The Express Tribune 23 August 2019

Amazon fires


The world’s largest tropical rainforest is home to several unique species of flora and fauna and even human settlements — some of whom have never stepped outside of the sprawling forest and have not had any interaction with modern technology. But they and some estimated 390 billion individual trees spread over nine countries are facing an existential threat. According to satellite data from NASA and the national space agency of Brazil — a country which hosts most of the rainforest — there have been a record 74,000 forest fires this year.
These wildfires, which engulf acres of forest at a time, not only threaten the inherent ecosystem but also nearby human settlements. Videos this week have been going viral from Sao Paulo — a Brazilian city located some 2,700 kilometres away from the wildfires — showing thick walls of smoke creating a ‘blackout’ over the city. The smoke spread fear and panic in the city which is home to over 12 million people and is the 12th most populated city in the world.
Wildfires are a natural phenomenon happening in forests from the Amazon to our own in Galiyat. However, oftentimes, these fires are caused by people themselves for a variety of reasons: for eg, to clear an area or hide evidence of illegal logging. All in all, it comes at a terrible cost that we are all too ready to pay or dismiss at our peril. Natural disasters over the past decade due to the rising global average temperature must be indication enough that the environment is not one country’s job. Even if Brazil has most of the forest, the entire South American continent and the world at large must pool resources to put out those fires and protect the forest.


Genocide alert


While the humanitarian crisis in occupied Kashmir is beginning to grow, the world conscience slumbers on. There has been some international focus on the nuclear flashpoint, but no action to bring respite to the millions of Kashmiris who have been under lockdown for nearly three weeks. With the telephone, internet and cable TV connections blocked, Kashmir has been cut off — both internally and from the outside world — since New Delhi’s illegal annexation of the disputed region on August 5. Kashmiris and their innocent children are starving as thousands of Indian security personnel have fanned out across the occupied territory to ensure curfew restrictions imposed by New Delhi. It’s pretty understandable that with no access to food, water and medicines, life in Kashmir is at grave risk.
Same concerns have been voiced by Prime Minister Imran Khan during a recent interview with the NYT. The PM has insisted that the “most important thing” was that the lives of eight million people are at risk. Drawing attention towards the “plight of millions of Kashmiris living under brutal Indian occupation, abuse and violence”, the PM has issued yet another call for the international community to make efforts to prevent “an impending genocide of Kashmiris” in the occupied territory. He has expressed worries that “there is ethnic cleansing and genocide about to happen.”
The PM’s call upon the international community is followed by a genocide alert for occupied Kashmir issued by the US-based global advocacy group, Genocide Watch. The genocide alert calls upon the UN and its member states “to warn India not to commit genocide in Kashmir”. The advocacy group has listed the BJP’s exclusionary ideology of ‘Hindutva’ as a trigger for genocide. It has warned that the “authoritarian military rule by a minority military force of Hindus and Sikhs over a majority Muslim population is another alarming factor that may lead to massacres in the future”. Very sadly though, all the cries and calls over rights violations in Kashmir and the alerts over an impending genocide in the disputed territory have failed to elicit an adequate response from the world community.


KE strikes back


The residents of Karachi, while continuing to suffer on account of unannounced load-shedding and frequent power breakdowns besides electrocution deaths due to tottering electricity infrastructure, must brace themselves for another shock from the power utility as it seeks to burden its consumers with an additional billing of Rs16.9 billion. K-Electric has approached Nepra with claims that the surge in fuel prices has led to an increase in generation cost which must be passed on to the end-consumers.
Irrespective of what Nepra decides on the K-Electric request, its captive consumers — residential, commercial or industrial — are never willing to buy any explanation or claim from the power utility about its financial health, its generation and distribution, and its service delivery system. It has a history of absolving itself of the responsibility regarding any shortcoming in its performance or obligations to its consumers. It has rather measured swords with almost all institutions, including SSGC, Wapda, KMC, Pakistan Customs, PSO and KWSB, and always managed to have its way. It is a common cliché to refer K-Electric as a state within the state, being accountable neither to the people or its elected representatives nor the executive authority of the government or to judicial pronouncements.
Take the latest issue of over a dozen electrocution deaths in the recent monsoon rains in Karachi. The power utility would dismiss the majority of these victims as deserving this fate for being ‘power thieves’ while belonging to, what it calls, kunda-infested localities. The K-Electric chief, however, believes it was the civic agencies and ‘mafias’ responsible for cable network who must be held accountable for these deaths. Nepra has taken notice of the deaths and has ordered an inquiry to ascertain the failure of the power utility to maintain safety and security measures. But early this month, K-Electric warned the regulatory authority that it would invoke certain sections of Nepra rules to declare ‘force majeure’ — a term meaning that the power utility could not meet its contractual obligations due to circumstances beyond its control. And that would be the end of the story.

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