Climate Crisis

Written by Haseeb Ahsan •  Features  •  June 2013   

Nepal’s rapidly changing climate is affecting the agricultural sector and the well-being of its people. Can the government take the necessary steps to fight this phenomenon before it is too late?

Located in the Himalayan mountain range with India situated in its south, east, and west, and the Republic of China in its north, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal has a rich geography, featuring the world’s eight tallest mountain ranges.

Nepal is situated in one of the most climate-sensitive regions of the world. Its eco-system is fragile and is mostly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Similarly, the uncertain topology makes the country more prone to flooding. The dilemma is that even if Nepal’s contribution of gas emissions (CO2 emission) is negligible, these drastic climatic changes make it one of the most badly affected countries in the world.

Climate changes increased the occurrence of flashfloods in the country, which mainly occur due to intense rainfall and rapid snowmelt. Furthermore, Nepal’s temperature on average is increasing by 0.6 degrees per decade, which further raises concerns of the increased frequency of flashfloods. Glacier lakes outbursts also cause water eruption from the trapped marines resulting in subsequent flooding that badly affects the lower lying areas.

It is ironic that Nepal experiences water scarcity even with water streams and lakes running across the country. An inappropriate irrigation and water storage system is the main cause behind this predicament.  Most of Nepal’s poor communities reside near the Ganges basin areas. Although there is abundant water available in the country the irregular distribution  decreases water discharge from the rivers and causes water scarcity. There are nearly 6,000 rivers in Nepal but only 72% of the population has access to safe drinking water and only 24% of the total land is irrigated through proper irrigation mechanisms. Life expectancy of 63 years is one of the lowest in Nepal. One of the reasons is the improper sanitation system which is available to only 27% of the population. Similarly, 75% of pregnant women are anemic and 50,000 children die every year due to curable diseases, where contaminated water is the cause of such ailments.

Nepal is among the least developed countries across the globe and hence suffers from food security. The country’s population is dependent on agriculture for their living. Nepal’s agriculture sector, which is dependent on weather patterns and with no proper irrigation system plus poor water storage mechanism, is adversely affected due to these climatic changes, which in turn affects food availability in the country.

More than 30% of Nepal’s population lives below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is 46%, one of the highest in comparison with other nations (190th out of 200). The literacy rate is below 60% and the job market heavily lacks a skilled force. Under these circumstances only 13% of the agricultural production reaches the market while the rest is consumed by the growers themselves, which limits the flow of the ecosystem. Similarly, Nepal’s reach is also limited to India which is why it is heavily dependent on food imports from the country.

The above mentioned challenges can only be improved if the Nepalese government is willing to implement effective policies, follows best practices, and takes corrective actions at the earliest. The decade long armed conflict also diverted Nepal’s attention from core issues when climate problems were of major significance.

Nepal’s critical need is the development of its basic infrastructure for energy, food and water security. Similarly, the government and NGOs should work in the country’s isolated communities and motivate and guide the population to access global markets. In addition, research and development is also important to device methods and grow crops which are resilient to climatic change.

Nepal will march towards progress when its leaders and decision makers will think beyond their personal gains and reduce the influence of a bureaucratic culture. The future of Nepal will brighten only when its leaders will be willing to bring change. 


Anum Fatima goes to Harvard

Written by SAO •  Features  •  June 2013   

Seven years ago, Anum Fatima from Ismail Jhokio Goth near Steel Town, Karachi, became the first girl in her family to complete her Matriculation. Today she has earned the opportunity to study at Harvard. Anum Fatima’s life changed when she got admission to a school run by The Citizen Foundation (TCF). After completing her Matriculation, she got admission at the Institute of Business Management (IoBM) from where she completed her Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA) in Human Resource and is now enrolled in the MBA program.

She tried her luck by applying in the summer program at Harvard University and succeeded. Fatima, 23, was jubilant when she was accepted by the top U.S. unversity. Fatima’s education has brought the best out of her and she has made goals for her life. She says, “I want to be the CEO of a leading company, but before that I want to spend a few years at TCF to pay them back for all they have done for me.” If TCF had not paid her university tuition fee, a degree at a private-sector institute would have been a distant dream.

It became a daunting challenge for Anum to switch over to the English language, as her medium of education had been Urdu all her life. Every day, after school, Fatima would go to the TCF head office where teachers helped her with her English and translated lessons for her. And here she is! 


Promoting Religious Sites

Written by Madiha Bilal Kapadia •  Features  •  June 2013   

Nepal and India share a common religious and cultural history, which, if projected properly, can increase tourist traffic in both countries.

South Asian countries, while unique in their own ways, tend to share a common culture. The norms and values prevailing in Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism, are deeply rooted in South Asian societies. Though the number of followers varies from country to country, their presence and influence in local arts, cultures, and traditions are distinctly visible in every society in the region. Nepal too has its unique geography, history and cultural heritage, which makes it an integral part of the broader cultural history and tradition of the Indian sub-continent.

Nepal and India share numerous similarities in cultural traditions. Both countries have made great contributions to enrich the regions’ religious and cultural heritage. Lord Buddha, born in Nepal, left his footprints not only in South Asia but all across the world. Sita, the daughter of Nepal and wife of Ram, the crown prince of Ayodhya in India, is highly regarded by Hindus all over the world, which reflects the cultural bonding between India and Nepal. Indian philosophers and saints have made significant contributions to evolve, develop and spread the heritage known today as the South Asian culture.

Nepal and India share a versatile cultural link where religion has played a significant role in shaping cultural relations between these two countries. This is evident by the fact that thousands of Nepalese visit pilgrimage sites in India each year. Similarly, certain sites in Nepal are of religious significance for the Hindus such as Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, Lumbini (Buddha’s birth place) in Rupandehi district, and the Ram-Janaki temple in Janakpur (the birth place of Janak and Sita). The cultural ties between the Nepalese and the Hindus are further strengthened due to a common religious faith, philosophy, and practice of worship.

Language is another component of the Nepal-India cultural affinity. The different languages shared between the Nepalese and the Hindus include Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Hindi and Awadhi of which Sanskrit is the root.  In addition, both countries use the Devnagari script in writing and religious texts. The same script is used to write the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Tripitak.

People from Nepal and India have had a frequent exchange of ideas and personalities representing art, culture, music, literature, and sports. The religious traditions and mythologies have given life to norms and values in Nepal and India and the art forms prevailing in these two countries also share a similar history.

Tourism, being Nepal’s largest industry, is also a major source of foreign exchange and revenue. A popular destination among mountaineers across the world, Nepal is home to 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world. The government of Nepal has reached out to different countries, especially India’s travel companies, to promote its tourism sector. The country enjoys popularity with Indians as a recreational, shopping and pilgrimage destination. Its reputation as a tourist destination in India has increased vastly in recent years. Transportation links between the two countries have further bridged the divide as 55 flights operate between Kathmandu and the Indian cities of Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai, every week. Other reasons include a pleasant climate, easy road access, no visa requirement, a common language, and a favorable exchange rate.

Popular among the tourists is trekking, mountaineering and safari tours. This includes white-water rafting, biking, fishing, rock climbing, paragliding, hot air ballooning, pony treks, and boating to name a few. Nepal also has ten national parks, six conservation areas, three wildlife reserves and a hunting reserve.

The tourism industry is the largest and fastest growing industry in the world, accounting for more than ten percent of global spending. For Nepal, it generates foreign revenue and provides employment opportunities as well. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) conducted a Nepal-India Tourism Mart in Lumbini in January, where the participants discussed the idea to jointly promote Buddhist religious sites in Nepal and India. Government officials and travel industry representatives discussed strategies to promote a travel circuit comprising all major Buddhist sites. The main objective of the Tourism Mart was to promote Buddhist sites, boost interaction between tourism entrepreneurs, and expand business networks in both countries.

The tourism industry is equally important to India, which receives over a million tourists annually who visit its Buddhist sites, whereas Nepal has, in the past, received less than 100,000 tourists a year at Lumbini. According to the Nepal Tourism Ministry, Nepal’s “Visit Lumbini Year” campaign in 2012 attracted nearly 509,073 tourists from 92 countries who visited Lord Buddha’s birthplace, including 113,195 from India, 52,672 from Sri Lanka and 28,480 from Thailand. 


The Solar Frontier

Written by Asma Siddiqui •  Features  •  June 2013   

With energy needs on the rise, India is fast emerging as a leader in solar power generation.

India is one of the most populous countries of the world. With a rising population, the country’s energy demands have also accentuated, posing new challenges for India, to fulfill the needs of its energy starved urban population. India’s economic growth is expected to overtake that of China within the next three years. India’s English-speaking middle class is increasing annually with over 125 million English speakers and an expected increase in the middle class from 50 million to 583 million by 2025. This will significantly impact consumer demands for electricity and is likely to provide opportunities for foreign investment in infrastructure and technology. According to recent estimates, nearly 400 million people in India do not have access to electricity.

India is the third largest electricity consumer in Asia, after the People’s Republic of China and Japan, and demand has grown at an average of 8% per year since 1995. However, supply falls well below demand, leading to regular blackouts and electricity shortages which are understating the country’s economic and social development. Moreover, much of the electricity is generated from increasingly uncertain domestic sources of coal or from imported coal.

India is a tropical country where sunshine is available for longer hours per day and in great intensity. Solar energy, therefore, has great potential. According to a report published by the WorldWatch Institute, India is among the fastest growing nations, after China, Brazil and the U.S., in the renewable energy sector with investments rising to 62 per cent - the highest growth rate for any single country over 2010. The solar power program, now a part of the National Action Plan for Climate Change, began as an off-grid clean energy source to enhance self-sufficiency and reduce the consumption of kerosene, particularly in the rural areas.

While it was initially promoted as a means to achieve energy security, it now helps in mitigating the impact of climate change. The Remote Village Electrification Program (RVEP) began in 2001 by the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES), later renamed as the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) in 2006.

In 2009, the Indian Government allocated US$932 million to expand its solar power infrastructure through the Nehru National Solar Mission. The program is one of eight national strategies to address climate change, and is a bid to secure the country’s energy supply and contribute to its ‘ecological security.’

Under the country’s ambitious solar program, the National Solar Mission (NSM), India has jumpstarted its solar energy industry, fostering growth in both photovoltaic (PV) projects and CSP, also known as solar thermal. Before the Mission began, CSP projects only provided 8.5 megawatts (MW) of energy. India’s large-scale CSP projects currently provide a projected 500 MW of clean, reliable energy under the NSM. Given the short time frame of the Mission, these numbers are impressive, but India has a long way to go in fostering a sustainable solar energy market. CSP projects involve systems of mirrors that focus a large area of sunlight onto a small area of contained liquid. The liquid after heating up, emits steam, and a turbine and electrical power generator converts that steam into electricity.CSP would help India meet its base-load energy needs and could be called upon for supplemental electricity during times of peak usage.

As of June 2012, 31 percent of India’s energy came from renewable resources, including hydroelectric power. In a 2009 survey, McKinsey & Company rated India as the top producer of solar energy in the world, just above the U.S., with an annual yield of 1,700 to 1,900 kilowatt hours per kilowatt peak (kWh/KWp). In addition, India has one of the world’s largest solar cooking venues in Tirupati, which provides food for more than 15,000 people each day.

The Indian Government’s Twelfth five-year plan starting from 2012-17 also targets a capacity grid connected solar power addition of 10 GW.  Out this 10 GW target, 4 GW would fall under the central scheme and the remaining 6 GW under various state specific schemes. During Phase-II, it is envisaged that the development of Off-Grid electricity generation projects will cover around 20,000 villages/hamlets/basti/padas through the ‘Energy Access’ scheme. Additionally, a Deployment Target of 10 Lakh (1 Million) exists for off-grid lighting systems. Phase II of JNNSM would focus on the development of solar cities, which will lead to the inclusion of more cities under the project.

There are plans to formulate special schemes to promote the use of solar telecom towers, which would target around 25,000 solar integrated telecom towers. Phase II would target at-least 15-20 cities where solar water heaters would heat water to replace electric geysers. Considering the progress of Phase I, it is anticipated that Phase II would target 8 million square metres of collector area by the end of 2017. 


Sustaining Education

Written by Arsla Jawaid •  Features  •  June 2013   

Sri Lanka boasts a 94% literacy rate, the highest in South Asia. But what does that truly mean for a country just emerging from three decades of civil war?

Reeling from three decades of a brutal civil war, Sri Lanka today boasts an unprecedented 94% literacy rate; higher than that of any other South Asian nation. Today, the student population of Sri Lanka stands at approximately four million. Despite recording a strong literacy rate, the country continues to remain susceptible to ethnic violence as well as a troubling unemployment rate.

Sri Lanka gained independence in 1948 and the introduction of free education in the early 1940s created opportunities for the youth, especially those in rural areas. In the 1950s, when the country’s economy came under state control, many young students found jobs as lower and middle rung employees. However, as unemployment figures continued to rise well into the 1970s, the government undertook efforts to introduce vocational subjects into the school curriculum to meet the growing demand of skill-based employment. Complicating matters was the fact that in 1956, as a result of post-independence reforms, the official language was changed from English to Sinhalese and as the university education system expanded, it created opportunities of upward social mobility for many students from rural backgrounds. However, Tamil youth viewed this as discriminatory behavior, which eventually led to an ethno-linguistically segregated education system that prevented the formation of a common national identity.

According to Prithviraj Perera, Secretary General of the Sri Lanka National Commission for UNESCO, the decision to change the medium of instruction from Sinhala, Tamil and English to solely the official language, Sinhala, left adverse long-term effects on development. An entire generation was segregated and grew up with a hostile mindset that eventually culminated in a three-decade long civil war. Unlike the colonial elite, the post-colonial elite were socialized in isolation as a result of language barriers. The change in language gravely impacted Sinhala and Tamil relations, which continue to remain an issue. As a result, President Rajapaksa, on 20 December 2012, announced a new government initiative: the National Trilingual Policy to unite the nation it once divided, and revert to pre-1956 policies of focusing on all three major languages in the academic curriculum. However, this is a recent development, one that will take years to yield a trilingual and young workforce.

In 1977, with the change of government, educational policies were also reverted to the traditional focus on academics. Apart from ushering in changes in education policies, the new government allowed the private sector to flourish, which promptly participated in almost every aspect of economic activity, including education. International schools, teaching in English, gained popularity (though remained significantly less popular as compared to privileged, government schools) yet only drew close to 2% of the young, school-going population. The youth continued to aspire for secure government jobs despite the expanding private sector. However, the turbulent years starting from the early 1980s brought in escalating violence, instability and insecurity. As a result, foreign investment halted and public funds were withdrawn from the education sector and allocated to defense thus severely hampering educational growth.

As terrorism became uncontrollable, the LTTE diverted its funds into drugs and war as opposed to development. Furthermore, the brain drain in the country meant that most competent teachers had left, thereby worsening the already low quality of education that prevailed in Sri Lanka. According to the International Organization for Migration reports, close to 1.7 million Sri Lankans are employed abroad and have repatriated Rs 6bn in 2012. According to Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka Permanent Representative to the UN, “This amount is equivalent to 8.2% of Sri Lanka’s GDP, 25% of total government revenue and 35% of total foreign exchange earnings.” Over the years, such large scale remittances have become a driving force for poverty alleviation and development within the country, impacting close to 23% of the population. Those employed abroad constitute approximately 17% of the labor force while those who continue to work in Sri Lanka, despite attaining an education, remain employed in the informal sector with unstable and irregular incomes.

According to Professor Hettige, Senior Professor of Sociology at the University of Colombo, by many a stretch, Sri Lanka’s high literacy rate is nothing more than a façade. As the country slowly begins to move away from labor-intensive industries to technology intensive industries, the education system must also be revamped to introduce skill-oriented education as opposed to simple academic achievement. The education system lacks innovation and research, belittles creativity and provides little scope for critical thinking. Irrespective of socioeconomic status, education is seen as a means to an end: finding the best possible employment.

Educational attainment is already imbibed in Sri Lanka’s culture, making it easier for the government to undertake educational reforms. While the country may boast significantly high literacy rates, the drawbacks of such claims are hidden but severely cripple the young future of Sri Lanka. The country’s dropout rate remains significantly high with only 36% of children reaching the GCE O Level and only 35% passing the GCE A Level examination and qualifying for university admission. Only 40% of children continue their education beyond the post-secondary level (O and A Levels) and of this, only 5% secure university admission. The remaining 35% are dropouts who opt for vocational training or search for jobs in a competitive economy where inflation and poverty remain dominant. Security forces tend to absorb men while garment factories eagerly provide employment for women. Today, there are a total of 15 major universities making it increasingly competitive for students to qualify for admission. According to Perera, the university absorption rate remains abysmally low. Approximately, 300,000 GCE A Level students apply to universities in Sri Lanka, which can only absorb up to 20,000 vacancies.

Careful policy analysis and an immediate reallocation of public resources are needed to create a labor force that can keep up with the demands of a changing economy. There is an urgent need to broaden the general education system that has a strong emphasis on personality development, identity formation and moral and value systems. Many analysts argue that education has not ushered in peace in Sri Lanka but has rather worked counter to that very goal. Today, education is not measured strictly in academic qualification terms but is rather viewed as a strong, socializing mechanism that prioritizes strong values of equality and harmony, striving to tear down the walls of segregation and the isolation it once supported.

In many respects, the Sri Lankan government has revisited its education policies and has launched a new education program titled, the “National Action Plan on Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (EPSD)” to counter the growing ethnic violence and inculcate the values of social cohesion and sustainable development in young Sri Lankan minds. At the very core of this program is the understanding that education is intrinsically about values. Formulative steps such as this are critical to the future of a country where an entire generation has grown up against a backdrop of segregation, dominance, and brutal violence.

The Education for Peace program that strives to meet the Millennium Development Goals through a sustained investment in education is founded on the values and attitudes that foster respect, freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, equality and solidarity.  Sri Lanka is faced with the unique opportunity to not merely reconstruct and rehabilitate its society but rather rebuild peace, trust and confidence in the minds of its citizens. Therefore, programs like the EPSD are not merely confined to universities and community centers but strive to penetrate through the public and private sector, local government and mass media to ensure sustainability. These are ambitious goals that are vital to post-conflict development and social revitalization in a war-torn country like Sri Lanka and require regular monitoring, reliable evaluation processes and a strong and consistent commitment from all stakeholders. 

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