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Category Archives: Environment

Dialogue offers only hope for India and Pakistan: Water Laureate

In an exclusive interview with thethirdpole.net, he spoke about the India and Pakistan transboundary water conflict, and said that, in fact, he sees this as a potential chance for the two countries to foster regional cooperation.

Earlier this year in March, McCaffrey was named the 2017 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate for his trailblazing work and contribution to the field of international water law. He received the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the Patron of Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony on August 30. The ceremony was conducted during World Water Week 2017, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) being held in Sweden’s capital from August 27 to September 1.

Sitting in the Stockholm City Conference Centre a day ahead of receiving the prize, McCaffrey talked of how managing transboundary freshwater sources could become a solution instead of a problem for India and Pakistan. “Both India and Pakistan have found that cooperation produces more benefits and stability than conflict does,” he said.

India and Pakistan signed the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) in 1960. In McCaffrey’s opinion, it is remarkable that the Indus Waters Treaty system, and the permanent Indus commission that it set up, has continued to function between periods of conflict. “Since 1960 there have been some 12 instances of armed conflict between India and Pakistan. Yet members of the Commission continue to meet. Why? Because water is vital. It’s the only avenue there is for the two countries to relate to each other with respect to these shared water resources,” said the academic who has also worked as legal counsel to governments in transboundary disputes pertaining to the Ganga, Mekong and Nile rivers. McCaffrey is accredited with articulating the human right to water, which was recognised in 2010 by the UN General Assembly.

As one who believes in dialogue as the only way out of a conflict, McCaffrey is in favour of commissions like the one formed under the IWT. “We find that cooperation through these commissions produces more benefits than no cooperation. I am sure India and Pakistan believe the same thing. Unfortunately, India and Pakistan are not so close, but if they keep meeting, at least there is some stability in the knowledge that the two countries know where they are with respect to the six streams of water that are divided between the two countries.” While saying that he is no political scientist, McCaffrey is of the opinion that such commissions help countries to communicate on a constant basis, which he sees as a starting point on the path to mutual cooperation. “There may have been some problems, but the IWT Commission is still in force and is still observed; in case of a problem they follow the procedures in the Treaty.”

McCaffrey recognises the water rivalry between the two neighbours. He quotes what he said in his remarks at the World Water Week that the root of the word “rival” comes from the Latin words for river and someone who shares a river with someone else. “This rivalry is not unique to India and Pakistan. But India and Pakistan have other issues that just exacerbate the issue.”

Read: Politics dictated Indus Waters Treaty from first to last

He feels that the water boundaries of the two countries are mapped out in such a way that it leaves the two countries in a world ripe for conflict. He adds that India and Pakistan’s conflict over water is one of the most difficult ones. “It is not because of the water per se, but because of the underlying relationship between the two countries that has historical explanations,” he says, adding that the water relations between countries are dependent largely upon their general political relations. “If they have good relations, they can work anything out. If they don’t, the tiniest problem becomes huge. Development of water resources being what it is, things tend to become cast in concrete, literally. You build dams, and it’s not easy to reverse a dam.”

For achieving a mutually beneficial result, McCaffrey is convinced that it would take a lot of goodwill and trust on both sides. “That is something that may be lacking to some extent in the case of India and Pakistan. It may be, then, that the only option is third party dispute resolution, where you have to live with the third party’s decision. However, the good thing is that third parties do realise the importance of achieving a balanced solution because if you don’t, the likelihood of acceptance is diminished. Because if [you do not have a balanced solution], the party that believes they got the better deal will trumpet that, and the other one will be disgruntled.”

He cites, as examples, the two famous cases of dispute between India and Pakistan that have gone to third parties – the Baglihar and Kishanganga dams. The case of the Kishanganga dam has been in the news more recently, as India is constructing two hydropower projects on the Chenab river. Pakistan had objected to the construction of the Ratle and Kishanganga hydropower schemes, saying that building them would adversely impact flow of the Chenab and Neelum rivers. Under the IWT, both countries had begun negotiations under the World Bank (WB), which has continued to broker the water treaty between India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed neighbours with a track record of an easily combustible relationship.

Read: Win some, lose some, Indus Waters Treaty continues

While the WB paused its latest arbitration on the Kishanganga dam in late 2016, it recently allowed India to build the two dams, albeit with certain restrictions in light of the IWT.

In both the cases of Baglihar and Kishanganga, India contacted McCaffrey to advise them. “I end up advising one country or the other; that’s just how the system works. It’s unfortunate that these dispute resolution procedures are always, in any treaty, set up this way that there is an adversarial meeting instead of one that takes advantage of knowledge and different techniques of dispute resolution to achieve a result that is mutually beneficial,” he said.

McCaffrey feels strongly that in this era where the world is faced with the most pressing challenge of climate change, it is time both India and Pakistan show flexibility. “The unpredictability of the water supply is worrisome. The Indus originates in the Himalayas. The glaciers are going to melt which means too much water; you will get rain instead of snow. Does Pakistan have the storage capacity to handle that much water? Do India’s dams that are built under the IWT have the capacity to release that much water?” He mentions the very real threat of dams getting overtopped, in the event of historic, unprecedented flows of water.

McCafferey expresses his tenacious hope for a peaceful and pragmatic solution to Pakistan and India’s water disputes. “What I would hope for between the two countries is coordinated action and planning, so that the development of the water courses produces the most benefits for both – that’s the ideal. I would hope that the leaders of both countries could support this ideal.”

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Waterways choked, Karachi on brink of floods with each rain

Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi faces the threat of floods each time it rains, due to rampant construction, pollution and encroachments blocking its natural ravines and storm-water drains

Akhtar_Colony_drain

In July this year, Pakistan’s teeming port city Karachi braced itself for disaster after the meteorological department forecast 50-60 mm of rain in a day. With the knowledge that even 20 mm could bring the city of 23 million people to a standstill, officials prepared themselves for a never-seen-before deluge.

“It was the first warning of its kind. The 2013 urban flooding taught us that we must be prepared this time,” said Ajay Kumar, assistant director operations, Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), in Sindh.

Fortunately, the rains of the 2015 monsoon were less than expected and did not result in casualties and destruction of property and infrastructure as in 2013 when scores were killed in flash floods that paralysed one of the world’s most populated cities.

The crisis was averted this time but it could return with the next heavy rain, fear residents.

In 2013, Kumar recalled, storm-water drains (nallahs) in the country’s commercial capital had overflown following torrential rain, inundating areas like Saadi Town, Gadap Town and Amroha.

While rains are a blessing in other, better-planned cities like the capital Islamabad, in Karachi the story is different. The nuisance value overshadows the joy, owing to overflowing gutters and clogged natural ravines.

“An estimated 60% of Karachi’s population lives in informal settlements, with no access to sewers. People dump sewage into ravines that were for clean water, not for waste,” explained Roland de Souza, executive member of the group Shehri – Citizens For A Better Environment. “So when it rains in Karachi, it overflows.”

“It did not rain as much but at least the warning helped expedite the cleaning of the nallahs by Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC),” added Kumar.

But that’s not really helpful, said architect and urban planner Arif Hasan. While it is a good idea to clean the drains, “it will not really help (check) the flooding if the drain water does not have a passage to go into the sea. Whenever the tide is high, the problem will return.”

Major road and housing projects have been built in Karachi, causing enormous damage to the environment. Mismanaged construction, pollution and encroachments have blocked Karachi’s water passages.

What will happen to a city of Karachi’s size and its choked up drainage system if there are torrential rains? The question remains unanswered.

In Karachi, human greed is destroying life, says ecologist Rafiul Haq. “We have built buildings on water bodies, started using strong detergents excessively and non-biodegradable plastic bags. All this clogs our drains.”

The vein-like network of Karachi’s natural ravines and manmade nallahs as well as the sewerage drains are a confused mess. At the time of Pakistan’s formation in 1947, Karachi had some 400,000 residents but the population exploded in following decades. Inefficient administration, uncontrolled reclamation of land for construction and pollution have resulted in the destruction of natural drainage.

Today, under the pressure of a population of 23 million plus, and a population density of 24,000 people per square kilometre, according to the World Population Review, both the water supply and drainage system of Karachi are less than satisfactory.

Rampant construction

“Rainwater in Karachi used to clear away within 10 minutes once upon a time. But then man came along, over-built, and confused the system,” said de Souza. He cites the example of Gora Qabristan, a graveyard for the Christian community, built on the city’s jugular Sharah-e-Faisal road. Over the last 68 years, the road has been raised by four feet. As a result, the cemetery becomes a pit full of water for days during the rainy season.

“A storm drainage map system is what we need. The building control authorities should check the drainage before approving any construction. A flood in a city is not a natural but a manmade disaster,” de Souza said.

Hasan explained, “There are three main outfalls of drainage to the sea from Karachi.” One of them, the Gizri Creek, has the upscale Phase 7 Defence Housing Authority (DHA), home to the city’s rich and powerful, built on it. “All that we are left with is approximately an 80 feet nallah. When there is high tide, or rain, the water cannot get out. The result is that it gets choked.”

Similarly, the major Mai Kolachi bypass has been built over a drain. “It should have been elevated to avoid problems” and to the west, the Karachi Port Trust colony was built over marshland, Hasan said.

Then there is the Kalri Nallah, near Machhar (mosquito) Colony, the largest of Karachi’s unregulated neighbourhoods, where hundreds of trucks of garbage are dumped every day.

There are several other instances. An 80 feet wide, 4,000 feet long nallah between Akhtar Colony and Defence View Phase 2 has piles of silt, overflowing sewage, mounds of garbage and an entire colony of slum dwellers lining both sides.

Blame game

Commissioner Karachi Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, who is also KMC administrator, recently called for the speedy clean-up of the drains. Asked how swiftly this would be done, Syed Muhammad Shakaib, director of planning and development at the Karachi Commissioner Office, admitted that there are serious bottlenecks when it comes to implementation. “Can you tell me names of more nallahs that need cleaning? We can start working on them right away.”

According to experts, the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) should take responsibility. But the blame game continues here too. “Cleaning the freshwater ravines or storm-water drains is not our responsibility. We are just concerned with sewage water. The laws are all there but if people don’t follow them what can we do?” said Nazeer Mateen, KWSB spokesperson.

Mateen admitted that water contamination is not uncommon in Karachi, with some residents stealing water by making holes in pipes and attaching makeshift waterlines to them. “Those sometimes get mixed up with sewage lines KWSB has laid. If we find out, we fix it. What else can we do?”

As the chaos intensifies in the sprawling city, residents remember the old days. “I myself have caught fish from the Lyari river and eaten it,” said a nostalgic Muhammad Moazzam Khan, technical advisor, marine fisheries, WWF-Pakistan. “No one even feels for the loss of natural water bodies. Their absence has affected biodiversity and life itself in Karachi. It has been eaten up by commercialism.”

Dear Karachiites, before you plant trees, think

Published: August 9, 2015

Homeless man rest under trees on a hot summer day in Allahabad. PHOTO: AFP

The heat wave that killed more than 1,300 people in Karachi seems like a long time ago. Concerned citizens, in the heat of the moment, promised to plant trees, but very little has been said regarding when and how this can be done.

As time is passing and cool monsoon winds are blowing away painful memories of the heat wave, the promises seem to be dissipating. Where memories are short lived, long-term efforts to mitigate a recurrence of the same catastrophe seem nowhere in sight.

That is the problem with climate change – the cause and effect, both take place over extended periods of time. In a world of instant gratifications, both individuals and governments seem to have no patience to invest in something that will not show results instantaneously.

Trees are an integral part of the environment, a part sorely missing in mega cities such as Karachi. Trees have a cooling effect as they transpire water from the ground, through the roots and out from their leaves. In addition, trees provide shade. For those who experience Karachi heat on the streets and have compared the temperature in shade and in open air know the difference.

Planting trees in this concrete jungle is the real way we can stop this from happening again. However, few people recognise the impact of planting a tree today that could potentially save lives decades later. Those who are seriously inclined towards it, often end up planting the wrong trees at the wrong places due to a lack of awareness. Other than experts, like the unsung heroes of the ‘Mera Karachi (My Karachi) drives for tree plantation, people may be planting trees in Karachi but are planting them wrong.

First and foremost, not every tree can bear Karachi’s temperament – what to plant should be a primary consideration. In Karachi, one thing to bear in mind is that anything we plant will have to be watered by us, as rains are a rarity and the city is already suffering from water shortage even for human consumption.

As horticulturist and activist, Tofiq Pasha Mooraj says,

“If you plant it, you water it.”

For that, water conservation and recycling is important. However, this should not be the only consideration. The Corynocarpus is hassle free, fast growing, adaptable to even high salt content, economical when it comes to watering, and is the most popular choice of Karachiites since recent years.

Photo: Wikipedia

However, it does not provide shade as it grows almost straight and vertically. There have been studies that point in the direction that Corynocarpus causes allergies in humans who live nearby. Most importantly, its roots, when they grow deep underground in search of water, break or clog Karachi’s sewage and water lines.

In this, it resembles the harm the Eucalyptus trees caused the city earlier. The city realised 25 years later what the Eucalyptus had done. As a result, an unnecessary effort was put into cutting out Eucalyptus trees in the city, and we lost out on the city’s greenery as well. While it has the advantage of providing cheap wood and grows fast, it literally throws toxins at other plants and does not allow other plants and trees to grow close by.

Photo: Reuters

A recent trend is to plant Khujoor (date) trees with full grown tree implants. However, the tree and its fruit are prone to fungal attacks due to the humid weather here. The date tree is therefore a less than ideal choice.

Photo: AFP

The best trees for the city are those that take less water and provide shade. The best example is Neem, a very smart life form, which sucks in water from underground and provides cool shade. Other sensible choices are Gulmohar (Flame of the forest), and Amaltas (Indian Laburnum). These are deciduous trees that shed leaves, which proves to be very useful for Karachi.

Photo: Express Tribune

Photo: Pinterest

Photo: Twitter

Indigenous varieties like Laal Badaam (Indian almond) and Jaamun (Syzygium cumini /jambolan) are also useful fruit-giving trees that give shade. Lignum is also a good option; it looks pretty, and uses less water, but takes time to become a shade giving tree. As it is a mid-sized tree, it is good to plant in areas where there are electricity wires above.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Pinterest

The choice of the tree you plant also depends on where you plant it and the space available. This brings us to the second consideration – where should one plant trees?

For starters, if you are planting in a place other than your lawn, make sure you have permission to do so. Make sure the tree, once it has fully grown, will not interrupt electrical wires or obstruct underground sewage or water lines, or damage any walls. A good place is dividers or the place between your boundary wall and the road. Those living in apartments will have to be more creative, and settle mostly for plants that can be grown in pots on the roof. Yet, the important role green roofs can play must not be undermined.

The ideal planting season for trees is mid-February to mid-March and mid-July to mid-August. Trees can be planted at other times too but extremely hot or cold months should be avoided. This means that it is best not to plant in April, May, June, and October.