After devastating floods, World Food Program calls for converting Pakistan’s debt to hunger relief

In this picture taken on October 28, 2022, internally displaced people use tractor trolley to wade across a flooded street in Dadu district of Sindh province. (Photo courtesy: AFP/File)
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Updated 09 December 2022

After devastating floods, World Food Program calls for converting Pakistan’s debt to hunger relief

  • Floods have caused an additional 7.6 million people to become food insecure, WFP official says
  • 20.6 million people, as per UN data, need humanitarian assistance in flood-ravaged Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The World Food Program (WFP) has stressed converting the debt of disaster-affected countries like Pakistan to hunger relief, as the number of food-insecure people rises to 14.6 million in Pakistan following the devastating floods this year, a senior WFP official said on Thursday.

The cash-strapped South Asian nation had already been going through a serious financial crunch before the heavy monsoon rains hit in mid-June this year, triggering unprecedented floods that, at one point, left a third of the country’s territory submerged. Governmental estimates show the floods affected more than 33 million people or one in every seven Pakistanis.

Raging floods swept away huge swaths of crops, leaving already impoverished families struggling to get access to food and clean drinking water. With the country already undergoing a foreign reserves shortage, farmers and officials have warned that Pakistan now faces serious food shortages at a time when food prices around the world are high.

After a damage assessment survey, Pakistani officials have estimated that the deluges have cost the country more than $30 billion in damages.

“In general, food insecurity has doubled in Pakistan because of the floods, meaning the country has seven million food insecure people, and floods have added almost 7.6 million people more [to that number],” Arif Husain, WFP’s chief economist, and director research assessment and monitoring division, told Arab News in Islamabad.

“So now, we are talking about 14.6 million people, which is a huge jump.”

Based in Rome, Italy, Husain’s work focuses on analyzing food security and welfare conditions in developing countries to inform humanitarian and development responses.

“One thing which we are proposing is that maybe we need to think about debt relief for hunger relief, meaning if we can have debt relief for climate, why not debt relief for hunger relief?” he said.

“These poor countries which have too much debt can use that for exchange, for at least importing their food and fertilizers.”

Speaking about measures needed to bring down food inflation, Husain said Pakistan should consider starting trade with India.

“If China and India can trade then, we should reconsider trade with India too as it will bring food inflation down quickly,” he said, adding that the world needed to help Pakistan to enable it to afford food, fuel, and fertilizers to deal with looming food crisis.

“For Pakistan, relief is required as urgently as possible,” the WFP official said, adding that his organization was running a big operation in the South Asian nation, but others should also extend a helping hand due to the magnitude of the crisis.

“WFP alone is assisting about 2.7 million people in Pakistan right now — including Sindh, Balochistan, and southern Punjab — and that needs to continue, so we can save people’s lives,” he added.

WFP is providing technical assistance and helping in building human capital, Husain said, adding the UN body was also investing in education and nutrition.

“We are working in food for world type projects where you are building livelihoods, you are building the resilience of people, and also working with the government for the system development in terms of technical assistance providing knowledge,” he added.

Karachi factory owner arrested for manslaughter, negligence after 15 dead from suspected gas leak

Updated 30 January 2023

Karachi factory owner arrested for manslaughter, negligence after 15 dead from suspected gas leak

  • At least 15 people died between January 10-26 in Karachi's Ali Muhammad Goth neighborhood in district Keamari
  • Sindh health department investigation report says both measles and gas emissions could be the reasons for the deaths

KARACHI: Police have filed a case against three factory owners for manslaughter and negligence and arrest one of them in the southern port city of Karachi, a police official said on Monday, on a complaint that poisonous gas from their factories had leaked and caused multiple deaths in recent weeks.

At least 15 people were reported dead between January 10-26 in the city's Ali Muhammad Goth neighborhood in district Keamari, according to an investigation report by the Sindh health department that was released last week. The report said 34 others who fell ill in the area had survived and were treated at hospital.

Authorities sealed three factories in the Keamari neighborhood on Friday after health teams observed a "very foul smell" in the affected area. All infected cases and deaths were reported among residents who were living an estimated 10-20 feet away from factories that produce rubber, plastic, stone, and oil.

“One [factory] owner, Khair Mohammed alias Sher Mohammed, has been arrested while two others have also been nominated in the case registered by a resident whose four family members have died,” Chaudhry Shahid, station house officer (SHO) Moachko, told Arab News.

The case was registered under Sections 322 (punishment for an unintentional, unlawful act that causes death), 284 (negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code against factory owners Mohammed, Shahid Husain and Saeed Khan.

Complainant Khadim Husain stated in the FIR that toxic fumes emitted by factories in the neighborhood had killed his wife Razia, 32, sons Shoaib and Shahid, 18 and 4 respectively, as well as his one-year-old daughter, Haleema.

“These deaths occurred owing to the negligence of the factory owners,” a copy of the first information report by police, seen by Arab News, stated.

However, the health department said both measles and gas emissions could be the reasons for the deaths, adding in its investigation report 40 out of 49 total victims were younger than 11 years of age and not vaccinated against measles.

“During an active search in the community, the team observed cases of suspected measles," the report said. "We cannot exclude the measles virus as a risk factor of the outbreak until the confirmation of blood samples.”

Senior Sindh health official Dr. Abdul Hameed Jumani said nothing conclusive could be said about the cause of death yet, adding: “But since there are no deaths [after the closure of factories], it can be assumed that toxic chemical emitted by the factory was the cause.”

Dr. Seemin Jamali, a health expert and former executive director of Karachi's Jinnah hospital, also said toxic pollution may not be the only cause of the deaths, adding that in Pakistan, common causes were often overlooked by authorities in their search for unusual explanations in such incidents.

"Common causes include diseases which could be measles or diphtheria or something of the kind," Jamali said. "Because the immunization of the population here [in Ali Muhammad Goth] is almost 0%."

In February 2020, at least fourteen people died in a case of the emission of toxic gas in the same port side Keamari district. Authorities also suspected soybean dust from shipping containers could have led to the deaths.

Incidents of gas leakages and mishaps are common in Karachi, where many factories are built inside residential areas, or operate illegally and without proper safety measures.

Pakistani actress Sajal Aly to play lead role in series adaptation of classical Urdu novel

Updated 30 January 2023

Pakistani actress Sajal Aly to play lead role in series adaptation of classical Urdu novel

  • 'Umrao Jaan Ada' is an 1899 Urdu novel that follows a courtesan's life
  • Producer hopes eight-part series will 'develop different characters' from novel

KARACHI: Pakistani actress Sajal Aly has been roped in to play the lead role in an upcoming series based on the classical Urdu novel from 1899, 'Umrao Jaan Ada', the producer of the show confirmed on Monday, saying that the series would spotlight more original characters from the novel.   

Penned by renowned author Mirza Hadi Ruswa, Umrao Jaan Ada has been hailed as one of the most renowned Urdu-language novels of all time. The novel chronicles the life of a courtesan named Umrao Jaan and has garnered critical acclaim for its portrayal of culture in the 19th-century century subcontinent. 

The hit novel has been adapted numerous times over the decades. Pakistani director Hasan Tariq turned the novel into a film in 1972 while private news channel Geo Entertainment aired a TV adaptation of the same novel in 2003. 

The most renowned adaptation of the novel came in 1981 when Indian director Muzaffar Ali helmed a movie on the famous character, starring popular Bollywood actress Rekha. Indian writer, director and producer Jyoti Prakash Dutta also directed an Umrao Jaan movie in 2006 starring Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. 

The upcoming Pakistani series will be packaged and produced by Abu Dhabi-based South Asian celebrity management agency, Action Consultancy. 

“The makers of this project feel that Sajal [Aly] will do justice to the complex character of Umrao [Jan]," Hamid Hussain, producer and chief executive officer of Action Consultancy, told Arab News. "Our project has two primary female characters, one of which is Umrao Jaan.”

Hussain acknowledged that Ali's 1981 Umrao Jaan adaptation was the most "remembered" one. However, he said film adaptations always have always been "rushed" versions of original works of art. 

"Unfortunately, film adaptations have to narrate the entire story in a short time and thus have always been rushed," Hussain said. “As an eight-part series, we have time to develop the different characters from the original novel.”

Aly, who has starred in a string of hit Pakistani drama serials and movie projects, confirmed she would play Umrao Jaan in the series adaptation.

“Can’t say anything about it right now but the news is right,” Aly confirmed to Arab News on Sunday.  

Hussain said the names of other cast members would be announced at the "right time."

“The series adaptation relies heavily on the original Urdu version of the novel, unlike the film adaptations that had taken creative liberties to fit the story into a film narrative," he said.  

"There is a lot in the novel that has never been shown in an audiovisual project.”

Pakistan's Dawn reported that the series was going to stream on a major online service but the producer declined to confirm which one, when asked by Arab News.

Islamabad district judge sends ex-PM Khan aide on 14-day judicial remand

Updated 30 January 2023

Islamabad district judge sends ex-PM Khan aide on 14-day judicial remand

  • Chaudhry Fawad Hussain was arrested in Lahore last Wednesday on a complaint filed by the Election Commission
  • ECP says Hussain threatened members of regulator and families in a TV interview, incited violence against them

ISLAMABAD: A district judge in Islamabad has ordered that ex-premier Imran Khan’s close aide, Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, be jailed on judicial remand for 14 days in a case involving charges of sedition, among others, filed by the country's election regulator.

The former information minister was arrested in Lahore last Wednesday after the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) lodged a complaint with Islamabad police saying the leader of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had threatened members of the regulator as well as their families and made remarks in a TV interview that were tantamount to inciting violence against them. 

“He [Fawad Hussain] is remanded to judicial custody,” Magistrate Waqas Ahmad Raja said in a short order, rejecting the prosecution’s plea for an extension in Hussain's physical remand.  

Police were granted two-day physical remand of the PTI leader on Saturday to carry out a photogrammetry test and recover his laptop and mobile phone for forensic analysis.

On Sunday, Hussain was taken to Lahore for the test which the prosecution said was mandatory to complete the investigation.

The magistrate on Monday asked what the need was for the photogrammetry test in such a case and the prosecution failed to provide an answer that satisfied the judge.

Photogrammetry can be a very powerful tool in forensic analysis and is often useful to get an accurate 3D reconstruction of an accident or crime scene, especially in cases where position, distance and perspective are important.

“I have been on the road for the last 48 hours,” Hussain told the judge.  “I haven’t gotten enough sleep,” he added, referring to his journey to Lahore and back for the photogrammetry test.

“The police were under special instructions to take me [to Lahore] in the police van. I have slept only two and a half hours in the last six days," he added.

Hussain's counsel, advocate Babar Awan, said the accused had already acknowledged his statement during the TV appearance.

“Fawad Chaudhry says he stands by his statement,” Awan told the court. “He has categorically announced that he would not surrender. He is the first accused who is accepting his statement.”

The judge rejected the prosecution's plea for an extension in Hussain's physical remand and sent him to a judicial lockup for 14 days. The judge also allowed Hussain’s family to meet him in the lockup at the Islamabad district court’s premises.

The PTI leader’s legal team is pursuing a bail petition in the district court for his release.  

During the hearing on Monday, which took place in a packed courtroom amid heavy deployment of police, the magistrate ordered police officials to remove Hussain's handcuffs.

PTI supporters and leaders chanted slogans outside the court's premises, demanding Hussain's release in what they described as a "shady case."

Russia says at 'advanced stage' of negotiations to build long-delayed gas pipeline in Pakistan

Updated 30 January 2023

Russia says at 'advanced stage' of negotiations to build long-delayed gas pipeline in Pakistan

  • Moscow and Islamabad agreed in 2015 to build a 1,100-kilometer pipeline to deliver LNG inside Pakistan
  • Both countries have "conceptually agreed" that Russia would provide cheap crude oil to Pakistan from March

ISLAMABAD: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov said on Monday Islamabad and Moscow were in the "advanced stage" of negotiations to build the long-delayed Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline (PSGP), which is to be set up in Pakistan in collaboration with Russian companies.

The two sides agreed in 2015 to build the 1,100-kilometer pipeline to deliver imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi on the Arabian Sea coast to power plants in the northeastern province of Punjab.

“We are currently in the advance stages of work on the agreement on PSGP and I am sure that in the near future, we will see more progress,” Lavrov told reporters at a joint media briefing with Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is in Moscow for delegation-level talks.

Bhutto Zardari's visit comes weeks after Pakistan and Russia announced they would try to finalize by March a deal for Moscow to sell discounted oil products to the cash-strapped South Asian nation.

A Russian delegation was in Pakistan earlier this month to attend the 8th Pakistan-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) meetings, during which multiple memoranda of understanding were signed and it was "conceptually agreed" that Russia would provide cheap crude oil to Pakistan as it struggles to meet its energy needs amid a severe foreign exchange crisis. Russia also said this month it would allow Pakistan to pay for the energy imports in currencies of friendly countries.

Historically Pakistan has had no major commercial relations with Moscow, unlike neighbouring India, and as a traditional US ally, it had also been hesitant to do trade or any business with Moscow in the past.

It currently depends on oil from Gulf countries, which often extend facilities such as deferred payments and can supply with lower transport costs, given Pakistan's relative proximity.

The G7 economies, the European Union and Australia agreed to a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil effective from Dec. 5 over Moscow's "special military operation" in Ukraine. And last week, the US State Department said the cap would allow "energy markets to continue to be resourced while depriving Moscow of the revenue it would need to continue to propagate and fuel its brutal war against Ukraine.”

“The United States and its allies will make obstacles but our friends from Pakistan have mentioned that they are first of all guided by their legitimate national interest of developing their economy and helping their people by providing all the necessities including the energy,” Lavrov told media, appreciating Pakistan for its "impartial and balanced position" on the Ukrainian conflict.

“I have shared my views [with Bhutto Zardari] on the situation related to the consequences of the western activities to use Ukraine to launch a hybrid war against the Russian Federation,” he added.

Bhutto Zardari said the Pakistan government was committed to fulfilling the energy and other needs of its people at all costs.

“We had detained discussions on this [energy cooperation] and are expecting positive progress on our discussion on energy cooperation,” the Pakistani FM said. “As far as other countries are concerned, I expect them not to interfere in the bilateral relations between Pakistan and Russia.”
On the issue of the war in Ukraine, Bhutto Zardari hoped "dialogue and diplomacy" would prevail over "polarization and conflict."

“We have a firm belief that all conflicts can be resolved peacefully and there are no obstacles which diplomacy cannot surmount, and the Ukraine conflict is no exception,” he said, adding that developing countries like Pakistan were facing the negative consequences, especially economic, of the conflict.

“Pakistan sees itself as a bridge builder and we want to see cooperation regionally and internationally even between the great powers,” he said. “We value our relationship with Russia and equally value our relationship with the United States and Europe.”

“We intend to intensify cooperation with Russia in the areas of trade, economy, security counter-terrorism, defense," Bhutto Zardari said, "as well as cultural, educational, and people-to-people ties."

IMF mission due in Pakistan tonight to discuss resumption of stalled loan program

Updated 30 January 2023

IMF mission due in Pakistan tonight to discuss resumption of stalled loan program

  • A successful IMF visit is critical for Pakistan, which is facing an increasingly acute balance of payments crisis
  • Pakistan is desperate for external financing, with only enough forex reserves to cover three weeks of impotts

ISLAMABAD: An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission will land in Pakistan tonight, Monday, to discuss a stalled ninth review of the country's current funding program, Pakistani media widely reported.

A successful IMF visit is critical for Pakistan, which is facing an increasingly acute balance of payments crisis and is desperate to secure external financing, with less than three weeks' worth of import cover in its foreign exchange reserves.

“The [IMF] delegation will stay in Pakistan for 10 days,” Samaa Digital, a leading Pakistani news portal, reported. “During the visit, the delegation will be briefed about the country’s economic performance during the second half of 2022 … The situation arising from $30 billion losses incurred by the recent floods will also be conveyed to IMF.”

The government will also brief the IMF delegation on actions it has taken to improve tax revenue and exchange rate conditions, as well as reforms in the energy sector and steps taken to squeeze the current account deficit.

Last week, Pakistan's ministry of finance announced petrol and diesel prices would rise by 35 rupees ($0.1400) a litre. Last week, the Pakistani rupee lost close to 12% of its value after the removal of price caps that were imposed by the government but which were opposed by the IMF.