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.