Thursday, September 13, 2012

Karachi fire: The bigger picture

KARACHI: 235 labourers burnt alive

Let Us Build Pakistan
by Ali Arqam
Class was the only common feature of 235 labourers burnt alive in Karachi factory fire
Karachi, the name synonymous with ‘Bad News’ is once again in the headlines, this time again for another tragedy, another sad story of human loss. Ali Garments, a factory situated on Hub River road, RCD Highway in Baldia Town caught fire last evening (11 Sep 2012), the fire couldn’t be extinguished in 10 hours eventually burning 235 people alive. Witnesses reported that the blaze spread at astounding speed, which left workers in the factory struggling to escape. The factory’s gates were closed, trapping workers inside. “I jumped from my seat as did others and rushed toward the windows, but iron bars on the windows barred us from escaping. Some of us quickly took tools and machines to break the iron bars,” Mohammad Ilyas, an injured factory worker told the AP. “That was how we managed to jump out of the windows down to the ground floor.”Who are the victims? Facing the brutal tug of war among political groups formed on ethnic lines, politicking on financial resources, land distributions, the only victim is the common man, the working class labourers. Living in the outskirts of the city, deprived of very basic necessities of life, water and electricity, health services and education, these labourers are facing unfavourable working conditions in the industrial sector. They have been killed in the streets of Karachi, due to their ethnic or racial features and residential addresses on their CNICs.
This time death came to them with a new face. The factory where they were working caught fire, the building as usual had no fire safety installations, the fire extenguishers hanged to the walls were not in working condition, the building design was not as per the industrial standards, and the result is at least 235 deaths by fire which did not discriminate among the labourers on the basis of skin color, mother tongue, sect and ethnic background. The only common feature of the burnt alive labourers in Karachi factory fire was their socio-economic class. Abject poverty was the bond which kept all of them together, in their working life and also in death. Who is responsible for the man made disaster?
The industrial and manufacturing sector in Karachi and across Pakistan (with very few exceptions) is known for electricity and gas theft, tax evasion and paying huge amounts of bribes to respective departments for lack of safety measures, lack of facilities, unfavourable working conditions, Low wages, contract system for labourers. On the other hands, they pay huge amounts as extortion money to the Police, MQM, ANP, PAC, Takfiri Jihadis and sectarian organisations. For these generosity, no one ask them about what they are doing to the labourers. Who should be indicted? Greedy urban mercantile class, the drawing room gossipers who have least regard for human life and human rights; relevant government departments; local unit/sector leaders of MQM and ANP, the thugs of Uzair Jan Baloch, Police officials and political representatives from the area.

US provides $12 million for KP irrigation system
The United States will provide $12 million to fund construction of the Waran Canal System that will supply year-round irrigation to 28,000 acres in Tank Tehsil. The Waran Canal will expand other US-funded irrigation systems in the area to cover a total of 191,000 acres, enabling thousands of farmers to increase production of agricultural goods. "Water is one of the biggest constraints on agriculture and economic growth in Pakistan. By helping to construct this irrigation system, we hope to increase employment opportunities and incomes for local communities," said U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Country Director Jock Conly, at the project launch ceremony on Wednesday. The project will be funded through USAID and implemented in cooperation with Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority. Currently, the area only receives water only during floods in the summer season and even that is scarce. Due to the lack of irrigation, farmers are only able to grow one crop each year, Rabi wheat. The construction of the Waran Canal irrigation system will make irrigation water available for two crop seasons, allowing farmers to plant a second crop each year and increase their overall productivity. The new irrigation system will also increase fodder production and make more water available for livestock. The Waran Canal project includes construction of a 37 km-long main canal, 127 km of secondary canals, and related structures such as bridges and falls. A drainage system and other structures serving 33 villages situated alongside the canal are also part of the project plan. Irrigation system improvements and the Gomal Zam Dam project are a part of U.S. efforts to help Pakistan improve agricultural productivity through water management improvements. The dam will generate electricity for 39,000 households, store irrigation water, and provide flood protection for the Tank and Dera Ismail Khan districts. In addition, the United States plans to work with the KP Department of Agriculture to introduce high-value crops, such as off-season vegetables and fruits, as well as better animal breedstocks to build on the benefits of bringing water back to Tank and Dera Ismail Khan.

Zardari assures FATA MPs to vouch for them

President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday reiterated the commitment of the government to continue focusing on FATA and to take all possible measures for the socio-economic development of the people of tribal areas. He was talking to a delegation of FATA parliamentarians here at Aiwan-e-Sadr. The delegation was headed by MNA Hameed Ullah Jan Afridi. The delegation included MNA Zafar Beg Bhittani, MNA Malik Bilal Rehman, MNA Mohammad Kamran Khan, Senator Haji Khan Afridi, Senator Hilal-ur-Rehman and Senator Engr. Malik Rashid Ahmed Khan. Matters relating to developmental funds of the FATA parliamentarians, developmental activities in their respective areas and issues of expatriates belonging to FATA working in the Gulf countries were discussed during the meeting. The parliamentarians thanked the President for introducing local governments in tribal areas in the coming year in consultation with all stakeholders and termed it another important milestone in bringing the people of the areas into the mainstream of national life. The President said that the people of tribal areas have rendered huge sacrifices in the ongoing battle against militants and it was important to focus on their socio-economic development for winning the battle of minds. He reiterated that all the reforms would be undertaken in the area in accordance with the wishes, customs and traditions of the people. The President also said that the issues raised by them would be forwarded to the government for early redress. The delegation thanked the President for his personal interest in the development of the tribal area and socio-economic uplift of the people.

Legendary actor Lehri passes away

The legendary comedian Safirullah Siddiqui popularly known as Lehri has passed away in Karachi after a prolonged illness Thursday morning, Geo News reported. According to family sources, the veteran actor Lehri, 83 succumbed to his illness this morning. His son-in-law Asad Mehboob told Geo News that the actor was on the ventilator for the past many days after his health deteriorated. Political leaders and people from all walks of life expressed grief over the actor’s demise. His funeral would take place after Asr prayers and he will be buried in Yaseenabad graveyard. Lehri was one of the country’s greatest comedians who made his name in Urdu films. His film career started in the 1950s and lasted until the 1980s. Lehri won the Nigar Award for around a dozen films. The late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto provided him with a monthly stipend of Rs 2,500 during her first tenure, which he continued to receive, though there has been no increase in the amount. Lehri’s first film “Anokhi” was released in 1956, and his last production was Dhanak in 1986. The vast majority of his films were in Urdu, though he did perform in a few Punjabi productions as well.

Pakistan : Gunmen kill 7 road workers in southwest

Associated Press
A government official says gunmen have killed seven road construction workers in southwest Pakistan. Javed Ahmad says the incident took place on Thursday in Mastung district in Baluchistan province. Ahmad is a local official in Mastung, which is located about 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of the provincial capital, Quetta. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on the workers, who were employed by the government. Baluchistan is home to both Islamist militants and separatists who have waged a violent insurgency against the government for decades over greater autonomy and a larger share of the province's natural resources.

Hina defends UN mission on missing persons

Defending the visit of the United Nations mission on enforced disappearances, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar
has said that it was not mandated to conduct any investigation. The minister in her policy statement in the National Assembly said, “The UN working group on Human Rights is not mandated to conduct any investigation or fact finding and have arrived on an invitation of the government”. However, her statement was unable to ease the concerns of inquisitive parliamentarians over the visit of a UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). Earlier, a two-member UN mission arrived in Pakistan on Monday for a 10-day visit to collect data about missing persons. The foreign minister made it clear that the visit was in conformity with international rules. She added, “We should not be apprehensive of the visit. We are a democratic and pluralist country where judiciary is independent, the media is free and civil society is robust. All these features manifest that we protect human rights”. Khar further said that the UN mission was not going to draw conclusions and would rather discuss its findings with the government and interact with the media on September 20. She further stated, “Pakistan has a mechanism in place for the protection of human rights. The commission on missing persons is continuing its work; the Supreme Court has taken suo motu and the government is sincere in its protection of human rights”. The minister continued Islamabad had ratified many protocols and conventions of the UN regarding human rights, which shows commitment on part of the government to protect the rights of women, children, minorities and other vulnerable segments of society. She said that the UN working group had received an invitation from 91 countries and had visited over a dozen countries in order to engage with the governments to promote human rights. However, her statement failed to convince the parliamentarians. Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) MNA Raza Hayat Hiraj, who had raised the issue, insisted on holding debate on his adjournment motion. Terming the statement of foreign minister diplomatic, Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) Noor Alam Khan from endorsed the remarks of Hiraj.

Pakistan, China to enter FTA Phase-II next year
Pakistan and China will enter Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Phase-II next year to enhance mutual trade and export, informed sources told Business Recorder. The FTA between Pakistan and China is going to be concluded at the end of 2012 where both the countries have succeeded in achieving most of the commitments including bringing down tariff for different products, sources in the Textile Ministry said on Wednesday. Commerce and Textile Ministry has already initiated work to prepare agenda and future plan for post Phase-I of the FTA. In this regard a meeting was held in the Ministry of Textile Industry here on Wednesday, chaired by the Secretary Textile Ministry. All textile industry stakeholders participated in the meeting where the post Phase-I FTA scenario was discussed to evaluate future plan. It was further discussed that which items should be included in sensitive list while others to be allowed under the FTA. Sources revealed that both the countries have the commitment that 90 percent products would be brought on zero-tariff by the end of Phase-II. Currently, Pakistan has only allowed yarn while China has protected garments; however it was deliberated upon that how many items would be allowed while getting market for garments. However, it is yet to be decided, when the Phase-II would be implemented. Pakistan is also going to organize an international conference & exhibition “Pakistan Textiles” next year in Lahore. During the meeting matters related to the conference were discussed with all stakeholders. Textile Ministry in collaboration with the Commerce Ministry will organize the international conference while it will be sponsored by the Export Development Fund (EDF), sources maintained. During the meeting budget allocation and other aspects were discussed. Ministry of Textiles plans to organize this three-day event involving textile manufacturers, importers and exporters, where delegation from all the major textile markets may be invited for participation. This event would help our exporters to find new opportunities to enhance their exports but most importantly, this event would help promote Pakistan as a safe place for business. This event will include the following activities: Textile products exhibition, seminar on joint ventures/investment in textile sector, conference on value addition and innovation in textiles, cotton conference, promotion of local brands through exhibition and fashion shows. Ministry of Textile Industry sets to achieve following objectives by holding abovementioned event, building image of Pakistan as a business friendly destination, facilitation of textile exporters, export and product diversification, technology up-gradation, promotion of value added textile related higher education, creating linkage between academia, promotion of local brands (garments & home textiles) and industry and promotion of domestic commerce. Share on facebookShare on twitterShare on bloggerShare on stumbleuponShare on deliciousShare on facebook_like

Pakistan: How factories with bad working conditions can operate

The Express Tribune
Although the firefighters did a good job, the capacity to fight fires even in the country’s biggest city is questionable at best, said the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) while expressing concern over the death of at least 289 people who died in factory fires in Karachi and Lahore on Tuesday. They demanded that immediate action should be taken to ensure that safety measures were taken to protect factory workers in the country. In a statement issued by the commission on Wednesday, they said that although the government had promised to look into the case, many factors which contributed to the fire were common knowledge, including the bad working conditions at such factories. “We already know that due to the lack of multiple exit and entry points, the workers could not escape in time,” said the HRCP. “The factory in Lahore only had one entry-exit point and in Karachi, many workers died because they had to jump out of a four-storey building. Highly inflammable substances were stored inside the building and no safety measures were taken. The situation got worse as there were no fire alarms or fire extinguishers.” The commission claimed that if the government was investigating why the fires broke out, they should also find out why factories were allowed to operate in such bad conditions. They said that factories should be fined for hazardous storage areas and not having an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. “In both cases it is obvious that the proprietors had their priorities wrong. They set profit above the well being of their employees. The government should have checked up on this,” it said in the statement. “The man leading the fire fighting operation in Karachi claimed that the factory was ‘dangerous’ with a weak structure and had no emergency exits – why was this fact not highlighted earlier?”

Pakistan: Deaths by fire

Who is responsible for the loss of over three hundred industrial workers killed in separate incidents of fire in two factories: One on Bund Road in Lahore and the other on Hub River Road in Karachi. Perhaps no one, as these tragedies were caused by the apathy of the officialdom of the provinces of Punjab and Sindh. Reports say that some 26 labourers were burnt alive in the shoe factory in Lahore and almost three hundred lost their lives in Karachi fire. The two unfortunate incidents also left at least 51 sustaining injuries with some wounded said to be paralyzed for the rest of their lives and thus can be counted among half-dead, for they have been rendered useless and cannot support their families. In fact, they have become burdens on their financially restrained families keeping in view that the dead and seriously injured were factory workers. Chief ministers of Punjab and Sindh have announced Rs500,000 compensation for the families of each of the deceased and Rs75,000 for each wounded industrial worker, in addition to free medical treatment. This is all the two provincial governments could and have offered to the bereaved families. The governments does not seem to have serious intentions of holding inquiries to identify those responsible for the tragic incidents. Allowing an entrepreneur to establish a factory is the job of the industry department but, the government also has the responsibility to ensure if all the safety measures have been taken and the industrial units are equipped with sufficient safety equipment and other steps taken to make sure the workers are doing their jobs in safe and secure working environment. For example, the factory at Lahore which produced shoes had abundance of inflammable material like rubber, leather and glue. These were apparently hazardous and a fire risk on their own; yet the factory had no fire-fighting system which could at least have contained the fire till the city fire fighting units arrived. Even the fire fighting units, when they arrived, could not work properly as there was not enough pressure in the water pipelines to put off the flames. The industries department is also under legal obligation of periodic examination of all industrial units. But electronic media reports said no such inspection was undertaken by the department since the shoe factory was established about three years ago. As for the blaze in Karachi industrial unit, it was said that short-circuiting was the reason. Still, an inquiry should be held to find out whether authorities concerned had examined the wiring of the factory which was their responsibility. Similar inquiry should also be held in Lahore and those who had not carried out their official obligations, be punished under the law.

Militancy keeps 600,000 KP children out of school

Around 600,000 children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have missed one or more years of education due to militancy, according to a report on ‘The State of Pakistan’s Children-2011’.
The report, which was launched during a special function organised by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child at the Peshawar Press Club on Tuesday, said a total of 710 schools had been destroyed or damaged by militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “A total of 640 schools were destroyed in Malakand, while 70 educational institutions were destroyed or damaged in various other districts across the province. In Swat, 121 schools were completely destroyed, while another 280 were partially damaged by militants over a span of two years,” it said. According to the report, almost 25 million children are currently out of school in the country and of them, seven million had yet to receive any form of primary schooling. About juvenile justice system, it said the number of juveniles detained in prisons increased from 1,225 in 2010 to 1,421 in 2011. The detainees included 1,256 under trial and 165 convicted juveniles. “In 2011, Punjab had the highest number of juvenile offenders (833), followed by Sindh (318), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (241) and Balochistan (40),” it said. The report said progress on approving laws for establishment of borstals in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remained stalled in 2011. It also pointed out that in parliament, the Prisons Amendment Bill dealing with children of incarcerated parents was introduced in 2010, but there had been no development on it since. The report said FCR and Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation should be abolished immediately and the role and power of the political agents should be restricted to limited administrative matters with no role in judicial matters. “Also, children under 18 years of age should be removed from the ambit of the anti-terrorism and control of narcotics substance laws,” it said, adding that bills for establishing borstals and increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility must be vetted and adopted by the provincial assemblies and parliament. The report said the federal and provincial governments must allocate funds for the administration of juvenile justice; Child Protection (Criminal Laws) Amendment Bill should be passed, and the government should establish the National Commission on the Rights of Children by approving the National Commission on the Rights of Children Bill. Jamaat-i-Islami Khyber Pakhtunkhwa naib ameer Mushtaq Ahmed Khan was the chief guest at the report launch, where speakers said flood relief policies and programmes should have special focus on communities vulnerable to floods. The also called for immediate relocation and rehabilitation of people taking refuge in school buildings should be initiated to allow schools to resume their educational functions. Jehanzeb of Sparc presented major findings of the report and said various child related issues in the country had been summarily ignored by the successive governments. He said there was room for improvement as formative efforts could be institutionalised through political will to protect the rights of the children in the country. According to him, ratification of the optional protocol of UNNCRC on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, adoption of the prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011 and amendments in the Frontier Crimes Regulation, 1901 were some of the major achievements in 2011. Mr Jehanzeb said in 2011, floods and militancy in some of the most underdeveloped parts of the country presented new challenges to child rights activists and development organizations working for children. “For instance, flood alone affected 4.8 million people, half of them children (an estimated 500,000 below the age of five years),” he said. He said a plethora of issues relating to different forms of violence against children show the dearth of government legislation needed to address them. In 2011, he said a total of 2,303 instances of sexual abuse were recorded from various parts of the country. According to him, the number of acid attacks rose from 65 to 150 in 2011, while latest statistics also reveal that 24 per cent of women between the ages of 20-24 years were married before the age of 18 years in Pakistan. “These issues call for a multi-pronged approach that amalgamates educational and awareness initiatives with policy level interventions to counteract culturally and socially entrenched issues relating to child related issues,” he said. Mr Mushtaq said all segments of the society should join hands to overcome the vulnerable population of the country.