elusive rule of law
An unholy alliance
Pharmaceutical companies are doling out favours to the doctors who prescribe their expensive brands of medicines to patients
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Photos by Rahat Dar
The debate about unethical practices being adopted by pharmaceutical companies to boost their sales is gaining momentum day by day. Though there is no major objection from any quarter to the promotional schemes of these companies, many view the close relationship between the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry with scepticism.
Pharmaceutical companies are being increasingly blamed for corrupting the medical profession and making lucrative offers to doctors prescribing their products to the patients. The favours that are normally doled out to medical practitioners by pharmaceutical companies include foreign trips with family; costly gifts like watches, mobile phones and cars; furnishing of clinics; and share in the proceeds from sale. There are also reports that many doctors have set up their own pharmaceutical companies, or have bought shares in the existing ones, and are prescribing only their products to patients.
Muhammad Ashiq, a medical representative, told TNS that some doctors even ask for a 'share' in the total sales made to their patients. "The staff at medical stores maintains record of these sales as well as of the doctors recommending the medicines. At the end of the week or the month, representatives of pharmaceutical companies consolidate the records collected from all the medical stores selling their products to find out which doctor has helped them how much. The pre-decided 'share' in the total sales is then disbursed to the doctors according to their 'contribution'," he informs.
The major reason for the prevalence of such unethical practices is that there is a big difference in the prices of same medicines being sold under different brand names (the Ministry of Health registers and approves the price of each brand of a medicine). Patients and their attendants are normally not aware of this fact, and religiously follow the advice of their doctor. The logic behind the big difference in the prices of same medicines is that some pharmaceutical companies have invested more in research and development, thus their products are priced higher than those of others.
A common perception among patients is that most doctors prescribe medicines by only those pharmaceutical companies that offer them incentives, says a Lahore-based physician who did not want to be named. "The nexus between the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry is getting stronger day by day, as the people concerned have no fear owing to the fact that no one can challenge a qualified doctor's advice. If a doctor says a particular brand of a medicine suits a patient the most, no one can argue with him or her. Similarly, if patients do not buy the prescribed brand of a medicine, they risk estranging their doctor," he comments.
According to a study conducted by The Network for Consumer Rights, an Islamabad-based non-governmental organisation (NGO), the cheapest brand of tablet Ciprofloxacin 500 mg is priced at Rs 5.50, while the most expensive brand of the same medicine at Rs 50.40. In some cases, the difference in the price of the cheapest and the most expensive brand of a medicine is as high as 1,000 per cent, the study reveals.
The table -- prepared by The Network for Consumer Rights -- lists 12 drugs; the number of brands of each registered with the Ministry of Health; the minimum price and the maximum price of these drugs; and the maximum price as a percentage of the minimum price, showing how high is the maximum price compared with the minimum price in percentage terms.
When contacted for comments, Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) sources told TNS that they are aware of the big difference in the prices of same medicines being sold under different brand names and are also working on a plan to address this issue. In this respect, they cite the relevant sections and sub-sections of the PMDC code of conduct that state:
i) The practitioner must act in patient's best interests when making referrals and providing or arranging treatment or care. No inducement, gift or hospitality that may affect or be seen to affect judgment may be accepted. Neither will a practitioner offer such inducements to colleagues;
ii) Financial or commercial interests in organisations providing health care, or in pharmaceutical or other biomedical companies, must not affect the way that patients are prescribed, treated or referred;
iii) Financial or commercial interest in an organisation to which a patient is to be referred for treatment or investigation must be declared to the patient; and
iv) Before taking part in discussions about buying goods or services, any relevant financial or commercial interest that the practitioner or the practitioner's family might have in the purchases must be declared.
The PMDC code of conduct also discourages doctors from "entering into business or other arrangements that include financial incentives; sharing of fees, including refund based on successful outcomes; and payments for referral of patients for laboratory investigations or other procedures except when a partnership is publicly known to exist."
A suggestion that seems to carry weight is that the speakers in medical conferences should be allowed to use only scientific generic names of drugs in their presentations. Another valid suggestion is that doctors should hold their conferences at lecture halls and auditoriums of medical institutions rather than the banquet halls of five-star hotels.
Dr Talib Lashari, executive coordinator of The Network for Consumer Rights, suggests that scientific data in the public domain should be made available, on request, to prescribers and any other person entitled to receive it. He says financial or material benefits should not be offered to or sought by health care practitioners, as it influences their prescription of drugs.
Dr Lashari opines that though the government may adopt legislation or other measures in this regard, different groups will have to adopt self-regulatory measures to curb these unethical practices. These groups should monitor and enforce the standards themselves, he stresses.
Commenting on the role of medical representatives, Dr Lashari says they should make available to prescribers and dispensers complete and unbiased information about each product. In case of any wrongdoings by them, owners of pharmaceutical companies should be held accountable, he suggests.
The empty treasury syndrome
By Kaleem Omar
Every government thinks it's better than every previous government. This applies not only to Pakistani governments, but to governments around the world.
All governments tend to think they are the best thing to come along since sliced bread. They think their predecessors were unmitigated disasters, who ended up leaving the national treasury empty.
After the Z. A. Bhutto government was ousted in a military coup in July 1977, General Ziaul Haq said his government had inherited an empty treasury from the Bhutto government. When Benazir Bhutto became prime minister in November 1988, she said her government had inherited an empty treasury. When Nawaz Sharif became prime minister in October 1990, he said his government had inherited an empty treasury. This pattern continued all through the 1990s, with every incoming government claiming it had inherited an empty treasury.
When the Musharraf government took over in October 1999, it, too, said it had inherited an empty treasury. But when the Jamali government took office in September 2002, the pattern was broken, for the simple reason that Shaukat Aziz, the finance minister in the incoming government, had also been finance minister in the Musharraf government. And Aziz could hardly say he had inherited an empty treasury from himself.
The same continuity factor prevented the Shaukat Aziz government from claiming it had inherited an empty treasury from the Jamali government. Moreover, with billions of dollars of foreign exchange reserves in the national kitty, it would have been hard for the Aziz government to make a convincing case for an empty treasury.
Is the 'Empty Treasury Syndrome' a thing of the past then? One would certainly hope so. I mean, given the choice between an empty treasury and one with more than 16 billion dollars of foreign exchange reserves in it (the current figure), who would not want to opt for the latter? Empty and bulging treasuries aside, what do the governed have to say about governments? Here is a sampling.
Wiker's Law says that government expands to absorb revenue. It is derived from the old corporate-management law about work expanding to fill the time available for it. Applying Wiker's Law to our own case, we find it is relevant even at the highest levels of government. When East Pakistan was still part of Pakistan, we had 16 civil servants of federal secretary rank or its equivalent. But now -- 36 years after losing half the country -- we have more than 150, each of them costing the exchequer several million rupees a year in salary and perks.
The theory behind this is that people who work sitting down are paid more than people who work standing up. According to Furst's Bureaucratic Byword, massive expenditures obscure the evidence of bad judgments. That's why governments love throwing money at problems -- throw enough money at a problem and no one can accuse you of not doing anything about it, even when the problem is one that cannot be solved by spending.
A case in point was former US president Ronald Reagan's so-called 'War against Drugs'. Confronted by a rising tide of illegal drug use in America in the 1980s, he poured hundreds of millions of dollars into such things as more patrol gunboats for the Coast Guard, more helicopters for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and so forth.
It was all to no avail, however, because the quantity of illegal drugs flowing into America actually increased during the Reagan era and the number of people on drugs went up.
What the Reagan administration should have done was to initiate programmes to tackle the problem at the sociological level, by addressing the root causes of why people use drugs in the first place. Instead, the administration chose to throw money at the law-enforcement end of the problem. The upshot was that the Coast Guard got lots of shiny new gunboats and the DEA got lots of new helicopters, but the problem of drug use in America continued to grow at an even faster rate than before.
Baxter's First Law says that government intervention in the free market always leads to a lower national standard of living.
Proponents of this school of thought argue that the old ideological battles of socialism versus capitalism are things of the past. They say: "We don't have ideological wars now; we have cola wars -- as in Pepsi Cola versus Coca Cola."
Then, of course, there is Baxter's Second Law, which says that the adoption of fractional gold reserves in a currency system always leads to depreciation, devaluation, demonetization, and, ultimately, the complete destruction of that currency.
We, in Pakistan, abandoned the gold standard long ago. This isn't surprising given the fact that we never had very much gold to begin with. Even so, we had a pretty strong currency back in the early 1950s when the exchange rate was three rupees to the dollar. By the end of the 1960s the rate had crept up somewhat, but the rupee was still pretty strong.
Then, in the early 1970s, the Z. A. Bhutto government devalued the rupee by a staggering 137 per cent in one swoop, sending its value plummeting to a new low. January 8, 1982, saw it standing at 9.90 to the dollar.
The very next day, however, the Zia government's redoubtable finance minister, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, hit us with a double whammy, announcing that the rupee would no longer be pegged to the dollar under a fixed exchange rate mechanism but would now be allowed to "float" against a "basket of currencies". In the event, it turned out to be some float! Sinking would be more like it.
The years that followed saw a steady decline in the value of the rupee, as it fell, first, to 19 to the dollar, then 21 to the dollar, then 29 to the dollar, then 32 to the dollar, then 36 to the dollar, then 44 to the dollar. Today, it stands at 60 to the dollar -- proving that Baxter's Second Law was spot-on after all.
People are increasingly considering raising voice against corruption to be a futile exercise
By Dr Noman Ahmed
On September 8, 2007, young students from over two dozen educational institutions pledged to fight against corruption in all forms. This statement was made in a seminar held in Karachi, which was attended by prominent politicians, legal luminaries and academics.
No one can deny the damaging effects caused by corruption to a society, but one of the most important aspects is to understand the various forms and formats of corruption.
In usual terms, corruption is perceived as a financial and monetary ailment that is mirrored in the form of bribery, extortion, bungling of public-funds, overspending, and cooking of books. A cursory look at the state of affairs shows that wilful acts of abuse of power, inappropriate decision making and fiddling with administrative / legal structure for self interests are far more damaging types of corruption that continue to destroy the moral edifice of the society.
The old adage, 'absolute power generates absolute corruption', is not without sound logic. There are many examples in our recent past that can help us better understand this phenomenon.
If one attempts to catalogue the forms of corruption, the volume can become invariably fat! However, numerous studies have shown that corruption in certain sectors affects the common people the most.
Planning and development of physical infrastructure, routine construction practices, systems of law and order enforcement, lower level judicial procedures, pricing controls, hoarding of bulk consumables, land ownership and transfer issues, matrimonial registration and dissolution, water management, power distribution and billing, piracy and copy right matters, education (admission and assessment), health care facilities, etc, are all areas that are completely marred by malpractices and corruption.
The immediate fall out of corruption on the usual human behaviour has been complex. A sizable number of people, including government functionaries, now consider corruption as an accepted norm of life. As such, many people now consider raising any voice against corruption to be a futile exercise.
Some people now relate to corruption as just another way of going about life as usual. Again a significant number of masses live with frustration, agitated minds and feeling of helplessness. The number of success stories in dealing with corruption have been very few and far between. Here it is pertinent to look at corruption from a scientific perspective.
Pakistan has remained in the company of most corrupt nations as far as the corruption perception index is concerned. The situation cannot improve until and unless solid measures are taken by the decision-makers without delay.
The first level is the recognition of corruption as an existing menace and ailment that has to be dealt with. The government shall have to take concrete steps in adopting anti-corruption measures at all levels of governance.
According to one researcher on the subject, if the government simply applies all the existing laws, rules and procedures, a drastic change can be brought about in the existing situation. Many institutions are already in place, which need reinforcement in capacity as well as immunity to work independently. Public Account Committees -- comprising elected representatives, office of Auditor General and internal scrutiny / audit mechanisms --can help eradicate corruption to a great extent.
The second step is to enable and encourage whistle blowers to identify and report corruption without fear. Whistle blowing is defined as "the act of anonymous reporting of corruption to the concerned authority". In many countries, including India, whistle blowing is legally safeguarded. The courts of law often possess suo motu jurisdiction that they liberally apply, however the overall capacity is limited.
The third aspect is the creation and promotion of social images of related people, especially the high-ups. One finds that the most corrupt of leaders and functionaries are projected as heroes for some motive or interest. This approach needs a thorough review. The process of investigation and fact finding must be structured in an objective and sincere manner where all the concerned parties need to be neutrally heard. It seldom happens. The inquiries and action are based on selective justice, usually leaving the big fish in the pond.
Many outfits created in the past, such as the former Ehtesab Bureau or the present National Accountability Bureau, have been severely criticised for acts of witch-hunting against politically undesirables. Imprisonment and sudden release as well as plea-bargains with the most notorious of crooks raise eyebrows. The current scenes happening in the arena of politics are glowing examples of this.
Sizable feedback can also be drawn from scientifically structured organisations. The Transparency International (TI) has a useful presence in Pakistan that needs to be spread out to more organisations. This non-governmental organisation (NGO) works very closely with the corporate sector. The local and national chamber of commerce and industry networks cab develop partnerships with the TI to maintain corruption-free operations. It will be useful for organisations that have been traditionally accused of illegal profiteering and financial corruption (such as oil sector bodies).
The United Nations Global Compact, the World Economic Forum Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, the International of Federation of Consulting Engineers, International Chamber of Commerce Anti-Corruption Commission and many other non-state based initiatives have very useful guidelines to offer in respect of public and private sector functioning.
We also need to involve with watchdog organisations that oversee sectoral performances from the perspective of corruption and abuses. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Watch is a very active global NGO that critically examines the lending and working of the bank in member countries. At times, the observations of ADB Watch have been useful in preventing unwanted funding from the bank for not so important projects.
There is a growing concern amongst the international financial institutions to bring about internal reforms against corruption through multi-factious inputs. The World Bank has outlined corruption as a major area of action and research where its efforts and investment are geared up. In the changing globe, there will be no long-term survival if the issue of corruption is not addressed in a manner that it deserves.
(The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture and Planning, NED University, Karachi.)
Our farming community needs to make full use of the latest research and technological advancements to improve the output of wheat
By Dr Muhammad Yaseen
The attitude of our farming community is typical and traditional as far as agricultural practices are concerned. Majority of farmers in our country believe in the proverb 'seeing is believing', to the extent that common farmers are unaware of the latest research and technological advancements in the field of agriculture. They do not believe in the established facts and findings of scientists, and blindly adopt those agricultural practices -- though not optimal in economic and efficiency terms -- that they consider to be good keeping in view their past experiences.
It is an age of 'low-input agriculture', based on efficient use of resources with least threat to the environment. Along with oil, gas and electricity, wheat is a trend-setter commodity -- it sets the market prices of other commodities and also the level of production of inputs, particularly fertilisers in the agro-industry.
Wheat is the major staple food crop of Pakistan. The average yield per hectare in our country is 2,250 kilograms. Recent research studies show that there is a 35 per cent gap of grain yield between progressive farming and average farming. The average yield on progressive farmer's field is about 4,500 kilograms per hectare. So there is a need to narrow down the gap between both farming systems to fulfill the wheat requirement of the country.
The average annual consumption of Pakistan is 19 million tonnes of wheat grain. Only once in the last decade, in the year 1999-2000, were we able to achieve more than 21 million tonnes of production. The reason behind this yield boost was not thoroughly analysed to maintain the pace and price in future.
Wheat production technology is primarily based on the selection of variety, time and method of sowing; plant population; and balanced use of fertiliser. Wheat is sown in Pakistan by using various methods -- broadcast, drill, ridge and bed planting. Each of these methods has its own merits and demerits. Our farmers do not prefer laborious and costly methods of sowing, particularly those that involve sacrificing of land. That is why despite all efforts to bring them towards drill sowing method, majority of them still prefer the broadcast method.
A variety of new methods have been designed and advocated by technologists. Most of these methods in general and bed planting method in particular have some drawbacks. It is true that bed planting saves some water, but it is difficult to maintain the required number of plants or number of spike heads per acre using this method of sowing.
Carpet wheat sowing technology is actually a combination of conventional and new methodologies of sowing. It ensures reduced fertiliser losses, saves water and improves production, particularly in the case of late sowing. It has also been proved that the carpet wheat sowing method maintains even more than the required number of plants.
In this method, no drill or special equipment is required to sow the crop. All the fertilisers and seeds are applied by using the broadcast method. Beds are made with ridgers, while adjusting the blade at a distance of 1.5-2 feet. The top of bed is levelled by hanging a planker behind the ridger in such a way that the weight is partly supported by the ridger.
It has been revealed that there is less likelihood of crop lodging through the use of this method, as it generally occurs at the time of ripening of crop. The method allows the seed to grow in depression of furrows, slanting area / slope of bed and on the plane surface of the bed. In this method, each inch of field remains under plants and total plant count substantially increases -- an area of one acre serves the purpose of about 1.3 acres (based on bed size) due to the increase in the surface area of the field. While on the other hand, it reduces fertiliser losses as they go deep in the soil where their loss due to leaching and nitrification is low.
In addition, one third water requirements on flat field are sufficient to raise the crop, as the watered area provides the required moisture through seepage from the furrow. Width of bed could be adjusted according to the water movement pattern in the soil. If water movement is more lateral, then the size of the bed can be kept 1-1.5 feet wide. However, in case of horizontal movement, the bed size can be adjusted even more than two feet wide to provide appropriate moisture to plants on beds.
There is only one drawback of this method -- it needs a combined harvester for harvesting of the crop This problem can be handled by increasing the plot size to five acres at least and adjusting the size of beds according to the combined jaws / blade size, so that wheels of combine can move in the furrows and cover complete area of beds in one trip.
Trials on carpet wheat and broadcast sowing were conducted in the fields of progressive farmer Syed Javed Raza Gardezi of Kabirwala, Khanewal. Both the trials were undertaken using the same seed, fertiliser rates and sowing time, and also repeated afterwards. The yield increase of up to 15 per cent was recorded as a result.
The carpet wheat sowing method has been found to be the most appropriate one in the fields of progressive farmers of the cotton belt, where wheat is sown late in the months of December and January after the harvest of cotton. The on-farm pictorial expressions provided here clearly explain the practical situation. The objective of this research exercise is to do better for the farming community, so that it can reap full benefits of its hard work.
(The writer is associate professor, Institute of Soil and Environmental Sciences, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.
The elusive rule of law
The rights enshrined in the Constitution are not being ensured to the very people for whom they are meant
By Dr Khalil Ahmad
"All men have equal rights to liberty, to their property and to the protection of the laws," said French philosopher Voltaire. Years ago, it was in a National Book Foundation (NBF) bookshop in Lahore that I came to realise the helplessness of hapless fellow citizens, though I am as unlucky as any one of them could be.
The NBF is a government body and the government employees are known to be more privileged than common citizens like us. For instance, it is not easy for police to harass or coerce them. Also general public considers them to be under a protective umbrella, but probably it was so in the past.
That man in his middle age was incharge of the NBF bookshop. He lived in an underprivileged locality where he owned a small house. He had three young children, two girls who were studying in high-school and a boy. That locality also had some hoodlums, who made it a habit of theirs to stare and hurl obnoxious comments at every girl or woman passing through the street.
Residents of the area, including that man, were afraid of those hoodlums since they enjoyed the patronage of the local police.
That man, fearing some untoward incident, was really worried. He asked me what to do in these circumstances. "Seek your neighbours' help!" I suggested. "No use. No one wants to confront them," he replied. "Did you approach police? What did they say?"They asked for an application and that was all, said. I felt a dread inside me and recalled a number of Indian films depicting the same reality.
I paid for the books that I wanted to buy, though at that moment they appeared meaningless to me. No book could help that man. Even the Constitution, which is supposed to protect every citizen of this country, is just a book without any real worth for the common people. I was in an indignant mood: is the Constitution only for the elites to play with? Does it protect only the influential people and groups? What is its purpose? What is its raison d'etre?
No doubt, the Constitution clearly defines the relationship between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It provides for the smooth running and changing / replacing of a government. It provides for the formation and working of a number of institutions. It sets conditions for the office of president, prime minister, chief justices and justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, governors and chief ministers, chief election commissioner, auditor-general, etc.
But first and foremost, a Constitution provides security to the citizens of that country. Obviously, a country is created for the protection of people inhabiting a tract of land. These people are an end in themselves. The constitution, the state and the government are all just instruments to achieve that end -- to protect these people by securing their basic freedoms or fundamental rights.
Regardless of the fact why Pakistan was created, a country is supposed to protect all the people that live in it. A country is not created for a particular group or community. A country is not meant only for the fulfillment of the wishes of a specific community. It is for all the people who happen to inhabit it. Doesn't that bookshop man and his family need to be protected? Is the Constitution helpless in this matter? No, it is not.
The Constitution does not define only the relationship between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Similarly, it is not meant only for the president, prime minister, chief justices and justices of the Supreme Court and high courts, governors and chief ministers, chief election commission, auditor-general, etc. These are all instruments to ensure the fundamental rights to citizens of the country, who are an end in themselves.
If all these instruments fail in providing security and protection to citizens, this amounts to defiance of the Constitution. The 60-year history of Pakistan is a witness to this defiance. The helplessness of that bookshop man proves this beyond doubt. One can argue that it is not fair to base the premise on one example only. But there are many such examples all around us, as we also read in newspapers almost daily.
It is a universal truth that providing security and protection to citizens is the ultimate objective of a state and its institutions. They are there to establish writ of the law, so that citizens are able to live in freedom and happiness. If they fail in this, they defy their very purpose.
What a travesty of the Constitution that matters such as the presidential reference against Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, President General Pervez Musharraf's election in uniform, twice former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's forced exile, etc are considered as the major domains of the rule of law. But the daily grievances of common people are ignored and even not considered as the minor domains of the rule of law.
As has been discussed above, the major domains of the rule of law are in fact subservient to the minor domains of the rule of law. Are not the state and its machinery meant for the security and protection of the people of this country? The day to day problems and grievances of the common people are not the rule of law's minor domains. They are the most important and major domains of the rule of law, and must be treated as such.
(The writer is associated with Alternate Solutions Institute. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
A tale of murky waters
Kasur, which once used to be a beautiful city, is now littered with all kinds of waste posing serious threat to health of the city's residents
By Naila Hussain
Kasur once used to be a city where the elite of Lahore sort refuge from the urban hassles. Now, of course, the situation has changed for the worse and the city is known mainly for the pollution that has made life difficult for its inhabitants. In the early 20th century, construction of a railway line made Kasur an important industrial and commercial centre. After 1947 leather tanneries and garment factories flourished in Kasur, but the development was far from being regulated and spelt disaster for the city.
From Lahore, the Ferozepur Road takes you to Kasur. The journey is arduous and slow, as the state of the road leaves a lot to be desired. Before you enter the city, for a change there are still a few refreshing green fields. A fruit market comes next, making it difficult for people to reach their destinations as the place is littered with waste and rubbish of all sorts. Fortunately, now a concrete road is being built in order to facilitate trade between India and Pakistan.
Soon Kasur's environment closes in on you. One feels claustrophobic and bewildered as to what has been allowed to fester for nearly two decades. The character of the city is severely marred by a nauseating smell and heaps of varied kinds of waste, which line its streets and drains as well as market places, educational institutions, hospitals and government offices.
Both tanneries and government departments and agencies are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. The effluent generated by tanneries is disastrous because lethal chemicals are used in the process. Textile and chemical industries also play their part in ruining the environment, as they discharge highly toxic effluent in the surface drainage system. Textile waste generated during fibre cleaning is carcinogenic in nature. Chromium is the major pollutant of the tanning industry. Mercury, a by-product of vinyl chloride, is also produced by many chemical industries. Evidence has shown that illness and even deaths have occurred in close vicinity of water reservoirs polluted by methyl mercury from different industries.
There are 237 tanneries in Kasur producing wet-blue leather, which is sold to bigger tanneries in Sialkot where the leather is finished and then exported. Less then 10 per cent of these are large entrepreneurs working on finished leather for exports. Some of the small and medium-sized tanneries only work for two to three months because of changes in supply and demand for hides and leather.
Just to give you the context, and also to emphasise the gravity of the situation, before a treatment plant was set up in 1996, for about two decades, the low lying outskirts of kasur were inundated by industrial effluents primarily from the tanneries. All one could see were massive pools of lethal chemicals. The smell along with chemical vapours seemed to rob the air of its oxygen. Heaps of thick sludge were all over the place. It was not unusual to see children play in the same murky waters. Cows drank from the same source and chemicals entered the food chain of human beings. Farmers used the same water to irrigate the fields. As the chemicals seeped lower, they got mixed with once clean and mineral-rich ground water -- polluting it at source. The unsuspecting people pumped it back up in order to use it for drinking, cooking and washing, which created havoc with their health.
After much ado -- with the help of the government, the Kasur Tanneries Association and UNDP/UNIDO -- a primary water treatment plant was established in 1996. It played a significant part in draining off massive stagnant ponds and providing primary treatment to the effluent generated by the tanneries. Having said that, a lot more needs to be done to make a substantial difference to the quality of people's life.
According to the polluter pays principle, the tanners have finally increased their contribution towards the running cost of the treatment plant.
Presently the tanners' association is supposed to contribute half of the running cost, but it is falling short of the target. However, they have agreed to contribute the total running cost by 2008.
It must be mentioned here that even though it took 16 years to conceive and set up the primary water treatment plant, it is still the only one of its kind in Pakistan's industrial history. It has taken many years for even the most prosperous industrialists to think along these lines. While one eagerly awaits a second treatment plant, which is absolutely necessary for the people of Kasur, credit is due to the Kasur Tanneries Waste Management Association (KTWMA) for taking such an important initiative.
Dr Peter Lund-Thomsen, professor at the Copenhagen Business School and a corporate responsibility expert, says tanneries have also suffered because of the lack of attention. In his opinion, looking at the situation from the point of view of tanners, Kasur's smaller tanneries are not making a lot of profit since the mid-1990s. He says: "In recent years the tanning industry has declined due to the low quality of leather produced and the increasing cost of production associated with the environmental investments in the cluster, making the cluster increasingly unable to meet buyers demands for higher quality at low prices." As a result, he elaborates the larger export-oriented tanners of Sialkot have started sourcing wet blue leather from other places in Pakistan or abroad, and have also upgraded their own productive capacity. Most small tanneries in kasur just operate for two to three months a year, as it does not make economic sense for them to do more than that. The reasons for this state of affairs are many -- seasonal changes in demand and the supply of raw material, low level of education of the tanners, outdated technology, and a dearth of knowledge on the demand side.
It is important that these tanneries with the help of various players do manage to get their act together for about 10,000 workers (earning 3,000-4,000 a month) and approximately 50,000 dependents. Many of them will be forced to work at the brick kilns that does not paint a happy picture either. Generations working at the kilns are forced to do the same kind of work because they are unable to pay off their debts. In order to improve this situation and bring about sustainable cluster development, one needs to integrate economic, social and environmental aspects.
Going back to the treatment plant, it has played a crucial role in containing pollution. However, we came across certain issues that need special and immediate attention. Walking around the plant, one cannot help noticing that there are no fences along the lagoons. The smell of the water being treated is hazardous and can cause nausea. In the absence of any protection, death can occur if any one falls into the lagoon. This has happened in the past. In order to remove a plastic bag which was disrupting the flow of water, a worker went into the well but because of toxic gases he lost consciousness and fell into the well. To save him another worker entered the well, but suffered the same fate. And then the third one went. None of them wore any protective equipment. Eventually when they were pulled out, two of them were dead and the third died on the way to hospital.
Since then, there have been no dramatic changes. Going around the plant one observes that workers are not wearing masks or gloves. At the close by land fill site, there is no protection either and one often sees cows and chickens looking for food here.
When TNS discussed this situation with Punjab Environment Minister Dr Anjum Amjad, she seemed very concerned and issued immediate orders to put these safety measures into place. And the work is already under way.
The health and safety situation is also a cause for concern at the tanneries. It is not unusual to see large plastic containers with chemicals lying completely uncovered. Animal hides and pieces of leather are left to rot right at the work place giving off a very strong smell that almost numbs your senses. Workers there are often oblivious of what they are exposed to and the reasons for this are pretty straight forward. Primarily, it has to do with poverty and lack of options in terms of other work opportunities.
(The writer is an independent researcher. Email: email@example.com)
In the last part of this series, the problems of women cotton-pickers are highlighted
Karin Astrid Siegmann
Women cotton-pickers are the first, but at the same time the weakest, link in the global textile chain. The poor conditions they have to work in are embedded in their subordinate position assigned by patriarchal gender norms.
The competitiveness of Pakistan's textile and clothing industry on women's back is not sustainable in the short-term, at least as far as agricultural workers' health and well-being are concerned. In the long-term too, it is not sustainable because of the sustained competitiveness of cheap cotton-based manufactures.
The textile chain from cotton to cotton-based textile and clothing (T&C) manufactures has special importance for developing countries. Most cotton is produced and manufactured in the global South, with China, India and Pakistan alone being responsible for almost half of global cotton production in 2004. Around one billion people, mostly in developing countries, are either directly or indirectly involved in the production and marketing of cotton.
The global market for cotton and cotton-based products has been characterised by interventions biased against southern producers, such as the prevalence of huge subsidies for cotton cultivation in the United States and other growing countries as well as export restrictions faced by T&C manufacturers in developing countries.
In the global power balance tilted towards industrialised countries, 'pulling the cotton rope' has given southern countries some negotiating power. When the World Trade Organisation (WTO) came into being in 1995, developing countries were able to achieve an agreement on the phase-out of quotas in T&C that had hampered cotton manufacturers' exports. Brazil successfully challenged the world's largest economy regarding the trade-distorting support payments for US cotton growers in the WTO. The WTO panel decided in June 2004 that the giant US must stop subsidising its farmers at the expense of growers in poor countries, such as the dwarf economies of Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali.
Million of tonnes of cotton is hand-picked by women and girls every year between August and February in the cotton growing belt of Punjab and Sindh. They stand at the beginning of the textile chain that links livelihoods in rural Punjab and Sindh with the world market. Does this global commodity chain enable their economic empowerment? The analysis presented in the previous articles in this series has not resulted in a positive answer.
Women's economic empowerment can be defined as "access to and control over productive resources". Cotton pickers are socially and economically even more disadvantaged in an environment characterised by dire poverty. Patriarchal gender norms prescribe that that they do not control income to whose generation they contribute as unpaid workers.
They commonly neither legally own nor control land as the most important productive resource in rural Punjab and Sindh. In comparison with male household members, they face discrimination in access to education. The question is whether the opportunity for paid employment as labourers in cotton harvesting strengthens this weak economic status.
Cotton cultivation provides employment for a large number of women in Pakistan's cotton belt, where economic opportunities are limited by gender norms that restrict the types of jobs considered appropriate for female employment. As a result, as compared with their status as unpaid family helpers in agriculture, this helps them to access cash income.
Their work is paid, yet precarious. The triple informalisation as seasonal, contract, and piece-rate workers is associated with low social and economic status. This implies that it is the stick of poverty rather than the carrot of gainful employment that persuades women to join the harvesting labour force.
Research on sub-contracted employment in Pakistan's manufacturing sector has shown that paid employment does not necessarily empower women workers economically, especially if their labour relations are informal. This lack of economic empowerment of informal workers is, for instance, expressed in the fact that cotton pickers' employment goes up and down in response to changes in the harvest. It implies that cotton pickers' employment remains at the mercy of the growers, the climate and the market.
As compared with other agricultural workers, cotton pickers' wages are low. Their precarious status as seasonal, contract and piece-rate workers as well as their poverty and poor bargaining power contribute to low earnings. These aspects are not directly related to their gender, but indirectly reflect patriarchal social norms. For example, the concentration of women workers in this activity is related to the perception of men as the household's main breadwinners, lowering women's aspirations for more secure and rewarding types of employment.
Perceptions regarding the appropriateness of mobility and work for women household members restrict their options in the labour market and lead to an oversupply of labour for this occupation. This, in turn, has negative repercussions for their bargaining power. Whereas education levels of both men and women are low in the cotton-cultivating areas, the gender gap in literacy is significant. This is another factor diminishing their bargaining power, as illustrated by their lack of ability to check the correct weighing of their harvest.
The close association of their responsibility for household chores and market work acts as a constraint on their availability in the field. Their working hours in the harvest and thus their earning ability depends on number of dependants and other women available for domestic work. Finally, these intertwined work schedules in the home and the field restrict women pickers ability to organise and jointly work for improvement of their working conditions.
Formal and informal rules governing labour relations in cotton cultivation contribute to women workers' economic disempowerment. Their status as seasonal, contract and piece rate labourers implies the employers' contractual obligations vis-a-vis their harvesting workforce remain weak. The financial risks of a late harvest, low yields, poor harvesting effort, illness and other unforeseen disturbances are borne by the pickers who are not paid if they do not carry the raw material to the growers' scale.
Whereas pickers face -- sometimes unjustified -- sanctions in the form of deductions from their due earnings if the growers consider the quality of their harvest to be below standard, no positive incentives appear to trickle down to the women labour force in the cotton field. These institutions have in common that they shift risks to the weakest link of the cotton chain in terms of poverty and bargaining power.
(Karin Astrid Siegmann works as a research fellow at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad.)
The meaning of brotherhood
An overview of Pakistan's relations with the Arab world over the years, especially in the wake of Nawaz Sharif's second exile
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Following the incidents of September 10, there has been a lot of debate about the wisdom of both the government's and Nawaz Sharif's actions, as well as how this latest twist will affect evolving political developments. However, there has not been much discussion on the important role played by our Arab brothers in the whole episode or little attempt to consider exactly how we have arrived at a state of affairs in which our Arab brothers have come to play such an important role in our sovereign political life.
This is possibly because Pakistanis -- both those who are charged with the responsibility of being thinkers as well as the majority of the people who think out aloud anyways -- believe that sovereignty is a meaningless notion for a country like ours. After all, the Americans seem to have a say in just about every important decision that is being taken in this country. More generally, our creditors -- including individual country governments and the international financial institutions -- make no bones about the fact that they will give us money only if we spend it the way they want.
Nevertheless, it is important to consider the specific nature of our relationship with our Arab brothers; if only because our shared religious bond supposedly means that our relationship with them is stronger than those that we cultivate with other nations. When Pakistan came into being, the Foreign Office emphasised the need to play our role in strengthening the Muslim Ummah.
As it turned out however, through much of the 1950s and the 1960s, the Arab world was in the grip of radical -- and secular -- nationalism. This meant that Pakistani overtures were not met with much interest on the part of our Arab brothers; regimes such as those of Nasser in Egypt, the FLN in Algeria and Hafiz-el-Assad in Syria tending to base their foreign policy alignments on shared economic and political interests rather than religious bond. If anything, the emphasis within the Arab world at the time was on an unmistakably Arab nationalism (our popular imagination tends to ignore the fact that many Arabs are not Muslims).
Pakistan's relations with the Arab world started to warm only during the 1970s, in particular following the 1973 oil crisis. While the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) government of the time depicted this as a shift in foreign policy focus towards our natural allies in the 'Islamic world', actually the emergent ties were a function of mutual economic interests. The oil-producing Gulf states needed manpower to motor their modernisation agendas, while a truncated Pakistan -- which had lost its major export in the form of jute following the secession of the eastern wing in 1971 -- needed foreign remittances through its excess supply of (mostly) unskilled labour.
By this time, secular and radical nationalism in the Arab world was being displaced by regimes that clearly invoked Islam to a much greater extent. This reflected the failings of Arab nationalism as well as the resurgence of dominant social forces, which sought to reduce the influence of radical ideologies within the Arab world. The United States played a central role in this effort. The Americans' interest in the region was of course linked with the fact that the country is the repository of the world's oil. Through the 1950s and the 1960s, the US had looked towards Iran and Turkey as its major conduits, but particularly after 1973 it realised the need to establish greater control over the Arab world.
Therefore, as Saudi Arabia emerged as the major US ally in the Arab world, Islamabad's relationship with Riyadh also gained in importance. And following the Iranian Revolution and the beginning of the Afghan War towards the end of the 1980s, this trichotomy of power was reinforced. Ever since, the spread of the Saudi's preferred version of Wahabi Islam in Pakistan has been guaranteed through enormous flows of money both to the government and to sectarian organisations (the US was the linchpin of this alliance through the 1980s, as it sought to bleed Soviet communism in Afghanistan).
In this relationship with our Arab brothers, despite all of the epic invocations of the Ummah, the only operative rule is the preservation of brute and cynical interest. Pakistan's dominant political force, the military, secured this interest through the 1980s by waging jihad and instrumentalising Islam to douse the fires of populism. In the post-Cold War ear, and subsequently post-9/11, world, the military has just as cynically allied itself with a new American and Saudi war so as to, in General Musharraf's own words, "secure bounties worth millions of dollars" by acting as a mercenary.
The 'champion of Islam' in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), is even more culpable for its turncoat politics. For months the JI has been clamouring to prove that it is the most principled anti-dictatorship force in the country, regardless of its past record of propping up General Ziaul Haq's martial law and allowing General Musharraf to survive by helping in the passage f the 17th Amendment in the National Assembly.
On September 10 -- when the Saudis, Americans and Pakistan's top brass whisked Nawaz Sharif away to Jeddah -- the JI was conspicuous by its silence. In subsequent days the party has attempted to rescue its little remaining credibility, but it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that the JI was told by its Saudi masters to keep a lid on it. The Saudis -- and for that matter the Gulf states that look up to the Saudis as their mentors -- continue to make a killing from the black gold that they happen to be sitting on. In addition, the Saudis also benefit from controlling the holiest site in Islam.
Nonetheless, the hegemony of Islam is so great in this country that both the Saudis and those who make a killing from politics in the name of religion continue to be shielded from the public criticism to which they should rightly be subjected.
As the holy month of Ramazan begins, it is worth peering inside our collective selves and asking just how much Islam acts as a veneer in our lives, invoked by all and sundry in an attempt to prove righteousness but more often functioning as a justification for the many wrongs that no religion -- or for that matter any humanistic ideology -- could possibly defend. Indeed, if the trichotomy of Saudi Arabia, the US and our very own generals has given us anything, it is the gift of hypocrisy, a gift any half-decent nation should surely be willing to reject.
With every passing day, the earth's climate is becoming warmer
By Nasir Ali Panhwar
The 1990s was the warmest decade in the last century and 1998 was the warmest year in recorded history. Similarly, the years 2003, 2002 and 2004 were the second, third and fourth warmest years in recorded history respectively.
In the twentieth century, global temperatures soared up by almost 0.6 degrees Celsius, the highest increase in at least the last 1,000 years. As a result, snow cover is decreasing, glaciers are retreating, flowering and fruiting cycles are shifting, rainfall patterns are changing, and extreme weather conditions are becoming a common phenomenon
This has resulted in deaths of many people around the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), climate change caused deaths of more than 150,000 people in the year 2000 only. This number could double in the next 30 years if current trends are not reversed. Whether it is the effect of climate change on livelihoods, the melting Artic Sea ice or coral bleaching, the evidence seems clear -- the world is starting to warm up.
The major causes of climate change include use of coal, oil and gas for energy; the loss and degradation of forests; and 1,200 times increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the last century. The demand for fossil fuels is expected to climb further and so are the emissions. This is mainly due to the lifestyles adopted in the developed world and the rapid industrialisation in the developing world.
About 23,000,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted into the earth's atmosphere every year. Insurance companies around the globe are paying out more and more each year to compensate for extreme weather conditions. As glaciers retreat, governments are casting an increasingly anxious eye at future water supplies. And for the one-third of the world's population living in drylands, especially those in Africa, changing weather patterns linked to climate change threaten to exacerbate desertification, drought and food insecurity.
The first major global assessment of climate change concludes that changes in the atmosphere, oceans, glaciers and ice caps show unequivocally that the world is warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says that major advances in climate modelling, and the collection and analysis of data, now give scientists "very high confidence" in their understanding of how human activities are causing the world to warm.
The report also confirms that the marked increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide -- since 1750 is the result of human activities. An even greater degree of warming would likely have occurred if emissions of pollution particles and other aerosols had not offset some of the impact of greenhouse gases, mainly by reflecting sunlight back to the space.
The report, prepared in three years, is based on a thorough review of the most-up-to-date, peer-reviewed scientific literature available worldwide. It describes an accelerating transition to a warmer world marked by more extreme temperatures, including heat waves, new wind patterns, worsening drought, heavier precipitation, melting glaciers and Arctic ice, and rising average sea levels. For the first time, the report provides evidence that the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland are slowly losing mass and contributing to sea level rise.
While the conclusions are disturbing, the decision-makers are now armed with the latest facts and will be better able to respond to these realities. The speed with which melting ice sheets are raising sea levels is uncertain, but the report makes clear that sea levels will rise inexorably over the coming centuries. It is a question of when and how much, and not if.
The implications of global warming over the coming decades for our industrial economy, water supplies, agriculture, biological diversity and geopolitics are massive. Thus the recent IPCC report should encourage policymakers to get off the fence, and put strong and effective policies in place, to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change, in particular, requires a long-term global response, in line with the latest scientific findings, and compatible with economic and social development. Adverse effects are already felt in many areas, including agriculture and food security; oceans and coastal areas; biodiversity and ecosystems; water resources; human health and settlements; energy, transport and industry; and extreme weather conditions.
It has also been anticipated that global warming will cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt, leading to mass migration and possibly conflicts over valuable resources such as agricultural land and fresh water. The head of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, speaking ahead of the UN Security Council's first-ever debate on climate change, said global warming should be considered as a security issue, as shortages of water and fertile land in the next 10-20 years may lead to conflicts.
The melting of the Himalayan glaciers is expected to displace millions of people from low-lying land as sea levels rise, and will disrupt river flows to agricultural land. Scientists have predicted that the Himalayan glaciers could shrink to 100,000 square kilometres from the current 500,000 square kilometres by the 2030s, if the current pace of global warming continues. Former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern warned last year that the melting of Himalayan glaciers could cause serious flooding in Bangladesh, sparking a mass migration into India.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for a "long-term global response" to deal with climate change, warning that countries' lack of access to water and energy could lead to conflict. Participating in the Security Council's open debate on energy, security and climate, he pointed to recent evidence showing not only that the planet's warming is unequivocal but also that its impact is clearly noticeable.
While participating in the debate, Qatar's Ambassador to the UN Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said international efforts to address climate change had failed so far, because the problem had become completely separated from the issue of development. He viewed that any successful solution to the climate change problem must emerge as part of an integrated approach to sustainable development.
However, Pakistan's representative Farukh Amil, speaking for the G-77, said the issue of climate change did not belong in the Security Council, but rather in the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Sustainable Development, and in the Climate Change Convention. The remarks made by the Pakistani representative have not been welcomed by the environmental community in the country, saying that Pakistan should be more cognizant and looking forward to the issues pertaining to climate change.
Pakistan, like many developing countries, is a society in transition from an agriculture-based to a modern industrial economy. The transition entails high population growth, rapid urbanisation, infrastructure degradation, soil erosion, water and air pollution, increased morbidity, etc. Many of these processes create conditions very similar to those caused by climate change. For instance, sea level rise results in salt-water intrusion, but this can also be caused by diversion of fresh water outflows to meet the needs of agriculture and human consumption. Climate change can erode watersheds and cause flooding, but this can also be the result of deforestation. When socio-economic factors and natural elements combine in this manner, existing vulnerabilities tend to be exacerbated.
According to Dr Shaheen Rafi Khan of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan contributes very little to the overall green house gas emissions, but remains severely impacted by the negative effects of climate change. Being a predominantly agricultural economy and vulnerable to the extremity of climate, it should have a real interest in protecting itself from the adverse impacts of climate change. The recent recurrences of extreme weather conditions, displayed by drought and excessive floods, in the country highlight the need for addressing the issue on an urgent basis.
The nexus between poverty and environmental degradation is becoming more and more obvious in Pakistan, but is as yet not been taken seriously by the policymakers. The World Bank's recent study says that in Pakistan poor people tend to exploit their limited land resources more intensively to meet immediate needs, even if exploitation compromises the long-term stability and viability of the land and natural resources. The degradation of land and natural resources leads to even more poverty.
The study further says that despite many efforts to address the main causes of land degradation, the process of desertification could not be halted due to several barriers to sustainable land management. These include policy, institutional, financial and socio-economic barriers. Continued unsustainable mining of groundwater and consequent abandonment of land will cause further desertification in the dry land areas.
The causes of land degradation in Pakistan include poor irrigation and drainage practices, overgrazing, deforestation, increasing competition for water, drought, migration, intensification of agriculture, flooding, population pressures, and persistent poverty. Furthermore, some threats are more serious than others in terms of their manifestation. For example, water logging and salinity, because of poor irrigation practices, affects 17 million hectares of land, while deforestation and overgrazing affect 11 and 24 million hectares respectively.