier killed in shootout in Northwest Pakistan – army

Updated 05 December 2022

Five militants, soldier killed in shootout in Northwest Pakistan – army

  • Pakistani Taliban said their fighters killed a soldier during a raid by troops on their hideouts in North Waziristan
  • In a statement Monday, the group said it foiled the military raid but didn’t say whether it suffered any casualties

PESHAWAR: Security forces raided a militant hideout in a former Pakistani Taliban stronghold near the border with Afghanistan, triggering a shootout that killed five insurgents and a soldier, the military said Monday.

The shootout happened in North Waziristan, a district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, according to a military statement. It did not say when the fighting took place or provide details about the slain alleged militants. A message left with a military spokesperson was not immediately returned.

The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, said their fighters killed a soldier during a raid by troops on their hideouts in North Waziristan. In a statement Monday, the group said it foiled the military raid but didn’t say whether it suffered any casualties.

The Pakistani Taliban are a separate group but are allies of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan a year ago as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout. The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has emboldened the Pakistani Taliban.

Husband, mother-in-law indicted in grisly murder of woman with dumbbells in Islamabad

Updated 05 December 2022

Husband, mother-in-law indicted in grisly murder of woman with dumbbells in Islamabad

  • The court calls on the prosecution to summon witnesses on December 14, trial to be conducted by same judge who heard grisly murder case of Noor Mukadam 
  • 37-year-old Sarah Inam was allegedly murdered by husband on September 23 after she traveled to Pakistan when Shahnawaz Amir asked for divorce over text messages

ISLAMABAD: A district and sessions court on Monday indicted Shahnawaz Amir and his mother Sameena Shah in the grisly September murder of Pakistani-Canadian Sarah Inam, calling on the prosecution to summon its witnesses on December 14, the Inam family lawyer said.

Inam, a 37-year-old economist who worked in Abu Dhabi, was murdered with dumbbells, according to police, by her husband Shahnawaz Amir at a suburban Islamabad home on September 23.

Inam got married to the Amir of her own choice on July 18 in his hometown of Chakwal. The parents of the couple were not present at the event. Inam’s family has said she had met Amir only thrice before the marriage and had told the parents about the relationship after the marriage.

The indictment was issued by sessions court judge Atta Rabbani after he dismissed Shah’s application seeking to be discharged from the case. 

“Both Amir and Shah have been charged in the murder case and have been informed about all the charges against them,” Inam's family lawyer, Rao Abdul Raheem, told Arab News.

Shah’s lawyer Nisar Asghar said both suspects had pleaded not guilty.

“Shah is charged with abatement to a crime under section 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Amir is charged with murder under section 302 of the PPC,” Asghar told Arab News.

Raheem said the formal trial would now start and the court had asked the prosecutors to present witnesses on December 14.

“We expect that this would be a speedy trial like the Noor Mukadam murder case and the court will decide this case within three to five months,” he said. 

The judge hearing the case was the same one who heard the Mukadam case, the lawyer said, referring to the 27-year-old daughter of a diplomat who was beheaded by a male friend last year in a case that drew an outpouring of anger over femicides in the South Asian nation.

According to the first information report in the Inam murder case, Amir’s mother was present in the house at the time of the murder and had called the police on September 23 and informed them that her son had murdered his wife with a dumbbell. 

The police citation submitted by an investigation officer from Shahzad town police station said following an argument, Amir hit Inam with a showpiece and then hit her repeatedly with a dumbbell which caused her death. 

The police citation also said Amir had told police that after a fight with Inam over the phone while she was still in Abu Dhabi, the suspect had told her he wanted a divorce. This happened two days before the murder. 

Inam then traveled to Pakistan and arrived at Amir’s farmhouse in Chak Shehzad, Islamabad, from Abu Dhabi on September 22. The couple had an argument in Amir’s bedroom as Inam asked him about money she had wired him. The suspect subsequently beat her to death. 

After the murder, the accused dragged Inam’s body to the bathroom and hid it in the bathtub.

Speaking about the decision to indict Shah in the case, Raheem said:

“She [Shah] was present in the house at the time of the murder, and she is the owner of the house where CCTV cameras stopped working just two days prior to the incident.”

The lawyer added: “When she [Inam] was in Abu Dhabi, Amir divorced her through a message on WhatsApp and she then came to Islamabad to know the reasons behind divorcing her in such a way.”

Shah’s lawyer Asghar said the divorce was not finalized as it was just pronounced in a message while legal requirements had not yet been completed. 

“These are two different things, one is pronouncement of the divorce and the other is its completion, which requires issuance of a certificate by the same union council where Nikah took place,” he said.

“It does not mean that divorce has been completed as per the procedure given in the family laws of Pakistan. It was just pronounced but not confirmed and technically by the law, she was not divorced,” Asghar added.

Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan every year, while thousands more suffer brutal violence. But few cases receive sustained media attention, and only a small fraction of perpetrators are ever punished or convicted by courts.

But Mukadam’s shocking murder, involving members of the privileged elite of Pakistani society, triggered an explosive reaction from women’s rights activists reckoning with pervasive violence.

It also increased pressure for a swift conclusion of the trial in a country known to have a sluggish justice system and where cases typically drag on for years.

Mukadam’s killer Zahir Jaffer received the death sentence in March but has appealed it in a higher court. The case is ongoing.

Pakistan says Russia to sell discounted crude, Iran to send LPG aid for winter

Updated 05 December 2022

Pakistan says Russia to sell discounted crude, Iran to send LPG aid for winter

  • Junior oil minister says Pakistan in talks with private Russian companies on possible LNG deal
  • Malik says Iran to provide additional two million pounds of LPG to Pakistan in next 10 days

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s state minister for petroleum Dr. Musadik Malik said on Monday Russia had agreed to sell petroleum products to Pakistan at discounted rates.

The announcement comes after Malik and the petroleum secretary flew to Russia last month to hold talks on several issues, with oil and gas supplies deals topping the agenda.

The trip comes amid a domestic gas supply crisis in the South Asian country, aggravated because of winter. Pakistan is also battling to contain a current account deficit swelled by energy payments, mostly for oil.

Speaking at a presser in Islamabad, Malik said Pakistan would now be able to receive crude oil, petrol and diesel at lower prices.

“Our visit to Russia turned out to be more productive than we had anticipated as the country has agreed to provide us with petroleum products at affordable rates,” Malik said.

He added that Pakistan was also negotiating with private Russian countries to strike a possible LNG deal as well as holding talks with Russia’s state-owned LNG plants.

The minister said the Pakistani delegation had also spoken with Russian authorities about projects related to the installation of gas pipelines.

Answering a question related to the ongoing gas supply crisis in the country, the junior oil minister said he had issued instructions to ensure the supply of gas to homes during morning hours and meal-preparation times.

He said state-owned Sui Southern Gas Company was trying its best to manage the load during the winter season.

“In remote areas of the country where SSGC cannot supply gas, the government is providing liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) there to meet the shortage,” he said, adding that as compared to December 2021, more gas was being supplied to different parts of the country this year.

“We are importing 20,000 tons of LPG per month to meet the country’s needs, while Iran has also announced that it would provide 2 million pounds of LPG to Pakistan ... in the next 10 days,” Malik said.

Pakistan’s Finance Minister Ishaq Dar last month said the country was considering buying discounted Russian oil, pointing out that neighbor India was purchasing oil from Moscow and Islamabad also had the right to explore the possibility.

Pakistan has been unable to procure Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from the international market because spot prices remain out of its range and shipments under long-term deals remain insufficient to match rising demand.

Popular British High Commissioner Dr. Christian Turner to leave Pakistan

Updated 05 December 2022

Popular British High Commissioner Dr. Christian Turner to leave Pakistan

  • Turner posted to London as Director General Geopolitical at Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office
  • Position of Political Director, equivalent of Under Secretary of State, seen as UK’s second most senior diplomat

ISLAMABAD: British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr. Christian Turner CMG has been posted to London as Director General Geopolitical at the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the British Foreign Office said on Monday.

The position is equivalent to the Under Secretary of State.

Turner has been High Commissioner to Pakistan since December 2019 and is expected to depart the country and take up his new role in London by mid-January 2023. This follows the end of a standard three year diplomatic posting.

Over his three years as High Commissioner, Turner oversaw the UK’s COVID-19 repatriation efforts, welcomed a UK Foreign Secretary visit, lobbied for and secured direct flights from the UK to Pakistan, initiated a drive to double UK-Pakistan trade by 2025, ensured that the UK was at the forefront of the international Pakistan flood crisis response and played a pivotal role in the promotion of sports diplomacy and the return of the England Men’s cricket team to Pakistan following a 17-year absence.

“The last three years have been some of the most rewarding of my life, both professionally and personally,” Turner said in a statement. “I will continue closely to follow Pakistan’s future in my new role in London.”

The position of Political Director is traditionally seen as the UK’s second most senior diplomat who is responsible for bringing together the UK government’s cross-cutting geopolitical work on security, international architecture and alliances, as well as UK values.

No announcement has been made regarding the appointment of a new High Commissioner to Pakistan. The Deputy High Commissioner, Andrew Dalgleish, will take on the role of chargé d’affaires to cover the interim gap until a new High Commissioner arrives.

Prior to his appointment as High Commissioner to Pakistan, Turner was the Prime Minister’s International Affairs Adviser and Deputy National Security Adviser from April 2017 to July 2019. He previously served as the Director General, Political (Acting) and Director General for the Middle East and Africa, leading the UK organization of the London Syria Conference in February 2016.

From 2012 to 2015, Turker was British High Commissioner to Kenya, and from 2009 to 2012 he was FCO’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Between 1997 and 2008 he held various positions in the Foreign Office, the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street, including as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, as Secretary to the Economic & Domestic Committees of Cabinet, and as First Secretary in the British Embassy in Washington from 2002-2006.

Before joining the government, Turner made television documentaries, following the completion of his PhD. He is married with two children.