Pakistan plans to install 679 flood telemetry stations to avert disasters, save lives – official

Local residents watch flood waters flowing through an area after heavy rains in Bahrain town of Swat valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on August 31, 2022. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 October 2022

Pakistan plans to install 679 flood telemetry stations to avert disasters, save lives – official

  • The federal flood commission says the systems can be procured from international market and installed within in a year
  • Its top official maintains the 2017 flood protection plan could have averted damages to irrigation networks, small dams

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government plans to allocate some $69 million to acquire 679 flood telemetry stations from the international market and install them on rivers and streams for precise flood forecasts and early warning to protect vulnerable communities and regions, said a senior official in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

The federal flood commission prepared the proposal just weeks after much of the country was inundated in the wake of the torrential monsoon rains that killed over 1,700 people including 639 children since mid-June.

According to the official data, the devastating floods affected over 33 million people in 84 calamity-hit districts and killing over one million livestock across the country.

Pakistan has been ranked among the top ten countries adversely affected by climate change, though it contributes less than one percent to global carbon emissions.

“We have made a first ever national master plan on flood telemetry and it is composed of 679 stations,” Ahmed Kamal, chairman of the federal flood commission, told Arab News. “These stations are going to be placed on even the smallest of rivers and streams [to get early warning on floods].”

Kamal said the country’s Balochistan province along with parts of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan were “devoid of the flood telemetry system” which relies on automated recording and transmission technology which makes it easy to remotely monitor sources of flood risk.

He continued the system would help get a “precise and much-improved” flood forecast to protect communities, adding it was going to cost around Rs15 billion ($69 million) and could be installed within a year.

Currently, the country has only around 70 early warning systems, a majority of which are in the northern areas.

“I have already asked for the instructions to provinces,” Kamal said. “They should first install this system on all those points which got affected this year.”

He informed that various sites had already been identified on the basis of ground survey, adding that foreign donors, including the Asian Development Bank and World Bank, could help implement the project.

At present, Pakistan has only one integrated flood forecasting system in Lahore and the commission has proposed to set up similar systems in other parts of the country for timely and precise flood forecast.

Kamal said the country had prepared and effectively implemented at least three national flood protection plans from 1978 to 1987, 1988 to 1997 and 1998 to 2008. The fourth national plan was prepared, he continued, though it was not implemented due to “some sort of a drought-like situation” in the country.

After the 2010 deluge, Pakistan realized the importance of developing a flood protection plan which was prepared in 2015 with the help of the Netherlands.

The government also approved Rs332 billion ($1.5 billion) to implement it in May 2017. However, it could not happen due to the financial constraints.

“We were asked to rationalize [the plan], so we rationalized it and brought it down by only including the priority structures … with 95.98 [billion rupees or $439 million] as the new cost,” he said.

In October 2020, the revised plan was taken to the planning commission for approval, he informed. However, it was said the new scheme would only be endorsed if the required funding could be generated from foreign donors.

The government, subsequently, reached out to these international organizations but could not secure the required amount.

“By the time we were discussing this situation, the 2022 floods arrived,” Kamal said. “I think that thereafter there had been a much greater realization that perhaps we have not done justice with this very important sector.”

He added the commission would submit a fresh flood protection plan to the federal government by the end of the month.

“We are very much hopeful that this time it is going to be approved and funding shall be made available,” he said.

Asked if the flood protection plan could have helped avoid the recent flash floods and all the devastation if it were in place, the commission chairman said: “I should say that may be not hundred percent but to a certain good extent.”

“Look, there has been some damages to the flood infrastructure, the irrigation network, to small dams in the province of Balochistan, and all that could have been saved,” he continued. “That could have been averted.”

Kamal emphasized all public departments, including the federal flood commission, should get sufficient technical and human resource to deal with such challenges.

The proposed flood protection plan calls for the overhauling of river drainage system in Sindh, urban flood management and early warning system for major cities like Lahore, Karachi and Hyderabad.

It also mentions rainwater harvesting, water diversion structures to minimize damage from hill torrents and establishment of floodwater carrying channels along with the required telemetry system and vehicle-mounted weather radars.

Kamal said Pakistan did not use about 28 million acre-feet of water annually since the country’s total storage capacity was only 13.461 million acre-feet.

“There are more storages and dam projects in the pipeline,” he said, adding that the planning for new reservoirs for up to 2050 was in place which would have “the added advantage of providing us cheap hydropower.”


PM calls for 'global unity' to fight Islamophobia after desecration of Holy Quran in Denmark

Updated 34 min 32 sec ago

PM calls for 'global unity' to fight Islamophobia after desecration of Holy Quran in Denmark

  • Danish far-right politician torched a copy of the Holy Quran on Friday near a Copenhagen mosque
  • PM Shehbaz Sharif says desecration of Holy Quran 'highly offensive' act, calls on world to denounce it

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called for "global unity" to fight Islamophobia on Sunday amid increasing incidents of the desecration of the Holy Quran in Denmark and Sweden last week. 

The prime minister's comments came after a far-right Danish politician torched a copy of the Holy Quran on Friday near a mosque and outside the premises of the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen. 

Rasmus Paludan, known for his extremist stance towards Muslims, pulled a similar stunt in Stockholm last week. Paludan said he would repeat the act every Friday until Sweden is included in the NATO alliance. Turkey, whose support is crucial for Denmark to join the military alliance, has spoken out against Copenhagen's bid to join NATO. 

Paludan's Islamophobic acts have triggered anger among the Muslim community worldwide and evoked strong condemnations from Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries around the world. 

In a Twitter post, Pakistan's prime minister condemned the "highly offensive" incident, calling on the civilized world to denounce it as well

 

 

"The need for global unity to fight Islamophobia couldn't be more urgent than it is now. We are deeply hurt," he wrote on Twitter. 

Pakistan's foreign office on Saturday issued a strong statement against Paludan's act, describing it as "a senseless and deeply offensive" action. 

"This repetition of the vile act leaves little doubt in the minds of Muslims around the world that freedom of expression is being blatantly abused to spread religious hatred and incitement to violence," it had said. 


Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistan has to abide by tough IMF conditions out of ‘compulsion’ — defense minister

  • IMF wants Pakistan to reestablish market-based mechanism to determine Pakistani rupee's value
  • Defense Minister Khawaja Asif says government would try not to burden citizens under IMF’s conditions

ISLAMABAD: As Pakistan increased petrol prices by Rs35 per liter, Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif said on Sunday that the country had to agree to “very tough” conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) out of “compulsion” to address its economic woes.

The IMF’s mission is scheduled to visit Pakistan on January 31 to discuss the resumption of its $7 billion loan program, as Islamabad desperately seeks another loan tranche to shore up its foreign exchange reserves. Pakistan's forex reserves have declined to a staggering $3.6 billion, not even enough to cover a month of imports.

Earlier today, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced jacking up prices of petroleum products in the country by as much as Rs35 per liter. The minister said the decision was taken due to the Pakistani rupee's recent devaluation and up to an 11 percent increase in global fuel prices.

The hike in prices of petroleum products is part of the IMF's conditionalities to revive the stalled loan program, which requires Pakistan to do away with expensive energy subsidies. The price hike is expected to further increase decades-high inflation in the South Asian country. 

The global lender also wants Pakistan to reestablish a market-based mechanism to determine the value of the Pakistani rupee, which fell to a record low of 269.60 against the dollar in the open market this week. Such a mechanism is a key prior action for the country to receive IMF support.

“The IMF program, which we had to re-enter because of the [current] circumstances and out of compulsion, has set very strict and tough conditions for Pakistan,” Asif said on Sunday, speaking to reporters.

He added the government would undertake efforts to ensure the common man would not have to bear the economic burden of IMF’s conditions.

“We will try that only those belonging to the [upper] socioeconomic class will have to bear the economic burden of this crisis,” he said.

Answering a question related to the acute dearth of forex reserves in the country and the ensuing depreciation of the rupee against the dollar, the defense minister said people who have a foreign currency account in the country would still be able to withdraw “some” of their money in dollars.

“If someone here has a dollar account and wants to withdraw money from their banks, they can do so but in small amounts. For instance, if someone wants to take out money to pay for their children’s school fees, they can do so,” he clarified.

Asif also said the country’s imports, which had to be halted due to the dwindling reserves, were “gradually being relaxed.”

“Our exports are gradually being relaxed, so we will hopefully recover from the economic [turmoil] soon,” he said. “Slowly and gradually, things are being streamlined.”

Pakistan secured a $6 billion IMF bailout in 2019, which was topped up with another $1 billion last year. However, the lender then stalled disbursements in November due to Pakistan’s failure to make more progress on fiscal consolidation and economic reforms.


Pakistani FM heads to Moscow today as efforts on to finalize oil deal

Updated 29 January 2023

Pakistani FM heads to Moscow today as efforts on to finalize oil deal

  • Russia last week conceptually agreed to provide cheap crude oil to cash-strapped Pakistan on easy payment terms
  • Bhutto-Zardari will meet his Russian counterpart and deliberate upon the 'entire spectrum' of bilateral relations

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari will be leaving for Moscow today, according to the Pakistani foreign office, amid efforts to finalize an oil deal between cash-strapped Pakistan and Russia. 

This is Bhutto-Zardari maiden visit to Russia since becoming the foreign minister last year. It follows the visit of a Russian delegation to Islamabad to attend the 8th Pakistan-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) meetings in Islamabad earlier this month.  

The Russian delegation signed multiple memoranda of understanding with Pakistan in different sectors and also conceptually agreed to provide cheap crude oil to the cash-strapped South Asian nation, which has been struggling for months to meet its energy needs amid a severe forex crunch. 

In view of Pakistan’s deteriorating economic conditions and its forex reserves declining to a staggering $3.6 billion, Russia has also said it will allow Islamabad to pay for the energy imports in currencies of friendly countries. 

“Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will undertake an official visit to Moscow at the invitation of Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov from 29-30 January 2023,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Saturday. 

“The foreign minister will hold official talks with his Russian counterpart where the two sides would deliberate upon the entire spectrum of bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.” 

Over the decades, Pakistan-Russia ties have seen many ups and downs, mainly due to the Islamabad’s alliance with Washington. But in recent years, relations between the two states have warmed up as a countermeasure to proximity between India and the United States (US) on world issues. 

On Friday, Reuters reported that Independent Russian oil refiner Forteinvest had clinched a deal that will see 1,000 tons of Russian gasoline sent to Pakistan by land for the first time. 

The development came days after US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said “now is not the time” to bolster economic ties with Russia, as the West continues to find ways to curtail Moscow’s finances due to its invasion of Ukraine. 

The Pakistani government, however, reiterated that the South Asian country would go ahead with the oil deal with Russia, adding that all deals will be finalized by March and oil will arrive in Pakistan by the end of April.  


At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan

Updated 29 January 2023

At least 50 killed in twin transport mishaps in Pakistan

  • A passenger bus fell into a ravine and caught fire in Balochistan's Bela area, killing at least 40 people
  • In second mishap, 10 children were killed after their ferry capsized in country's northwest on Sunday

KARACHI: At least 50 people were killed in two separate transport tragedies in Pakistan on Sunday, officials said, renewing a debate about poor transport safety protocols in the South Asian country. 

In the first incident, a passenger bus fell into a ravine and later caught fire in Bela area of Pakistan's southwestern Balochistan province, where road accidents claim thousands of lives annually.  

Balochistan, a mountainous, desert region bordering Afghanistan and Iran, is Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, with a staggering 40,000-kilometer network of road infrastructure.  

According to the Motorway police, 6,000 to 8,000 people die each year in accidents across the Balochistan province, mainly on single-lane roads that have infamously come to be known as "killer highways."  

“A bus going from Quetta to Karachi plunged into a ravine and caught fire at around 3am,” Hamza Anjum Nadeem, the Bela assistant commissioner, told Arab News. "At least 39 bodies have been recovered and search for others is underway."  

Anjum later confirmed the death of another passenger, taking the count to 40. 

Of these, 38 dead bodies were being moved to the southern port city of Karachi, 177 kilometers away from Bela, for medico-legal formalities, Karachi Police Surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed told Arab News. 

Balochistan is the epicenter of the $64 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a road and infrastructure development plan, which aims to ultimately provide the shortest route for Chinese cargo headed for the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia.  

Major roads are slated for construction under the CPEC, including the road from Balochistan’s Khuzdar district to the Chinese-funded, deepwater port of Gwadar. But for now, the absence of dual carriageways, inadequate training of drivers, and a lack of highway patrols mean thousands continue to die on these roads each year.   

In another incident, 10 children died when their boat capsized in Tanda Dam lake near Kohat in the country's northwest, according to police. 

All of the dead recovered so far aged between seven and 14 years, local police official Mir Rauf told the AFP news agency. 

Rauf said 11 children had been rescued from the water, with six in critical condition. The boat was carrying between 25 and 30 students on a daytrip from a local madrassa when it overturned. 

“A rescue operation is underway,” Rauf said. 

Mass drownings are common in Pakistan, when aged and overloaded vessels lose their stability and pitch passengers into the water. 

In July, 18 women drowned when an overcrowded boat carrying a wedding party across the Indus river in Punjab province capsized. 

The South Asian country also has poor road safety controls and thousands of lives are lost to road crashes each year, particularly in the southwestern Balochistan province. 

According to the National Road Safety Strategy 2018-2030, a report administered by the Asian Development Bank that cited police data, 6,548 people died at the scene of accident on Pakistan’s roads in 2016. Of these, 355 fatalities happened on national highways and 6,003 on provincial roads.  

At least seven people were killed and 15 others were injured after a passenger bus collided with a truck in Balochistan's Killa Saifullah district this month.    

In June last year, 22 people were killed when a passenger bus veered off a narrow road and fell into a ravine in the same district.


Earthquake jolts Islamabad, adjacent Pakistani cities — USGS

Updated 29 January 2023

Earthquake jolts Islamabad, adjacent Pakistani cities — USGS

  • This is the 3rd time in a month Islamabad, parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa felt tremors
  • The residents of Islamabad share their experience on Twitter, calling it a ‘massive jolt’

ISLAMABAD: A magnitude 4.4 earthquake jolted the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and nearby cities on Sunday, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said, with many residents of the capital describing it as a “massive jolt” on Twitter.

According to the USGS, the earthquake struck at around 12:45pm Pakistan time, with its epicenter located 25.5 kilometers away from the capital at a depth of 32.4 kilometers.

However, Sabir Khan, a senior meteorologist at the National Seismic Monitoring Center (NSMC) in Islamabad said the magnitude of the earthquake was recorded 6.3 on the Richter scale, the state-run APP news agency reported.

No casualties have so far been reported in its wake.

“Stay safe Pakistan! It was a massive jolt,” Zubair Faisal Abbasi, an Islamabad resident, wrote o Twitter.

“Quite strong shaking in Islamabad #earthquake,” said Sana Jamal, another Islamabad resident.

This was the third time in a month that the Pakistani capital experienced tremors.

On January 19, several parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces were shaken when a 5.6-magnitude quake hit Islamabad, Charsada, Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan, and Shabqadar, the National Seismic Monitoring Center (NSMC) said.

Tremors were felt in Islamabad and parts of KP on January 5 as well.