Justice for Perween

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE  text message is still saved in my mobile phone. It was sent at 9.30 am on Wednesday March 13, 2013. It was signed “Thanks n Cheers PR”. That was the last time I heard from Perween Rahman, director of the OPP-RTI

For years she had made it a habit when in Karachi to read my column in the morning when it appeared in this paper and would send a comment by sms/email or call me up for a brief chat on her way to work. On that fateful day in 2013, less than 12 hours later, she was dead. The following week I wrote, ‘Rest in peace little sister’.

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‘Najma has gone’

By Zubeida Mustafa

HER entire life was a series of battles she fought for the disadvantaged, the empowerment of women, the right of people to land and the preservation of the environment. Many of these were battles that she won. Others were ongoing struggles, as she never gave up hope. That was Najma Sadeque described as the activist who wore several hats.

Her last battle was against death and this one she lost. “Najma has gone,” I was informed by a friend who was in the hospital with Najma when the end came shortly after midnight. With her the courage and inspiration she had instilled in many had also gone, so I thought. Then I knew they hadn’t for Najma has left behind a legacy of courage and integrity embodied so clearly in her daughter Deneb Sumbul. A picture of her mother, Deneb’s dignity in her hour of grief is something only Najma could instil. Continue reading “‘Najma has gone’”

Kalabagh on the backburner

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

LAST week, just when the opposition’s protest had begun to reach an uncomfortably high pitch, President Pervez Musharraf decided to take the wind out of the anti-Kalabagh lobby’s sail by announcing a change in the order of dam building.

In his 90-minute wide-ranging speech, the president announced that all the five dams identified by the government would be built by 2016 but the first to be taken up would be Bhasha.

The controversial Kalabagh dam could wait — though he didn’t make it clear when it would be taken in hand. It will be completed along with the others ten years from now.
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Truth about the Abbasi report

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: dawn

THREE months after the chairman of the Technical Committee on Water Resources (TCWR), Mr A.N.G. Abbasi, had presented his report to the president and the prime minister, the Kalabagh dam issue has burst on the scene in a big way.

The president brought this contentious issue to the forefront when he first spoke of forging a national consensus and creating ‘awareness’ on the KBD. Now he has dispensed with the need for any political understanding and has declared that the dam will be built at any cost.
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Filling a vacuum

89-11-07-1995

By Zubeida Mustafa

Wnen I went to call on Safina Siddiqi on her return from South Africa where she had gone to receive UNEP’s Global 500 Roll of Honour award on the World Environment Day, she was not home. Her house-help who has been with the family for over 20 years duly informed me that she was somewhere in the neighbourhood. I set out to hunt for her, being familiar as I was with her favourite haunts. Within five minutes I had located Safina. There she was at the roadside supervising the planting of saplings. Her hands were full of soil, for she considers her supervision incomplete if she does not show her personal involvement in the work by joining the gardeners in their task.

That did not surprise me. For that is how I have always found Safina — down-to-earth, unassuming with no airs about her and always ready to pitch in when help is needed. No sooner had I asked her how she was, that her eyes lit up and she went on to give me the details of how she had planted sixty-two saplings further down the road before she left for Pretoria. Continue reading “Filling a vacuum”

Allocations fail to match verbal commitments to social sector

By Zubeida Mustafa

76-26-06-1993A

In his budget speech, the Federal Finance Minister emphasised that a key element of the government’s economic strategy was “continued priority to development of education, health, nutrition, housing, population welfare and other social facilities”. But the thrust of the budget and the performance in the social sectors in the outgoing year as documented in the Economic Survey, 1992-93 belied any serious official commitment to human resource development.

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Although some sectors such as health and education are financed and managed mainly by the provinces, the federal budget was a fair indicator of the progress to be expected in these areas of national life. It was plain that in actual fact human development figured low in the government’s priorities. There is now greater reliance on the private sector for filling the enormous gap in education and health. Thus of the Rs 257.7 billion federal revenue expenditure only Rs 6.9 billion (2.6 per cent) is to go towards financing the social services. As usual debt servicing and defence will take away the biggest chunks. On the development side, the social sectors will receive a bigger percentage (3.4) but the amount will be smaller in absolute terms (Rs 1.8 billion).

Education has been badly downgraded. The allocations for this sector in both the revenue and development budgets have been reduced. In fact the allocation for education in the Continue reading “Allocations fail to match verbal commitments to social sector”

Cities: Life in the world’s 100 largest metropolitan areas

By Zubeida Mustafa

The most significant modern day demographic phenomenon is the growing level of urbanisation in this century. In the year 1901 only one in ten of the global population lived in cities. By 2000, nearly half of the world’s people will.

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What is more important than the level of urbanisation is its rapid pace. Take the case of Pakistan. In 44 years the urban population has grown from 15 per cent to 28 per cent of the total.

This change in demographic composition has had a profound impact on society, the national economy and the political culture of the country. It has also affected the quality of life in the cities in a big way because the municipal authorities have failed to keep pace with the growing population in providing the most basic civic amenities to the city-dwellers.

The economy has also not grown rapidly enough to provide jobs to the ever-widening stream of entrants to the urban labour market.

As a result, our cities have emerged as an explosive mass of humanity seething with discontent.

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The Washington-based Population Crisis Committee recently studied the world’s hundred largest cities, ranging from Tokyo (population 28.7 million in 1989) to Pune, India (population 2.3 million).

The Committee looked into the key indicators which determine the quality of life in a city, namely, public safety, food costs, living space, housing standards, communications, education, public health, noise level, traffic and clean air. Cultural activities, employment and nutritional status were omitted because the data were either inconsistent or carried aclass or regional bias.

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Pakistani cities cut a rather sorry figure in this survey. Karachi and Lahore which rank 22nd and 48th population-wise in the world are among the last fourteen in terms of urban living standards. Karachi is 87th and Lahore comes further down at 91st.

Karachi fares most poorly, according to the PCC report, on three counts: living space, communication and health. It could not have scored any less. Lahore’s score is equally bad in respect of the first two. Healthcare-wise it is better off but in terms of education it is worse.

The next two banes of Karachi life are noise pollution and traffic. Surprisingly, air pollution (on the basis of measurement of ozone concentration) is not considered to be too bad which makes one doubt the accuracy of UNEP’s standards that form the basis of the PCC’s assessment.

Another area which makes one sceptical about surveys that depend exclusively on government sources for their data is that of crime. Karachi emerges as a relatively safe place to live in, with only 5.7 murders per 100,000 people a year. Lahore is safer still.

Compared with Cape Town (64 per 100,000), Cairo (56) and Alexandria (49) which have the highest homicide rates, Pakistani cities might be rated as havens of security.

But those who live in perpetual fear in Karachi, know that the police are not always overly cooperative in recording FIRs for murder. Moreover there are crimes other than murder which also make life insecure.

What is certain is that the situation in our cities is definitely not better than what the PCC report calculates it to be. What is to be expected next? With an annual growth rate of seven per cent, Karachi’s problems will only multiply.

The city owes its expansion more to migration than natural increase. The people who are now moving over to the urban areas are being forced out of their homes by the growing impoverishment of the countryside.

The pattern of agrarian holding with its bias towards large landlords has left over four million rural households (nearly 24 million people) living below the poverty line because they are landless, are tenants on very small farms or their land has been fragmented because of the inheritance factor.

In the absence of land reforms, this pattern is unlikely to be broken. With no alternative source of employment generation in the rural areas, the exodus to the cities is there to stay.

Additionally the growing insecurity in the interior of Sindh born of rampant crime and lawlessness is uprooting people from the countryside.

What will be the future of this metropolis? If present trends are an indicator, Karachi will be a split city. On the one side will be the millions mired in grinding poverty. Three million of them live in kachchi abadis in conditions of crowding and insanitation. Their number will grow and by the turn of the century half of Karachi’s population will be living in illegal squatter settlements.

At the other end of the scale are the affluent classes. For them life in Karachi has its paradoxes. But their wealth enables them to buy all those facilities the civic authorities fail to provide — water (through bowsers), electricity (through generators), healthcare and education (through private hospitals, schools and universities) and transport (through their own fleet of cars). \

But their insensitivity to poverty notwithstanding, the rich cannot escape the reality of the misery of the have-not. Apart from the ugly sights of kachchi abadis creeping up to the walls of the mansions of the rich there is also the congestion on the roads which reduces the flow of traffic to a crawling 17 miles per hour in rush hours (according to the PCC report) and makes the rich rub shoulders with the poor, albeit in different modes of transport.

Most significant is the growing crime rate which should come as a stark reminder of the insidious erosion of urban life. In spite of the protection they seek to buy through private agencies and guards, the fact is that the affluent are more vulnerable to crime because of their wealth. This vulnerability is the price they have to pay for the comforts they can afford.

This class disparity, which is growing and will increase further with the government’s privatisation programme, has emerged as the hallmark of Karachi’s population.

The civic bodies’ failure to provide the basic amenities of life is giving rise to violent discontent. Water riots have become a normal feature of Karachi life in summer and the KESC staff has had to suffer physical attacks from a public suffering from the discomfort of prolonged power breakdowns.

Add to these the problems generated by unemployment and rising cost of food (even daal and roti, the poor man’s standard ware is exorbitantly priced) and you have an explosive mixture.

The ostentation of the rich only helps to fuel the seething dissatisfaction of the poor. The vulgar display of wealth by a few is bound to compound the unrest among the many, especially when they find themselves being progressively denied even those basic needs that they could take for granted as their right at one time.

Marx might be dead in Eastern Europe and dying in Soviet Russia. But the class conflict he wrote about continues to live and flourish in Third World cities bursting at the seams..

Source: Dawn 03-05-1991