Sunday, July 5, 2020

World Bank official foresees immense potential in Pakistan's energy sector

By Masood Sattar Khan
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

To cope with the challenge of ever sky rocketing cost of energy coupled with unstable supply, the experts have agreed that district-based generation of electricity from renewable energy sources offers more benefits to Pakistan compared to the centralized generation system of large-scale power plants scattered across the country. 

Sharing their thoughts at a webinar titled ‘Energy Investments and Planning, they were of the unanimous view that small solar and wind power plants should be installed where the potential of energy generation was high and opposed to establishing large solar parks and wind power plants. 

The World Bank Renewable Energy Consultant, Ermeena Malik, was of the opinion that under-served areas of the country should be the prime focus while setting up new renewable energy plants. 

"Pakistan has immense potential of setting up district-wise wind and solar power stations and they can generate low-cost indigenous energy," she remarked. 

She pointed out that such a network would drastically reduce transmission and distribution investment and in some cases it would completely bypass it.

"Financing for such power plants will become a huge issue in the next five to 10 years and a lot of people will be talking about it. It will be the largest roadblock, hindering the improvement of power infrastructure in Pakistan," she stated. 

The Planning Commission's former member energy, Akhtar Ali, revealed that the average power demand per district in Pakistan stood around 300-400 megawatts and one renewable energy plant per district could provide 30,000-40,000MW on average. 

He emphasized that the country should only go for renewable energy after 2025 in a bid to become self-sufficient. 

The ex-member energy also highlighted that earlier the storage capacity for renewable energy was costly, which now became affordable, hence, Pakistan was in a better position to produce electricity from eco-friendly methods. 

The Pakistan Electric Power Company’s former managing director, Tahir Basharat Cheema, recalled that around 1999-2000, Pakistan had surplus power generation and the country had even offered to sell electricity to India.

"At that time, the country did not have to worry about energy but by 2006, Pakistan began facing load-shedding. Now in 2020, we are talking about surplus energy when load-shedding is still rampant, hence, we do not have surplus capacity," he observed. 

He lamented that power companies resorted to revenue-based load-shedding as the areas providing low revenue faced higher load-shedding, adding that the majority of areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were suffering due to this strategy. 

The oher topics discussed at the webinar were transformation of Pakistan's energy infrastructure and elite capture.

Nisar Memon reflects on sustainable development

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

“It’s time to reflect once again as to where we stand in the comity of nations and where we are going. A debater can argue on both sides of the stage, a demagogue can harangue endlessly without substance, but the thinking people reflect in the context of security and sovereignty of the country,” Senator Nisar Memon, a former federal minister, remarked during an interview with PNFS.

“Let’s look at our status from just one international prism of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted in 2015 by all member states of the United Nations following the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We have to find out where we have not been able to do well,” he opined.

“The Sustainable Development Report (SDR) 2020 places Pakistan at 134th position (out of 166) in the SDG Index with score of 56.2 against a regional average score of 67.2 and top most score of 84.7 of Sweden. The report was launched at a webinar last week by its authors with the United Nations Secretary-General’s special adviser Prof Jeffrey Sach, and professionals from the world over in attendance,” Senator Nisar Memon pointed out. 

“The 17 SDGs, also known as Global Goals, cover a broad range of subjects ranging from poverty to economy, health to education, water to energy, climate actions to protecting planet, innovation and infrastructure, peace and justice to partnership for the future. The member countries were closely involved in developing goals and sub-goals thus were committed to pursue them,” he added. 

“The highest priority of every government must remain the suppression of the pandemic. There can be no economic recovery while the pandemic is raging,” he narrated the first of the six key findings of the SDR 2020.

“The report indicates that COVID-19 impacts are amplified for the most vulnerable groups. We in Pakistan have witnessed how it has impacted vulnerable people with resultant sufferings,” he regretted. 

The former federal minister revealed that the Korean Crisis Management Committee on COVID-19 was headed by their Prime Minister to achieve the remarkable results putting Korea at 20th position. 

“They had effective awareness with transparent communication of the programs developed with participation of concerned people with trust which helped implement actions. In addition, vigorous testing was their hallmark in the success,” he shared. 

“The lead countries recognized the strong nexus between health and security. The far sighted leadership continued to recalibrate policies and programs of crisis and not justifying as to who was right or wrong. The research community was effectively involved in crisis avoidance for future,” he noted. 

“The report confirms that the countries which had responded to SDGs since 2015 also responded more effectively so far to the Covid-19. SDGs are all about governance, development and improving the living standards of the world. Yet, even after 4 days of launch of SDR2020 we did not see any report, news, or views in our media. Will one who is leading tell citizens: Where do we stand on catching up on SDGs?” he questioned.

Coronavirus Update: Sindh’s death toll surpasses 1,500

By Mukhtar Alam
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Sindh’s overall COVID-19 fatality tally surpassed 1,500 on July 4 when authorities in the government confirmed deaths of another 42 patients during the last 24 hours, with detection of 1,585 new infections across Sindh, taking the tally of infected people to 92,306, with an overall case rate of 19% since February 26 when the province registered its first coronavirus case at Karachi. 

The total COVID-19 fatalities till July 4 morning was recorded as 1,501, against 575 deaths till June 4, which climbed to 679 on June 8, 916 on June 17, 1,013 on June 19, 1,103 on June 22, 1,205 on June 26, 1406 on July 1, with an overall fatality rate of 1.62% due to infections.

The Sindh Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah, in his daily statement on coronavirus status in the province, stated that 52,388 patients had recovered from the diseases so far, including 1,480 who were cleared of the diseases during the last 24 hours ending at 9 am on July 4. 

He said that at present a total 1,603 patients were hospitalized, including 733 in critical conditions, out of which 98 were put on ventilators, adding that another 36515 COVID-19 positive cases were in home isolation, while 299 more were isolated at government sponsored centres, 

The details about residential status of the deceased persons and hospitals where they lost their lives were not made available by the authorities in the government or the health department. 

According to the chief minister’s statement, Karachi presented the maximum of 928 infections during the last 24 hours, followed by Sukkur (107), Hyderabad (76), Ghotki (65), Matiari (31), Thatta (16), Khairpur (14), Jacobabad (13), Badin (12), Naushero Feroze (12), Sanghar (9), Umerkot (9), Kambar Shahdadkot (8), Mirpurkhas (7), Jamshoro (6), Larkana (4), while Dadu, Kashmore, Shikarpur and Shaheed Benazirabad reported one new case each. 

WHO Report
A Sindh updates report prepared by the World Health Organization’s Sindh sub-office giving an account of cases, recoveries and deaths since March 10 to July 3, noted that the province had a total 90,721 infections during the said period. 

The greatest number of cases was reported from District East in Karachi as Karachi contributed to 78% of the total cases in Sindh. “The highest attack rate is in Karachi (443/100,000 population).” 

According to the report, Sindh was having 38,354 active cases of COVID till July 3 and most of the active cases were in home isolation (95%). Only 5% were admitted in hospitals and government isolation centers. 

It further said that 38% of the total deaths (1,459) occurred in government facilities, 37% in private hospitals, 21% in home isolations, while isolation status of remaining 4% fatalities could not be known. 

According to the report, among the testing capacity, 72% was utilized overall. In all 1,397 health workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics and other contracted COVID-19 during a period from March 10 to July 3, 2020, in Sindh. 

Beijing to bid farewell to Ambassador Naghmana Hashmi

By Masood Sattar Khan
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Ambassador of Pakistan to China, Naghmana Alamgir Hashmi, is going to bid farewell after one-year tenure in Beijing. Moin-ul-Haque, currently serving as Ambassador of Pakistan to Paris will replace her as the new envoy to Beijing. 

The Vice Foreign Minister of China, Luo Zhaohui, met with Ambassador Naghmana Hashmi on July 2. He acknowledged her great contribution in promoting friendly exchanges and cooperation between China and Pakistan, expressed the hope that she would continue to support China-Pakistan relations. 

The Ambassador thanked the Chinese side for its valuable support during her performance of duties and believed Pakistan-China relations would overcome any difficulties and challenges and constantly achieve greater development. 

Naghmana Hashmi has been recognized for her contribution to the cultural understanding between China and Pakistan. As an ambassador in favor of Chinese culture, she depicted the traits of Chinese civilization as peaceful and benevolent. 

Meanwhile, she has endeavored to share the core spirit of Pakistan and its people by introducing Sufism to the Chinese audience. Her deep understanding of both Chinese and Pakistani cultures has warranted her achievements in bringing the two peoples closer. 

She is also hailed as a champion of promoting China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). She has highlighted the tangible results and benefits to the local people brought about by CPEC and recognized its renewed vitality into Pakistan’s socio-economic development. 

Her signed article ‘From Khunjerab to Gwadar: 69 years of concord, cooperation, and connectivity’ was a reflection of her untiring efforts in promoting the CPEC project.  

Khunjerab border reopening deliberated

By Masood Sattar Khan
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

Pakistan and China, on July 4, deliberated on reopening of Khunjerab border as well as strategies to exploit bilateral trade and investment opportunities in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. 

The meeting in this regard was held in Islamabad between Advisor to the Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment, Abdul Razak Dawood, and the Chinese Ambassador in Pakistan, Yao Jing. 

The Advisor informed the Chinese envoy that around 186 containers were stuck at the Khunjerab border, having caused great concern among small businesses in particular.

The Ambassador apprised the Advisor that temporary reopening of the border was under consideration in order to clear the backlog of containers. Both sides agreed to finalize the modalities in this regard to resolve the issue on priority. 

The Advisor underscored that the exports of Pakistan were beginning to gain momentum after a slowdown caused by COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdowns, urging that both sides needed to discuss issues pertaining to bilateral trade with emphasis to further diversify the products being exported from Pakistan, with a specific focus on value-addition, under Phase II of the China Pakistan Free Trade Agreement. 

The Chinese Ambassador threw light on some proposals for joint ventures between Chinese and Pakistani companies, particularly in value added agriculture sector. 

The Advisor highlighted that meat and poultry exports of Pakistan have risen by more than 50% in the fiscal year 2019-20, with market accessibility to Middle East. 

The cooperation on ongoing projects of CPEC were also discussed during the meeting as the Advisor emphasized the need to start the industrial activity through development of Special Economic Zones. 

The Ambassador gave a brief overview of plans to enhance bilateral trade and investment, adding that China was moving fast on some of the construction projects in Pakistan, which would create a number of jobs for the local population.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

North Korea prevents COVID-19 making inroads

By Masood Sattar Khan
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a meeting of the politburo of the ruling Workers Party that his country had stopped the novel coronavirus from making inroads in the country, the state news agency KCNA reported on July 3. 

"We have thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus and maintained a stable anti-epidemic situation despite the worldwide health crisis, which is a shining success achieved," Kim Jong Un said in a statement carried by KCNA. 

He warned against self-complacency or relaxation in the anti-epidemic effort and urged North Koreans to maintain maximum alert. 

While North Korea has not confirmed any infections, its public health ministry has reported all 922 people checked so far have tested negative. Hundreds of people, mostly cargo handlers at seaports and land borders, are being regularly quarantined for monitoring. 

The politburo meeting on July 2 was held at a time when many hard-hit countries were easing lockdowns, even as the world moved quickly past the grim milestones of 10 million confirmed infections and 500,000 deaths. 

According to reports, North Korea has reopened schools but kept a ban on public gatherings and made it mandatory for people to wear masks in public places as part of its response to the coronavirus threat.

Expeditious completion of CPEC projects sought

By Masood Sattar Khan
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed the completion of all projects under the auspices of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) expeditiously. 

He issued these directives while chairing a meeting to review progress of the CPEC projects in Islamabad on July 3. 

While appreciating the role of the CPEC Authority, headed by Lt General Asim Saleem Bajwa, the Prime Minister further emphasized that, upon completion, the dividends from these projects must reach to all Pakistanis. 

Imran Khan described the CPEC as an excellent initiative for Pakistan's socioeconomic uplift which would guarantee a bright future for the country. 

During the meeting, the Prime Minister was briefed in detail about the status of the various ongoing projects under the CPEC. Federal ministers Asad Umar, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar and Omar Ayub Khan, Commerce Advisor, Abdur Razzak Dawood, CPEC Authority Chairman Lt General Asim Saleem Bajwa and senior officers of the organizations concerned attended the meeting.

India pushing for first COVID-19 vaccine by August 15

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

According to some media reports, India is pushing hard to launch the first-ever COVID-19 vaccine by the name of Covaxin on its Independence Day on August 15. 

Although the experts have reckoned that the vaccine could take longer period to be developed and produced on technical grounds, there have been indications to beat the clock to align it with the celebrations of Independence Day. 

The project, a public-private venture between Bharat Biotech, the government-run Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institutes of Virology, is reported to have strong backing of the government. 

It has been learnt that Covaxin was cleared animal trials last week and the government has roped in leading health institutions to expedite clinical trials among humans. 

Bharat Biotech's BSL-3 high-containment facility for the manufacture of the inactivated polio vaccine will now be used for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Free mental therapy training for parents of special children launched

By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services) 

The Aga Khan University (AKU) has partnered with a range of organizations to launch free, online capacity building sessions for parents of children with mental health issues and developmental disorders whose treatment has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The initiative brings together professionals from across the country including developmental paediatricians, speech and occupational therapists, child psychiatrists, paediatric psychologists and student volunteers.

The sessions will see parents receive training on how to deliver rehabilitative care and essential therapies at home if they are unable to access the usual support. For example, instructors will guide parents on how to provide therapies to help children with developmental delays to improve their functional independence, and assist parents in managing behavioural issues that have emerged during the pandemic. Direct sessions between therapists and adolescents facing psychological challenges will also be offered, emphasising on stress management techniques. 

“Children dealing with development delays or behavioural disorders need ongoing, special attention. This pandemic has widened disparities in access to essential mental healthcare and our initiative seeks to help parents continue therapy for their children at home,” Dr Ayesha Mian, associate professor of psychiatry at the AKU, remarked. 

Many people are suffering from feelings of fear and anxiety due to the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. However, parents of children with special needs must also cope with the fear of their child’s development regressing due to the disruption in their therapy. 

“Children on the autism spectrum can regress and lose the gain they had made in speech therapy. Those with conduct disorders may become aggressive towards siblings or pets. Adolescent boys and girls may find changes in mood, sleep or appetite. Such behaviours may get worse with a gap in care,” Fatima Karim, one of the initiative’s lead organisers and a master’s degree student at the AKU, observed. 

“For a developing nation like ours, this initiative would be a game changer in terms of cost-effective provision of mental health support to all eligible children based on their needs rather than diagnostic labels. For professionals, this is an opportunity to equip themselves with innovative health care delivery skills and help parents support their children,” Dr Sidra Kaleem Jafri, assistant professor of pediatrics and child health at the AKU, stated. 

Considering the need for such support for parents, Dr Sarah Saleem, professor of community health sciences at AKU and the principal investigator of the project, mentioned that the team hopes to continue the project until the lockdowns are eased. 

The initiative is part of a large coalition, Pakistan COVID Mental Health Response, which offers free mental health services through various programmes to those affected by distress during the pandemic.

The partners include AKU’s departments of community health sciences, psychiatry, and paediatrics and child health; Taskeen Health Initiative; Interactive Research & Development; Saaya Health Tech; and the Community Innovation Hub through Sehat Kahani. 

The programme is being supported by the British Asian Trust, CareTech and Cosaraf Charitable Foundation. Parents or guardians can book an appointment for free training sessions by sending an email to camh@aku.edu or by calling the helpline 021-37136019.

China urges India to avoid extending border dispute to business

By Masood Sattar Khan
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

China has urged India not to start new disputes as they will take measures to protect the interests of Chinese firms operating in India. 

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson made the statement in Beijing on July 3 in response to a series of actions taken by India against China. 

Zhao Lijian, the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, stated that pragmatic cooperation between China and India was mutually beneficial and win-win while man-made obstacles to cooperation between the two countries violated the relevant World Trade Organization (WTO) rules and may also harm India's own interests. 

His comments came after a series of measures, such as banning 59 mobile applications developed by Chinese firms, were taken by the Indian government against China after border tensions between the two countries had boiled over in June. 

Media outlets even reported that the Indian officials were considering actions to stop the Chinese companies from participating in India's future highway projects. 

There were also rumours doing the rounds that a Chinese company may not be allowed to become the title sponsors of the Indian Premier League (IPL), rated as the richest franchise-based T20 cricket tournament of the world. 

In response to a question, Zhao remarked that China and India were engaging in dialogue on easing the situation through military and diplomatic channels and neither side should take any action that may complicate the border situation. 

As the two countries' border conflict eased, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited a forward post in the border region of Ladakh on July 3.