Published in Pakistan Observer, 13 October 2019.

Sindh government has been vying for a year to achieve phased withdrawal of plastic bags, without success. On October first 2019, it announced serious enforcement of the ban on plastic under section 144 of the code of criminal procedure of Pakistan, entailing stricter punishment and monetary fine. Traders in Sindh province’s (and Pakistan’s) mega city, Karachi, have already announced non-cooperation, saying sudden abandonment of plastic with no better substitute would harm their business.

Co-incidentally, yesterday evening, (October first) I witnessed a woman stepping out of a car parked on a busy roadside in Islamabad. She suddenly jumped onto the road, seemingly oblivious to moving vehicles and hastily picked something up from the road. The tyres of a moving vehicle screeched right behind her but fortunately, the driver was able to steer clear of the woman and continue on a one way road.
I later found that one of the lady’s paper bags carrying tomatoes had burst open. Tomatoes fell on the road and she tried to pick them fast before they were crushed by a car.

I was stunned and couldn’t help telling the lady that she risked her life to save her tomatoes. She said when tomatoes suddenly fell through the paper bag, all she could think was carrying grocery home in time for dinner as her family was hungry. In hindsight, she realized how dangerous her action was for her life.

Had the lady been run over by a fast moving vehicle, we would have witnessed first human death by ban on plastic in Islamabad.

Paper bags are not a good substitute for plastic bags in terms of utility. They are not good for environment either because the manufacturing of paper bags is more resource intensive than plastic bags, requires four times more energy, generates seventy percent more air pollution and fifty times more water pollution than plastic. On top of that, paper bags generate many more tonnage of sold waste for municipalities to manage and paper bag landfills generate greater number of environmental contaminants such as bisphenol A, phthalates, phenols, mineral oils, polychlorinated biphenyls, and toxic metals. Some of these chemicals are in plastics as well.

Paper recycling requires industrial infrastructure and involves extensive transportation, itself an environment pollutant. When paper is recycled, dies and inks from paper are removed using chemicals that cause water contamination and air pollution. Paper has limited recycling capacity, only six to seven times before it can’t be recycled any more. Egg cartons made of cardboard is the last use of recycled paper, after which it can no longer be recycled. This means the solid waste from used cartons heads for landfills.

Pakistan neither has paper recycling programs nor industrial infrastructure for large scale recycling. The cost of instituting it is enormous. Paper bags that have carried groceries cannot be recycled because paper with food particles, or paper that is wet or damp, is no good for recycling. Even our paper mache making cottage industry cannot utilize paper recycled from grocery bags due to this. Scientists have observed that paper bags cause fourteen percent more eutrophication of water bodies compared to plastic. Four times more water is used in making paper bags, not to mention increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Bags made of cotton are much better for Pakistan’s environment and for our national economy. Large scale manufacturing of cotton bags will provide stimulus to our textile manufacturing and retail industry, cottage industry, and will re absorb the hundreds of thousands of workers who are faced with job extinction due to government imposed ban on the manufacture of plastic bags.

A cotton bag would have to be reused approximately two hundred times more to emit a level of global warming potential that is emitted through reusing of plastic bag just once. Cloth bags can be reused for years. Cotton is the least polluting material as it decomposes organically at the end of its life. For cotton bags to be hygienic while in use, they just have to be kept clean and dry.

There are endless socio-economic benefits in using cotton cloth bags as the substitute for both plastic and paper bags. Producing millions of cotton cloth bags per day will create employment, stimulate textile and garment manufacturing sector, provide household and rural populations, especially that of women, opportunity to save and earn at the same time. Cloth bags can be re-utilized as cushions, pillow covers, even larger size bedding. The poor can use them to make clothing, especially children’s clothing and blankets. Rural women can use the cloth bags to create embroidered cushion covers, bed covers and ladies bags, thereby creating cottage industry that employs and empowers rural and urban women and reduces gender based poverty. There are endless benefits to the multiplier effect of manufacturing cotton cloth bags in Pakistan, but it is the government that has to take the initiative in making this possible.

Government must commission manufacturing of fabric suitable for bags to carry different goods. It must rate and certify each kind of fabric for distinct use, heavier, medium, soft (as shopping bag for apparel, for instance). The textile industry must be mandated to produce proper amount of material for end use utility through suitable subsidy, as starters. The manufacturing sector must be mandated to manufacture required amount of cloth bags. Recycling of cloth bags for both industrial purposes and for household utility should be taught in educational institutions and can be popularized through media. There is an endless array of utility end users can use cloth bags for.

The more cloth bags are produced, the more stimulus will be provided to the textile industry of Pakistan, the garment manufacturing sector in Pakistan, and the cotton growing farmers, not to mention the economic opportunities in savings and earnings that reuse of cloth bags bring to the citizens. The socio-economic and ecological benefits of bags made from fabric are endless. Government needs to pay attention to large scale supply of bags made from cotton, simultaneously as it outlaws plastic bags.


The China Pak Economic Corridor, CPEC, is one of the six planned corridors that form part of Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Launched in 2013, the other five corridors include Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIMEC), China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor (CICPEC) China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor (CCWAEC), China Mongolia Russia Economic Corridor, (CMREC) and New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB).

The BRI vision is a paradigm shift in commerce. The pivot of high finance is shifting from the west to the east and the BRI is an embodiment of this revolution in the making. CPEC, BRI’s pilot project, has a comparative advantage over the other five corridors, which pass through more than two countries involving longer terrains and complex negotiations. CPEC is mere 3000 kilometer long (making it the shortest of the six corridors) that begins at China’s Kashgar in Xinjian and ends at Pakistan’s Gwadar at the Arabian Sea.

CPEC is the pivot of the new course Pakistan is taking to become a regional commercial hub. The collaborative priorities, as described in the November 2017 agreement between Pakistan’s minister for Planning, Development and Reform and his Chinese counterpart, earmark energy, transportation, IT networks, medical services, poverty alleviation, tourism, and rural development sectors.

A serious omission in CPEC priorities is China-Pak collaboration in disaster risk reduction. In an agreement titled “Long Term Plan for China Pak Economic Corridor, 2017-2030,” consisting of thirty eight pages and approximately seven and a half thousand words, disaster risk reduction is not mentioned even once. Despite the neglect, joint disaster risk reduction inevitably became a preoccupation of CPEC planners as the Pakistani and Chinese scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography and the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology, respectively, teamed up in early 2018 to study Gwadar’s seismic risk. Funded by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the expedition was necessitated by heightened seismic activity in the region, instead of being the outcome of a well thought out joint plan of disaster risk reduction R&D.

The regions of Pakistan and China constituting CPEC are known as disaster prone areas. Most of the higher than six MMI scale earthquakes in China since 1980 happened in Western China. According to the data from China Earthquake Network Center (CENC), since 1980, there have been 130 earthquakes between MMI 6 and 7, sixteen earthquakes between MMI 7 and 8, and two earthquakes higher than MMI 8 in China. Most of the earthquakes higher than MMI 6 took place in western China, consisting of Yunnan, Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Xizang (Tibet) and Xinjiang. Western China is, therefore, an earthquake prone area.

Gwadar’s topography makes it vulnerable to the hazards of flooding, cyclones, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Gwadar lies on the head of a peninsula surrounded by ocean on three sides, which makes it vulnerable to tsunamis. When and if a tsunami happens, it would hit Gwadar straight on, which is the worst kind of tsunami impact for urban infrastructure.

Gwadar is located right next to the epicenter of the 1945 earthquake that devastated the region at MMI 8.1. The Makran Trench is where the Arabian plate (which contains the Arabian Peninsula) is sub-ducting under the Eurasian Plate at 4 centimeters per year. By not quaking for several decades, the Makran Trench is building up elastic energy. Sub-duction zones produce up thrust earthquakes, which are the most intense type of earthquakes, causing large tsunamis. It should be borne in mind that in the earthquake of 1945, only part of the Makran Trench ruptured, comprising eastern half under Pakistan, not the part under Iran. If the entire Makran Trench was to quake, the earthquake could be a magnitude 9.2, same size as the 2011 earthquake that devastated Japan, the most disaster resilient country in the world.

The Long Term Plan for China Pak Economic Corridor states that “The CPEC will greatly speed up the industrialization and urbanization process in Pakistan and help it grow into a highly inclusive, globally competitive and prosperous country capable of providing high-quality life to its citizen.” (from website.) Despite overwhelming need for disaster risk reduction in CPEC, in this vision of prosperity of Ahsan Iqbal, regional collaboration in disaster risk reduction does not once appear as a priority. In “Restraint of Natural and Geographical Factors,” Xinjiang’s “weak industrial base” is listed, “cost of construction and management of operations in difficult terrain” is listed, “energy, infrastructure and governance deficiency” is mentioned. DRR appears nowhere on the document as one of CPEC’s challenges.

The risk of extreme weather phenomena, including strong cyclones, is higher. As a consequence of earth’s crustal movement, earthquakes is a clear and present danger. The terrain CPEC is built on is disaster prone. Alongside these hazards, CPEC gives Pakistan an unprecedented opportunity of availing Chinese expertise in collaborative disaster risk reduction. Pakistan’s deficiencies in financial and technological resources can be compensated if China partners actively in managing potential and real disasters in CPEC. It is better for Pakistan to seek foreign collaboration in a well-planned manner than to leave it to developments that be.

Pakistan’s legislature needs to make relevant laws and government needs to sign treaties on controlling water pollution, solid waste pollution, noise pollution, livestock epidemic emergencies and transportation and food scarcity hazards. Disaster risk reduction along CPEC needs to be made a priority area of tripartite collaboration between China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the third major investor in CPEC. Collaboration in DRR technology, including early warning systems and remote sensing, is a dire need of CPEC – a project mainly consisting of infrastructure development for uninterrupted commerce. Not just the infrastructure, but the communities along the CPEC also need to be safeguarded against natural and man-made disasters through collaborative action on awareness, mitigation and management of disasters.

The vision of a University at Gwadar, laid out in the CPEC agreement, must be revisited to create an international center of excellence in disaster risk reduction and disaster management studies, harboring a climate change and earth sciences resource center, equipped with state of the art technology and online connectivity to other Universities in Pakistan with similar programs. Scientists from China, Eurasia, and the larger international community of disaster and climate scholars should be visiting faculty, conducting joint research and imparting knowledge to Pakistan.

CPEC needs to be built as a “model” of disaster risk reduction and the sooner Pakistan and China paid attention to the importance of this joint venture, the better CPEC will serve its purpose.

Zeenia Satti is CEO of Pakistan’s People Led Disaster Management. She blogs at


If it can happen in New Zealand, it can happen anywhere. The first thing I heard when I woke up on the morning of 15 March, the Ides of March so ominously referenced in the Shakespearian play about Julius Caesar, was that 49 people were killed in a mosque shooting in New Zealand.
In New Zealand?!?

It sounded so unbelievable that at first I thought these were just muddled first reports. But it turned out, that is exactly what happened.

A 28 year old Australian man reportedly massacred worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and live streamed the gory massacre on Facebook. Instead of repeating his name so often in news and creating a terrible situation for those who share the same name, where ever they may be, we should call the man “brute terrorist.” Though the terrorist act committed in New Zealand is not new, the violence perpetrated by the brute terrorist was novel in one way; he live streamed the massacre of individuals as they were praying. His video went viral, not because humanity has suddenly become full of sadists who entertain themselves with such videos, but because the video is associated with breaking news and a shocking atrocity.

The video has subsequently become the subject of news. It keeps getting removed from social media but keeps making a stubborn come back because somebody uploads it somewhere and there are not enough people at the back end to cleanse the system so quickly, experts tell us on media.

While the video should definitely not roam free on social media and be watched by all and sundry including children, the video is valuable from the point of view of risk reduction and terrorism management. It should be circulated to police academies all over the world where professionals should use it to assess what possible acts victims could have performed to safeguard their lives when the gun man suddenly appeared and started shooting at them. A plan of action should be designed, with input from global law enforcement networked for the purpose. Such plan should be made available to common folks in urban areas to learn what to do in such a situation to minimize loss of life. Such heinous acts have taken place in the past, and are likely to take place anywhere in the world in future as well. While states must act to minimize the failure of intelligence and produce better law enforcement, acts of urban terror such as the New Zealand mosque massacre can not be prevented altogether. But knowledge of what people can do to safeguard themselves during such atrocities can be disseminated to all through social media. Television channels all over the world can be made to disseminate the knowledge in local languages.

An international network of police officers can and should use the brutal terrorist’s video and use it to develop and disseminate skills that that can be utilized by potential victims of similar acts of terrorism – which is really the global urban community.

From the perspective of DRR, the brute terrorist has actually done the law enforcement a favor by recording his act in all its forensic details.