Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unemployment, illiteracy ratio in(PUKHTUNKHWA) Frontier on the rise: Minister

TOPI: Sitara Ayaz, Minister for Social Welfare and Women Development has said that rate of unemployment and illiteracy was very high in the province as compared to other provinces of the country besides other crises like load-shedding, food shortage and bleak law and order situation.
She was addressing a concluding ceremony of All Pakistan Women's Engineering Symposium 2009 'Youth Leadership Symposium' as a chief guest, organised by Women's Engineering Society, Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology here on Sunday.
Addressing on the occasion, Sitara said that after independence, Pakistan could not make real progress even after a lapse of six decades, adding that if they wanted real progress they have to utilise all available resources.
Commenting on manpower in the province, she said that about 21.3 per cent of our population fell between the age of 20 and 24 years and Pakistan's youth was close to 55 millions, indicating that a significant portion of our population consists of youngsters, she said.
The minister said that Pakistani youths have the potential to shape their own destiny, adding that they should play their constructive role in the transformation and development of the country.
About gender bias and discrimination, she said that this was a silent enemy within the society which must be eliminated because in today's world they could not survive without equality among all sections, irrespective of their cast, creed, social status and gender.
Prof. Dr. Fazal Ahmad Khalid (Pro-Rector-Academic) said that the symposium provided an opportunity to the participants to share their personal experiences of leadership, human right awareness and social responsibility.
Maria Raiz, coordinator of the society said that the event was a journey in self-realisation for many and an attempt to dig-out their hidden leadership potentials.

Obama phones British, Canadian and Saudi leaders

President Barack Obama phoned the leaders of Britain, Canada and Saudi Arabia on Friday, reaching out to key U.S. allies during his first days in office.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama spoke with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Saudi King Abdullah, along with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Obama and Brown discussed their countries' relationship, the need to confront the global economic crisis and situations in Gaza and Afghanistan. Obama also told Brown he hopes to attend April's G-20 Summit in London, the White House said.

"The tone of the conversation was friendly and substantive," Brown's Downing Street office said in a statement from London.

Obama and Harper again talked about the countries' friendship and economies, Afghanistan and climate change, the White House said.

"They had an initial discussion on the agenda which will include the economic situation globally, in our two countries and specifically in the auto sector. They also discussed the importance of the environment and energy as well as international issues including Afghanistan," said Dimitri Soudas, a Harper spokesman.

Another Harper spokesman, Kory Teneycke, said the call lasted 15 minutes.

Obama plans to make his first international trip as president to Canada, a key ally that shares a border with the United States. The trip will keep with tradition, with most U.S. presidents making Canada their first stop.

And the White House said Obama spoke about the U.S.-Saudi relationship during their call. Obama also asked the Saudis to support an effort to stop weapons from being smuggled into Gaza, weeks after Israel curtailed its military offensive against the Palestinian territory.

Earlier this week, Obama talked with Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders about the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

In his discussion with Obama, Ban "underlined the importance of the U.S.-U.N. partnership and stressed the need for the two to work closely together on major issues like the global economic crisis, climate change, food security and in the resolution of regional crises, particularly those in the Middle East and Africa," U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

The two leaders also discussed ongoing efforts to reform the United Nations "and the organization's need for adequate political support and funding," Montas said.

"The secretary-general was encouraged by the U.S. president's assurance of strong support as the organization makes further progress in this direction," she said.

Ban later spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Montas said, and discussed food security, the peace process in Sudan's conflict-wracked Darfur region, climate change and U.N. management reforms.

Regional peace hinges on peaceful Pakistan, says Asfandyar

PESHAWAR: ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan has said peace could not be established in Afghanistan and India without peaceful Pakistan.
Addressing a huge gathering of party workers here at Nishtar Hall to observe the death anniversaries of Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Khan Abdul Wali Khan on Sunday, he said: "We believe in the politics of non-violence as preached by Bacha Khan." Asfand said that he was ready to hold talks with suicide attackers.
ANP chief said that Pakistan could not be termed a federation without giving provincial autonomy to all four provinces. He said that besides Pakistan and Afghanistan, India is also facing the threat of terrorism.
War is not the solution to any issue, he said and added that war between two nuclear-armed neighbours would tear down the humanity only.
Asfandyar Wali Khan said that durable and long-lasting peace in the world especially in South Asia can be ensured by following the non-violence philosophy of late Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan alias Bacha Khan and Khan Abdul Wali Khan.
He said that he was ready for talks with militants if they surrender, accept government's writ and laid down arms. "War is no solution to problems and issues can be solved through dialogue and table talks."
He said: "We were not afraid of those who are giving us life threats and are ready to face any kind of situation for sake of people."
He said that war is no solution to problems and he was ready to hold talks with those who plotted suicide attack against him at his residence in Charsadda.
Asfandyar Wali Khan advocated provincial autonomy to all four provinces and also explained his party's stance on 17th amendment and procedure in amendments in the constitution.
Former NWFP ANP President Begum Nasim Wali Khan said that it was high time to identify the enemy as Pakthuns are being killed under well-conceived conspiracy. He stressed unity among Pakhtuns to foil the conspiracy against them. She urged people and party workers to spread the non-violence message of Bacha Khan to each and every corner of the province, country and world.
ANP's provincial president Afrasiab Khan Khattak and Federal Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour besides MNAs, provincial ministers, MPAs and ANP leaders attended the 21st death anniversary of Bacha Khan.
Special functions were held across the province where people and party activists paid rich tributes to the Pakthun nationalist leaders.

Karzai anger at US strike deaths

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has criticised a US military operation which killed at least 16 people in eastern Afghanistan.

Mr Karzai said most of those killed were civilians, adding that such deadly incidents strengthened Taleban rebels and weakened Afghanistan's government.

Women and children were among those killed, Mr Karzai said.

The strike was the first controversy in Afghanistan involving US troops since US President Barack Obama took office.

In a statement, the president said two women and three children were among the dead in the attack, which the US said targeted a militant carrying a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).

Speaking at a ceremony for newly-graduated officers entering Afghanistan's armed forces, Mr Karzai said he hoped the country's own military would soon be able to shoulder more of the burden of fighting the Taleban.

"Our goal is to improve our army and have the ability to defend our country ourselves as soon as possible, and not have civilian casualties anymore as we again had yesterday," he said.

Delicate issue

The Afghan president has been a frequent critic of the numbers of innocent Afghans killed by military operations by international forces in the country.

Just last week he again called on US-led and Nato troops in his country to do more to reduce civilian casualties.

Reacting to the first flare-up since Mr Obama's inauguration in the US, Mr Karzai said Afghanistan's defence ministry had sent Washington a plan to give Afghan forces more oversight over US military operations.

The same letter has also been sent to Nato headquarters, the Associated Press said.

A statement from Mr Karzai's office said continued civilian deaths "will not bear any progress in the war against terrorism".

In response, a US military spokesman said there were plans to jointly investigate the incident with the Afghan government.

Originally the US said all of the dead, including one woman, had been militants who opened fire after its troops surrounded a compound in Mehtar Lam, about 60km (40 miles) east of the capital, Kabul.

"The people who were killed today were running around, manoeuvring against our forces, and we killed them," said Col Greg Julian.

Eleven were killed by gunfire; four others by close air support, it added.

However, officials in Laghman have since said there were civilians among the dead, a viewpoint now backed by the country's president.

The US military insists that it goes to considerable lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

But the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says that as the US increases its military presence, it will be increasingly difficult to do so.

Peshawar traders set to step up protests

PESHAWAR: Traders in Peshawar are set to extend their protest to the provincial level against frequent incidents of abduction for ransom and the government’s failure to provide security to the citizens.

Traders have been protesting for the past one and a half month in Peshawar against the poor law and order, massive load shedding and the continued price hike in the city.

During heir protests, the traders had set up a two-day camp at Yadgaar chowk, a one-day camp at University Town, a one-day camp on Sadar Road and also staged a sit-in at the Peshawar Press Club.

“We are going to extend our protest to the provincial level now, as the government has turned a deaf ear to our protests in Peshawar,” Haji Haleem Jan, NWFP president of the Markazi Tanzeem-e-Tajiran, told Daily Times on Sunday.

Haleem said the traders had decided to meet in the first week of February to devise a strategy to step up their protests.

He said the Peshawar Tajiran Ittehad, headed by Haji Ghufran, would hold a protest camp on Tuesday in front of the Peshawar Press Club.

“If the provincial government is helpless and cannot provide protection, it should resign,” he said.

Haleem said the government had taken no steps to provide protection to the traders, who were being abducted and killed. The traders’ leader said business activity in the city had been considerably affected and around 70 percent of the factories had closed.

Pakistan Deploys Soldiers to Guard Schools Against Taliban

Pakistani officials say soldiers have been deployed to guard some educational buildings in the northwest, as Taliban militants wage a campaign to prevent girls from attending school in restive Swat valley.
Pakistani children stand on the rubble of a government school wrecked by Islamic militants with explosives in Saidu Sharif, an area of Pakistan's Swat Valley, 17 Jan 2009
The military says the troops were dispatched during the past few days to protect schools in the city of Mingora, amid a wave of bombings.
Taliban militants have blown up an estimated 175 schools in Swat. Officials say recent targets also include boys' schools.
Earlier this month, Pakistan's information minister, Sherry Rehman, vowed that girls' schools would re-open on March first, after winter break, despite the Taliban's ban on girls' education in the region.A local Taliban leader, Shah Durran, announced the ban in December, telling families they must stop sending their daughters to school by January 15 or the girls will be killed.The ban is part of the Taliban's bid to enforce its strict version of Islamic law.Pakistan's military has launched an offensive against militants who are battling to impose this interpretation of Islamic law on Pakistanis living in the northwest. Officials Sunday say Pakistani security forces raided a militant hideout in Swat, in the town of Ningwalai, on Saturday and killed eight alleged fighters during the operation. Sources who requested anonymity say militant commander Nur Bakhtiar is among the dead.

World's highest drug levels entering India stream

PATANCHERU, India -- When researchers analyzed vials of treated wastewater taken from a plant where about 90 Indian drug factories dump their residues, they were shocked. Enough of a single, powerful antibiotic was being spewed into one stream each day to treat every person in a city of 90,000.

And it wasn't just ciprofloxacin being detected. The supposedly cleaned water was a floating medicine cabinet - a soup of 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment, researchers say.

Those Indian factories produce drugs for much of the world, including many Americans. The result: Some of India's poor are unwittingly consuming an array of chemicals that may be harmful, and could lead to the proliferation of drug-resistant bacteria.

"If you take a bath there, then you have all the antibiotics you need for treatment," said chemist Klaus Kuemmerer at the University of Freiburg Medical Center in Germany, an expert on drug resistance in the environment who did not participate in the research. "If you just swallow a few gasps of water, you're treated for everything. The question is for how long?"

Last year, The Associated Press reported that trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals had been found in drinking water provided to at least 46 million Americans. But the wastewater downstream from the Indian plants contained 150 times the highest levels detected in the U.S.

At first, Joakim Larsson, an environmental scientist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, questioned whether 100 pounds a day of ciprofloxacin could really be running into the stream. The researcher was so baffled by the unprecedented results he sent the samples to a second lab for independent analysis.

When those reports came back with similarly record-high levels, Larsson knew he was looking at a potentially serious situation. After all, some villagers fish in the stream's tributaries, while others drink from wells nearby. Livestock also depend on these watering holes.

Some locals long believed drugs were seeping into their drinking water, and new data from Larsson's study presented at a U.S. scientific conference in November confirmed their suspicions. Ciprofloxacin, the antibiotic, and the popular antihistamine cetirizine had the highest levels in the wells of six villages tested. Both drugs measured far below a human dose, but the results were still alarming.

"We don't have any other source, so we're drinking it," said R. Durgamma, a mother of four, sitting on the steps of her crude mud home in a bright flowered sari a few miles downstream from the treatment plant. High drug concentrations were recently found in her well water. "When the local leaders come, we offer them water and they won't take it."

Pharmaceutical contamination is an emerging concern worldwide. In its series of articles, AP documented the commonplace presence of minute concentrations of pharmaceuticals in U.S. drinking water supplies. The AP also found that trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals were almost ubiquitous in rivers, lakes and streams.

The medicines are excreted without being fully metabolized by people who take them, while hospitals and long-term care facilities annually flush millions of pounds of unused pills down the drain. Until Larsson's research, there had been widespread consensus among researchers that drug makers were not a source.

The consequences of the India studies are worrisome.

As the AP reported last year, researchers are finding that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain pharmaceuticals. Some waterborne drugs also promote antibiotic-resistant germs, especially when - as in India - they are mixed with bacteria in human sewage. Even extremely diluted concentrations of drug residues harm the reproductive systems of fish, frogs and other aquatic species in the wild.

In the India research, tadpoles exposed to water from the treatment plant that had been diluted 500 times were nonetheless 40 percent smaller than those growing in clean water.

The discovery of this contamination raises two key issues for researchers and policy makers: the amount of pollution and its source. Experts say one of the biggest concerns for humans is whether the discharge from the wastewater treatment facility is spawning drug resistance.

"Not only is there the danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria evolving; the entire biological food web could be affected," said Stan Cox, senior scientist at the Land Institute, a nonprofit agriculture research center in Salina, Kan. Cox has studied and written about pharmaceutical pollution in Patancheru. "If Cipro is so widespread, it is likely that other drugs are out in the environment and getting into people's bodies."

Before Larsson's team tested the water at Patancheru Enviro Tech Ltd. plant, researchers largely attributed the source of drugs in water to their use, rather than their manufacture.

In the U.S., the EPA says there are "well defined and controlled" limits to the amount of pharmaceutical waste emitted by drug makers.

India's environmental protections are being met at Patancheru, says Rajeshwar Tiwari, who heads the area's pollution control board. And while he says regulations have tightened since Larsson's initial research, screening for pharmaceutical residue at the end of the treatment process is not required.

Factories in the U.S. report on releases of 22 active pharmaceutical ingredients, the AP found by analyzing EPA data. But many more drugs have been discovered in domestic drinking water.

Possibly complicating the situation, Larsson's team also found high drug concentration levels in lakes upstream from the treatment plant, indicating potential illegal dumping - an issue both Indian pollution officials and the drug industry acknowledge has been a past problem, but one they say is practiced much less now.

In addition, before Larsson's study detected such large concentrations of ciprofloxacin and other drugs in the treated wastewater, levels of pharmaceuticals detected in the environment and drinking water worldwide were minute, well below a human dose.

"I'll tell you, I've never seen concentrations this high before. And they definitely ... are having some biological impact, at least in the effluent," said Dan Schlenk, an ecotoxicologist from the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the India research.

And even though the levels recently found in Indian village wells were much lower than the wastewater readings, someone drinking regularly from the worst-affected reservoirs would receive more than two full doses of an antihistamine in a year.

"Who has a responsibility for a polluted environment when the Third World produces drugs for our well being?" Larsson asked scientists at a recent environmental research conference.

M. Narayana Reddy, president of India's Bulk Drug Manufacturers Association, disputes Larsson's initial results: "I have challenged it," he said. "It is the wrong information provided by some research person."

Reddy acknowledged the region is polluted, but said that the contamination came from untreated human excrement and past industry abuses. He and pollution control officials also say villagers are supposed to drink clean water piped in from the city or hauled in by tankers - water a court ordered industry to provide. But locals complain of insufficient supplies and some say they are forced to use wells.

Larsson's research has created a stir among environmental experts, and his findings are widely accepted in the scientific community.

"That's really quite an incredible and disturbing level," said Renee Sharp, senior analyst at the Washington-based Environmental Working Group. "It's absolutely the last thing you would ever want to see when you're talking about the rise of antibiotic bacterial resistance in the world."

The more bacteria is exposed to a drug, the more likely that bacteria will mutate in a way that renders the drug ineffective. Such resistant bacteria can then possibly infect others who spread the bugs as they travel. Ciprofloxacin was once considered a powerful antibiotic of last resort, used to treat especially tenacious infections. But in recent years many bacteria have developed resistance to the drug, leaving it significantly less effective.

"We are using these drugs, and the disease is not being cured - there is resistance going on there," said Dr. A. Kishan Rao, a medical doctor and environmental activist who has treated people for more than 30 years near the drug factories. He says he worries most about the long-term effects on his patients potentially being exposed to constant low levels of drugs. And then there's the variety, the mixture of drugs that aren't supposed to interact. No one knows what effects that could cause.

"It's a global concern," he said. "European countries and the U.S. are protecting their environment and importing the drugs at the cost of the people in developing countries."

While the human risks are disconcerting, Sharp said the environmental damage is potentially even worse.

"People might say, 'Oh sure, that's just a dirty river in India,' but we live on a small planet, everything is connected. The water in a river in India could be the rain coming down in your town in a few weeks," she said.

Patancheru became a hub for largely unregulated chemical and drug factories in the 1980s, creating what one local newspaper has termed an "ecological sacrifice zone" with its waste. Since then, India has become one of the world's leading exporters of pharmaceuticals, and the U.S. - which spent $1.4 billion on Indian-made drugs in 2007 - is its largest customer.

A spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, representing major U.S. drugmakers, said they could not comment about the Indian pollution because the Patancheru plants are making generic drugs and their members are branded. A spokesman for the Generic Pharmaceutical Association said the issues of Indian factory pollution are "not within the scope of the activities" of their group.

Drug factories in the U.S. and Europe have strictly enforced waste treatment processes. At the Patancheru water treatment plant, the process is outdated, with wastewater from the 90 bulk drug makers trucked to the plant and poured into a cistern. Solids are filtered out, then raw sewage is added to biologically break down the chemicals. The wastewater, which has been clarified but is still contaminated, is dumped into the Isakavagu stream that runs into the Nakkavagu and Manjira, and eventually into the Godawari River.

In India, villagers near this treatment plant have a long history of fighting pollution from various industries and allege their air, water and crops have been poisoned for decades by factories making everything from tires to paints and textiles. Some lakes brim with filmy, acrid water that burns the nostrils when inhaled and causes the eyes to tear.

"I'm frustrated. We have told them so many times about this problem, but nobody does anything," said Syed Bashir Ahmed, 80, casting a makeshift fishing pole while crouched in tall grass along the river bank near the bulk drug factories. "The poor are helpless. What can we do?"