Archive for October 12th, 2010

Moving Forward From the Flood โ€“ II

By Arif Belgaumi for The Express Tribune

The Indus, like the other rivers that originate in the Himalayas, carries an enormous sediment load โ€” something in the order of 300 tons per square kilometre per year. The Himalayas, a relatively young mountain range, is comprised of soft rocks which are highly susceptible to erosion by the monsoon rains. In the past โ€“ every spring and summer โ€“ the Indus would bring the waters of melted snow and rains from the mountains, as well as millions of tons of sediment to the plains and eventually to its delta at the Arabian Sea. The sediment would be deposited along the river banks as the river flooded, and in the delta, in a vast fan that stretches several hundred kilometres out into the Arabian Sea.

In the last 150 years, with the construction of numerous levees, barrages and dams on the Indus and its tributaries, the natural flow of the river has been dramatically altered. To bring more land under cultivation, the course of the Indus has been restricted within its banks. Huge quantities of water โ€“ nearly 75 per cent of the total โ€“ are drawn off from the Indus for crop irrigation. Unfortunately, water management projects are engineered to control the flow of water and are rarely designed to address the enormous sediment load. Large amounts of water, drawn from the Indus for irrigation, limit the riverโ€™s ability to carry the sediment which settles in the river bed. Over the years this has resulted in raising the river bed well above the surrounding land. Even higher levees are then built to contain the river within its banks.

In its constrained state, the Indus is incapable of handling flood surges. Once the flood waters breach the levees there is no way for the flood waters to drain back into the river. This year, the flood itself was a short event; we have spent most of the last several weeks moving the water from one area to another, trying to spread it out and minimise its damage. The Indus and its tributaries naturally drain a vast area of this country. Our water management infrastructure has rendered them incapable of performing that function. In trying to convert the Indus into the equivalent of a vast domestic water system, whereby with the turn of a switch water can be tapped off as and when needed, we have severely compromised its ability to drain its watershed.

Similarly, dams will do little in the long run to control floods or even store extensive amounts of water for irrigation. Again, the sediment in the river is the determining factor. The Tarbela Dam, which was completed in the mid 70s and was a major engineering achievement for Pakistan, has already lost about 28 per cent of its reservoir capacity due to silting. In another generation, it is quite likely that the Tarbelaโ€™s water storage capacity will be reduced to nothing and it will simply function as a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power generator. That seems like an extremely short lifespan for a major infrastructure project which, during its construction, was responsible for an enormous socio-cultural and environmental impact on the surrounding region.

The Kalabagh Dam, or any other dam on the Indus, will likely face the same choice of a very high initial cost in terms of financial investment, population displacement and environmental cost, for diminishing returns over a relatively short lifespan. This is not to say that dams do not have their utility. The Tarbela Dam has been instrumental in revolutionising agriculture in Pakistan. But the benefits of large dams need to be weighed against the huge costs paid by the affected people and by the environment.

A balance needs to be struck between the needs for agriculture and domestic use and the need for the river system to sustain itself and its delta. New thinking on water management strategies must be introduced in Pakistan. More thought and effort must be expended on water conservation, reduction of wastage, and careful selection of low-water-consuming crops. This public discourse is sorely missing in Pakistan and needs to be initiated at the earliest so that we move forward from this calamity and establish a more productive relationship with the river that sustains our country.

Playboy Son of Norh Korean Leader Raps Succession Plan

By Anita Chang for The Assoicated Press

BEIJING โ€“ The casino-loving eldest son of North Korea’s Kim Jong Il โ€” once tipped to succeed him before trying to sneak into Japan to go to Disneyland โ€” says he opposes a hereditary transfer of power to his youngest half-brother.

It’s the first public sign of discord in the tightly choreographed succession process, though analysts said Kim Jong Nam spends so much time outside his native land that his opinion carries little weight.

The chubby 39-year-old Kim, the oldest of three brothers who were in the running to take over secretive North Korea, is the closest thing the country has to a playboy.

Unlike many of his countrymen back home who lack the resources and connections to travel overseas, Kim travels freely and spends much of his time in China or the country’s special autonomous region of Macau โ€” the center of Asian gambling with its Las Vegas-style casinos.

He sports the family pot belly and favors newsboy caps and an unshaven face, while frequenting five-star hotels and expensive restaurants. In June, he was photographed in Macau wearing blue Ferragamo loafers.

Speaking in Korean, he told Japan’s TV Asahi, in an interview from Beijing aired late Monday and Tuesday, that he is “against third-generation succession,” but added, “I think there were internal factors. If there were internal factors, (we) should abide by them.”

“I have no regrets about it. I wasn’t interested in it and I don’t care,” Kim said, when asked whether he is OK with the succession plan.

Kim said he hopes his brother will do his best to bring abundance to the lives of North Koreans and that he stands ready to help from abroad, according to a dubbed Japanese-language version of his remarks.

Kim Jong Un, believed to be 26, appeared with his father at Pyongyang celebrations on Sunday marking the 65th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, saluting troops marching past in a massive military parade and waving to the crowd. The appearance was less than two weeks after he was named to a top political post and promoted to four-star general.

Andrei Lankov, a Russian expert on North Korea at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said Kim Jong Nam’s remarks were “almost a challenge,” but noted he has little influence due to the considerable time he spends abroad and lacks military support.

“I don’t see them rallying to Kim Jong Nam,” he added, emphasizing that key generals who run the military far prefer Kim Jong Un, who they see as young, inexperienced and thus easy to control.

Kim Jong Il is known to have three sons โ€” one from his second wife and two from his third. He favors his youngest, Jong Un, who looks and is said to act like his father, according to the leader’s former sushi chef. He studied at a Swiss school and learned to speak English, German and French, news reports have said.

In contrast, Kim often derided the middle son, Jong Chul, as “girlish,” the chef, who goes by the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, said in a 2003 memoir. Little is publicly known about the brother, except that he also studied in Switzerland and is a fan of U.S. professional basketball.

Jong Nam is widely believed to have fallen out of favor after embarrassing the government in 2001 by being caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Experts said Kim Jong Nam will most likely continue living abroad, with fewer reasons than ever to return to Pyongyang.

“In the future Kim Jong Nam will have little influence on the political situation in North Korea. It’s very unlikely he will go back. His force within the country is now almost nonexistent,” said Cai Jian, deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies in Shanghai’s Fudan University.

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