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.”

Incessant heavy rains in northwestern Pakistan leave 4 dead, 17 injured

Updated 24 sec ago

Incessant heavy rains in northwestern Pakistan leave 4 dead, 17 injured

  • Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s disaster management authority says people died due to roof collapse
  • Heavy rains were also reported in Balochistan province where a woman from Harnai lost her life

PESHAWAR: Four people lost their lives while over a dozen were injured in rain-related incidents across Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in the last 24 hours, a senior official at the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said on Saturday.

Monsoon rains and floods killed more than 1,700 people and submerged about a third of Pakistan’s territory last year while affecting the lives of 33 million people. According to official statistics, 309 individuals were killed in KP and 600,000 were displaced in several districts of the province.

“We have witnessed intermittent downpour during the last five days in KP, but continuous rains with greater intensity have taken place in the last 24 hours that left four people dead and 17 others wounded,” PDMA spokesperson Taimur Ali told Arab News on Saturday.

He said that women and children were among those hospitalized after suffering injuries as the roofs of their houses collapsed due to heavy rain.
Ali added that six houses had been damaged across three districts of the province.

He informed that most reports of casualties and damages were arriving from Mardan, South Waziristan, Peshawar, and Khyber districts.

Bilal Faizi, the spokesperson for Rescue 1122, said continuous rain over the last two days had prompted officials of his department to stay on high alert and take precautionary measures across the province.

“As per unofficial reports,” he continued, “six persons have died and more than 20 injured due to persistent rain showers in different parts of the province.”
Faizi said that those who were injured would get free medical treatment at district hospitals.

“The local administration will also provide relief items to families whose houses were damaged in the rains,” he added.

Apart from KP, heavy rains were also reported in different districts of the southwestern Balochistan province. According to PDMA officials, a woman belonging to district Harnai lost her life after the roof of her house collapsed due to the heavy downpour.

(With additional reporting by Saadullah Akhtar from Quetta.)

Balochistan administration to launch green bus transport service in Quetta

Updated 15 min 6 sec ago

Balochistan administration to launch green bus transport service in Quetta

  • The project will initially be implemented with eight buses to facilitate commuters in different parts of the city
  • Local transporters have announced to boycott the service, asking officials to first discuss all the routes with them

QUETTA: The provincial administration of Balochistan has decided to launch the first-ever green bus project in Quetta to provide quality transport services to citizens, said a senior official on Saturday.

Other provinces in the country have already implemented similar plans by introducing metro bus services in places like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Multan.

Quetta has had an old public transport system for the last three decades, with an estimated 550 carriers to serve a population of about three million. 

However, there are only seven routes for the buses, making it difficult for people to commute to different locations in the city without hassle.

“The government purchased eight fleet buses in 2021 to start the green bus service in Quetta,” said the provincial transport secretary, Dr. Muhammad Aslam Baloch, while speaking to Arab News. “However, the project could not be implemented due to some reasons. Now, we have decided to resume it under a public-private partnership program.”

“Four buses will cover the transport routes from the Railway Station to Sariab Custom, and four will commute from the Railway Station to Baleli, an outskirt neighborhood in Quetta,” he continued. “We have decided to start the service within the next three months.”

This picture shows old local buses parked in one of the neighborhoods of Quetta city in Pakistan on March 25, 2023. (AN Photo)

Local transporters have announced to boycott the green bus service in Quetta, criticizing the government for not first discussing the routes with local bus owners who, they said, were already running their buses in many areas of the city.

“We will not allow the implementation of the green bus service project in Quetta since the government should first decide all the routes [with us],” Saeed Ahmed Takari, information secretary of All Muttahida Bus Association Quetta, told Arab News. “The government should take the local bus association into confidence.”

Syed Ali Shah, a senior Quetta-based journalist, said the provincial authorities had allocated funds for the green bus service in Quetta two years ago while planning to procure 100 buses. Due to the congested streets of the city, however, the transport department only purchased eight vehicles.

“The government decided to start the project with eight buses,” he said. “But due to a lack of proper policy, the plan was not implemented and the buses were parked inside a government warehouse where they were also damaged due to bad weather conditions.”

Fahad Bin Waseem, a 30-year-old Quetta resident, said the project should be “implemented immediately” and the old buses must also be discarded.

“While the government is planning to start the project with eight buses, it should expand the new transport network across Quetta,” he told Arab News. 

“The provincial transport department should establish new bus stations in the city and separate roads for the green buses.”

Ex-PM Khan promises ‘largest rally’ in Lahore as authorities block roads with shipping containers

Updated 25 March 2023

Ex-PM Khan promises ‘largest rally’ in Lahore as authorities block roads with shipping containers

  • A senior leader of Khan’s party asks local authorities to remove the barriers since a court had allowed the PTI rally
  • PTI’s former National Assembly speaker urges international community to take notice of rights violations in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has vowed to hold the “largest rally” in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday, as local authorities have placed shipping containers on different roads leading to the venue of his public gathering.

Khan, who was ousted from power in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last year in April, recently decided to kick off his election campaign by holding a rally at the historic Minar-e-Pakistan monument in Lahore.

However, he had to postpone the plan when a police contingent tried to arrest him after a district court in Islamabad issued his non-bailable arrest warrants in a graft case.

Subsequently, there were clashes outside his Lahore residence between the police and supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party that lasted for about two days before a Pakistani court asked the law enforcement officials to stand down.

As the former prime minister prepared to hold the public rally on Saturday, his party officials complained that the police had arrested hundreds of activists in overnight raids to sabotage the power show.

“We will not back off under any circumstances,” Dawn newspaper quoted Khan as saying after he went to an anti-terrorism court in Lahore to get interim bail in three terrorism cases. “I am saying today that they [the government] will see the largest rally at Minar-e-Pakistan in the country’s history.”

Meanwhile, local news channels widely reported that authorities in Lahore had set up shipping containers at the entry and exit points of the city to prevent PTI activists from nearby areas from attending the rally.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a top leader of Khan’s political faction, said there was no justification for the authorities to block the roads since a court had allowed his party to hold the gathering.

“The police and the administration are requested to remove these containers,” he said while speaking to the media.

Qureshi maintained such measures were not only undemocratic but also indicated that the government was afraid of Khan.

Pakistan’s Geo News also reported that the former speaker of the National Assembly and a leader of Khan’s party, Asad Qaiser, sent a letter to various global forums, in which he asked the international community to take notice of the present political situation in his country.

Qaiser said grave human rights violations were carried out in Pakistan against the supporters of the PTI party, adding that many of these people had been “abducted.”

He also maintained that “fake criminal complaints” had been filed against Khan to get him disqualified from politics.

However, according to the caretaker Punjab information minister, Amir Mir, the authorities are not preventing anyone from going to the venue of the PTI rally.

He told Geo News that the shipping containers on the road were only meant to ensure the protection of people.

Man arrested in Pakistan’s northwest for helping Afghan nationals illegally obtain citizenship documents

Updated 25 March 2023

Man arrested in Pakistan’s northwest for helping Afghan nationals illegally obtain citizenship documents

  • Pakistan has more than 1.4 million registered Afghans who were forced to flee their homes due to decades of conflict
  • Federal Investigation Agency also arrested Afghan nationals and a Pakistani official in Bannu earlier this week

PESHAWAR: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested an individual on Friday who is suspected of helping Afghan nationals illegally obtain Pakistan’s citizenship documents in the district of Bannu in the northwestern part of the country.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Pakistan has more than 1.4 million registered Afghans who were forced to flee their homes due to decades of war and factional fighting in their country. A significant number of Afghan nationals also entered Pakistan in recent months after the Taliban seized control of the neighboring state in August 2021.

While the government initially offered amnesty to those Afghans who came to Pakistan on valid visas but prolonged their stay after their travel permits expired, the official relaxation ended last December before the authorities started cracking down on all illegal migrants and launched the deportation process.

“The accused was involved in providing computerized national identity cards [CNICs], domiciles, passports and other documents to Afghan nationals,” Abdul Ghafoor, a public relations official with the FIA, told Arab News. “The culprit took thousands of rupees from Afghan citizens before facilitating them to get these documents.”

The agency also issued a press release on March 22, stating that its Bannu circle had arrested an Afghan national, Muhammad Rauf, from a local hotel where he was staying to obtain Pakistan’s CNIC and passport.

The official statement said the accused had paid Rs650,000 ($2,296) to an agent to obtain these documents, adding that the token numbers of the passport and CNIC were also recovered from him.

After further investigation, the FIA arrested the assistant director of the passport office in Bannu, Siddique Akbar, who was accused of illegally providing Pakistan’s citizenship documents to Afghans.

Ghafoor confirmed that the authorities were probing the matter, adding they would soon share more information with the media.

Meanwhile, Saif Ullah Muhib Kakakhel, an advocate at the Peshawar High Court, told Arab News that cases related to Afghan nationals trying to obtain illegal documents in Pakistan were on the rise.

“Sometimes, officials are involved in such cases who take huge amounts of bribes to provide Pakistani documents to Afghans,” he said.

Kakakhel maintained most Afghan nationals even faced issues while opening a bank account or securing a legal property, though several legal ways were available to them.

“It is easy to stop the illegal ways of obtaining documents by immigrants,” he added, “though it will require making legal ways easier and more accessible by the government.”

Pakistan court sentences man to death for blasphemy

Updated 25 March 2023

Pakistan court sentences man to death for blasphemy

  • Blasphemy is hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs, violence
  • Human rights group says in the last 20 years, 774 Muslims, 760 minority members were accused of blasphemy in country

PESHAWAR: An anti-terrorism court in northwest Pakistan has convicted and sentenced a Muslim man to death after he was accused of posting blasphemous content in a WhatsApp group.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations can stir mobs and violence.

Syed Muhammad Zeeshan was convicted under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and Anti-Terrorist Act by the court in Peshawar on Friday.

“Accused Syed Muhammad Zeeshan, son of Syed Zakaullah in custody has been convicted and sentenced after being found guilty,” the court order said, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

Zeeshan, who is a resident of the northwest city of Mardan, was also fined 1.2 million rupees ($4,300) and handed a total of 23 years imprisonment.

He has the right to appeal.

The case arose after Muhammad Saeed, a resident of Talagang in Punjab province filed an application with the Federal Investigation Agency two years ago accusing Zeeshan of posting blasphemous content in a WhatsApp group, Saeed’s counsel Ibrar Hussain told AFP.

The “FIA had confiscated Zeeshan’s cell phone and its forensic examination proved him guilty,” he said.

While Pakistan’s laws prohibiting blasphemy can carry a potential death sentence, so far it has never been enforced for the crime.

Although many cases involve Muslims accusing fellow Muslims, rights activists have warned that religious minorities — particularly Christians — are often caught in the crossfire, with blasphemy charges used to settle personal scores.

According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace, a human rights and legal aid group in Pakistan, 774 Muslims and 760 members of various minority religious groups were accused of blasphemy in the last 20 years.