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The Express Tribune Editorial 30 December 2019

An internet tug-of-war

 

The internet is many things. It is our window to the world. It is our all-in-one entertainment hub. It is, simultaneously, our best friend and our worst tormentor. It is also a new frontier for a different kind of war.
Those who study human history sometimes like to divide it neatly into ages, defined among other things by certain technologies or a technological superstructure. For the past couple of decades, we have been living in what can safely be described as the Information Age. And what else would be seen as a tool for violence in this age than information.
Take a recent Russia-led drive to create a new convention on cybercrime, which has now found approval from the United Nations. One would think it would be innocuous enough. After all what is wrong with preventing any crime, cyber or otherwise.
But a vague articulation of what exactly would be ‘criminal’ use of information and communication technologies and its backing by a who’s who of regimes whose human rights record is not that spotless has prompted fears among activists that such a convention would give some international cover to any government that wants to muzzle dissent.
At the same time, the insistence of the attempt’s most vocal critic, the United States, hints at how cynical the intersection of geopolitics and internet freedoms has become. The alternative Washington wants to press ahead with is to expand the Budapest Convention, which focuses on international cooperation to curb fraud, child pornography and copyright violations.
While no sane and morally sensible individual would have any objection to the former two, some may feel the latter only protects a select elite at the expense of the masses. And while once many would have scoffed at Russia’s argument that giving investigators access to computer data across borders violates national sovereignty, can we really do so in a post-Snowden revelations landscape.
As various world powers jostle for control over the web, the only losers it seems are average users and their freedom.

 
 

K-P water woes

 

The provision of safe drinking water to the masses has long been an important-and elusive- goal of successive Pakistani governments since independence. However, an alarming water quality report on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) by the Pakistan Council of Research and Water Resources (PCWR) says that clean drinking water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource in the province. The report says that the problem is so serious that nearly half of KP’s Union Councils have no choice but to consume contaminated drinking water which causes diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.
There is little doubt that the current situation is a result of poor planning. For starters, the country’s rapid population growth has caused its per capita annual water availability to drop from 5,260 cubic metres 70 years ago to just 935 cubic metres today. It is further projected to go down to 500 cubic metres by the year 2040. It is imperative, therefore, that the government immediately formulates a comprehensive strategy to control population growth.
In addition, it is essential that the KP water infrastructure be updated. Although 300 kilometres of the province’s worn-out, rusty water pipelines have been replaced, another 300 kilometres of decrepit pipelines- which pose severe health risks to the provincial population- have yet to be converted to internationally recognized, modern plastic ones.
Furthermore, besides considering established methods such as canals and filtration plants, KP must also look into the latest technology to augment its water resources. These modern methods, which are both economical and productive, include Solar Water Disinfection (SODIS), Rainwater Harvesting and Lifestraw.
In short, the time for KP to act is now. Any delay in considering the above-mentioned methods could considerably worsen the situation.

 
 

Biting cold

 

Pakistan – in fact all of South Asia – is currently in the grip of a severe cold snap. People, especially those with meager incomes, are braving the biting cold largely on their own with little help from the authorities. In harsh winter firewood appears to be the only savior for the poor as they lack appropriate winter clothes and blankets. Considering the severity of the problem at hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) Chief Minster Mehmood Khan to provide shelter and food to homeless people suffering from cold weather conditions.
Even though this directive evoked a derogatory aside from his arch foes, PML-N, whose spokesperson taunted that the PM is advising people to live in shelters and feed on Langarkhana meals after depriving them of their roofs and means of sustenance, the measure is the need of the hour as people are genuinely in need of state succour. Aside from winter trouble, people in Punjab have also been grappling with a blanket of fog for long, which has put their ordinary lives in a mess. The state machinery needs to rev up into action to mitigate people’s sufferings in a weather that induces many illnesses and causes many fatalities.
Consider how things are in our neighbourhood. Bangladesh has reported 50 people dead as cold weather has been sweeping across the country. In India, an unusual and powerful spell of ‘western disturbance’, originating in the Mediterranean Sea, has made the Hindi heartland shiver for the past fortnight, according to Indian media. There are forecasts that the spell, striking once in four to five decades, will continue to freeze people on New Year’s eve too.
The nip in the air – all around – warrants timely steps to ward off its negative fallout.
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