The Water Cartels of Pakistan

Here in the United States, we often don’t give a second thought to access to running water and water infrastructure. As long as your water bill is paid, one turn of the tap brings an unlimited supply of treated water. Those in water-scarce, developing countries, however, do not generally have this luxury. In fact, in much of South Asia, the infrastructure for plumbing does not exist at all. Criminal cartels in Pakistan have utilized this discrepancy into a lucrative enterprise. Citizens without access to basic infrastructure must purchase their water from cartels, who operate by dispensing water in plastic jugs from trucks to middle and lower class neighborhoods in urban areas such as Karachi and Lahore.

Given these cartels effectively source their water from untreated rivers and streams, there is no guarantee that the water being purchased has been treated. The lack of chemical treatment lends to outbreaks of water borne diseases, including cholera and malaria. Although such sourcing of common resources is illegal, there is no law enforcement to police such activities, and the business is so lucrative that bribes are easily paid. One report estimates a cartel can make up to $16,000 USD daily. Because residents of lower income neighborhoods and settlements must rely on these water truck cartels, it has allowed these groups to effectively monopolize this essential resource and gouge their customers. Persistent drought conditions and urban sprawl make it especially difficult for citizens residing in metro areas to gain adequate access to fresh, clean water. In a water scarce urban environment, up to half of the 24 million residents of Karachi alone find themselves reliant upon such services.



The same business model occurs in similarly developing nations, including Kenya. In Nairobi, local governments have tried to enforce water access as a mandatory right; however, many informal settlements do not have oversight from the government. It is in these poor to working-class communities that are home to waves of migrants from rural communities who relocate to urban areas in search of work, a phenomenon common throughout the world’s fastest growing nations. Given the high levels of corruption and failure of effective government in areas where water cartels operate, there is not much incentive to stop this problem due to its profitability. However, this issue is not limited to the developing world: in my native California, residents have been stealing water with private water trucks.


Source: CNBC

Scientific data has made us aware that water scarcity will be the new normal with the shift in climatic conditions due to anthropogenic climate change. It is paramount for policy makers in water-stressed regions to recognize the basic right to water infrastructure. Such scarcity has already affected the political climate in nearly every dry region, including California; policy makers must look toward the future in creating and implementing an effective and viable water management strategy in order to ensure the existence of such regions.

The Zika Virus: More of What is to Come

With the onset of the Zika epidemic, humanity must consider pressing solutions in addressing tropical disease. Such diseases are mainly spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in hot, humid climates. One of the reasons why the virus has spread across the Americas and other tropical regions so rapidly is that these regions are even more humid and now receive more precipitation thanks to shifts in precipitation patterns. Thus, tropical diseases spread and become more prevalent as the Earth warms and populations in hot, humid climates become more urbanized. It is much easier for disease to spread in urban areas due to population density, improper sanitation and infrastructure, which contribute to mosquitoes thriving in still bodies of water, as well as general inaccessibility to vaccination and proper health care.

Disease outbreaks such as the Zika threaten global public health given the sheer globalization of our world today. Already, the virus has reached the United States and Western Europe. Yes, industrialized countries have the means to cope with these viruses, but they are still unwelcome, especially due to the severity of microcephaly, a birth defect linked to the virus. Frankly, Zika seems mild in comparison to the outbreak of diseases that are likely to occur as global warming worsens. Dengue and malaria infect 400 and 207 million annually across the globe, respectively, and are especially fatal among children. Zika is just one example of how globalized disease outbreaks threaten human livelihood. Exotic diseases that may have never found their way into the Western world now do so with immigration and travel to and from regions.

Thankfully, technology in the form of genetic modification and vaccines can alleviate the spread of tropical disease emanating from mosquito species. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds the development of genetically modified mosquitoes to both reduce the chances of young maturing to adulthood in addition to carrying a form of bacteria prohibiting the spread of dengue to humans. Of course, eliminating a species of mosquito may have a large impact on fragile ecosystems. They are an integral food source for several species of animals and insects. What is more ethical and proactive for the survival of humanity is the spread of vaccinations against major tropical disease. As the world’s deadliest animal to humans, emphasis on developing vaccines and preventing conditions for disease to spread through proper urban development may be the surest bets for addressing future public health challenges from global warming.

Human Security in Action: Meso-Level Index Based Flood Insurance

I’m going to continue the theme from my previous post on Bolsa Família regarding policies around the world that reflect the principles of the Human Security (in this case, the Environmental Security) paradigm. This article explores how a new insurance scheme for floods can help alleviate human migration patterns in Bangladesh.

The coastal zone of Bangladesh is prone to multiple environmental threats. Cyclones, storm surges and floods, are all regular occurrences within this low-lying nation. Such areas have been identified as agro-ecologically disadvantaged regions. Some of the underlying threats emanating from the onset of coastal encroachment are a reduction in sources of safe freshwater, coastal erosion, high groundwater arsenic content, waterlogging, sharp upticks in water and soil salinity. Complicating matters further, poverty is highly concentrated on the coast, making natural disasters and climate change-related events difficult to overcome for the 46% of Bangladeshis who reside along the river deltas and Indian Ocean. In addition to the restoration of the natural environment, a comprehensive approach is needed to fully allow Bangaldeshis to adapt to one of the most extreme aspects of climate change: natural disasters.

Environmental migration within Bangladesh is a common form of adaptation to environmental stress due to the displacement that occurs from natural disasters. Despite international natural disaster frameworks already in place, such as the Hyogo Framework, these policies intentionally do not address re-construction or relief at the local level because they are merely policy recommendations. Between 1970-2009, 39 million people were displaced by floods and cyclones. Half of Bangladesh’s population fully relies upon agriculture, natural disaster severely impedes the livelihood of these individuals. Thus, when these events do occur, many are forced to seek employment elsewhere, namely urban areas and parts of India. 180,000 Bangladeshis migrate to Assam every month, up to a total of 2.16 million annually. Natural disasters are a grim reality–Bangladesh is one of the four nations most prone to these events on Earth. Thus, an insurance scheme in which pre-determined flood thresholds trigger speedy compensation offers hope for poor people in flood-prone Bangladesh.

This insurance scheme, or “Meso-Level Index Based Flood Insurance,” is a weather based index insurance plan piloted and invented by Oxfam-Bangladesh and the Center for Insurance and Risk Management. It is theoretically advantageous over the long-term because it rolls government payouts when a certain pre-agreed damage threshold is crossed after a natural disaster. Meso-level insurance systems are more efficient because they are assessed on the basis of water depth and duration of flooding. Unlike traditional government damage assessments, these funds are paid out soon after the flooding, or monsoon, season to individuals following an event, allowing for re-construction soon after a disaster strikes.

Non-governmental organizations are responsible for issuing funds that come mainly from the Swiss government. Families can receive up to approximately $30 USD per household. However, there is much scrutiny surrounding this new insurance plan due to the difficulty determining whether or not it will be cost effective given there is no standard threshold for trigger payments. This notwithstanding, the current payment scheme is more cost effective than the $500 million the Bangladesh government spends annually on natural disaster payments and relief. Thus, programs such as these may prevent more internal and external migration out of low-lying coastal areas as natural disasters become more prevalent and threaten human livelihood.

In 2015, the monsoon season displaced 850,000 individuals in Pakistan and 1.8 million in India. With ever increasing shifts in climate patterns contributing to intense precipitation events in tropical regions, future extreme flooding has the potential to act as a regular driver of human migration. Bangladesh, with its population of over 150 million and vulnerability to the effects of global warming, will be on the front lines of environmental change. Massive population displacement and migration into urban areas due to natural disaster, loss of human habitability and economic productivity are not long-term strategies. Although natural disaster events and degradation will almost certainly influence individuals to seek opportunity outside of coastal zones, populations can still be somewhat retained by helping these communities adapt to this new normal. Thankfully, the Bangladesh government is leading its South Asia peers by allowing the implementation of programs such as the meso-level flood insurance as a way to form a comprehensive strategy to retain populations and agricultural production along its coasts.

Food: The New Jihadist Recruitment Tool

Terrorism. Non-state actors. These groups of actors within the international system are what make scholars and policy practitioners alike stay up well into the night. Their very definition invokes the opaqueness which makes it so hard to address, define and combat. What drives an individual to such desperation that they are enticed to give their lives to an extremist organization? For the past thirty years, nationalism and postcolonial politics contributed to our understanding of militant extremism and terrorism, including Al-Qaeda and its franchises. However, this mentality may not extend far enough into actually understanding the driving forces behind recruitment strategy and motivations for individuals to join such extreme organizations.

Across the Middle East and North Africa region, resource scarcity prevails. In a naturally arid climate, freshwater sources are meager, and agriculture difficult or impossible to cultivate. Further, the majority of nations in these regions share common characteristics among developing economies: large-scale inaccessibility to basic resources, burgeoning populations, colonial histories, corrupt governments and wide-scale unemployment. Some, including Yemen, Libya, Mali and Algeria have histories of war and civil conflict, leaving them at the brink of failure. So how do we address these kinds of issues in the long-term?

Access to basic resources, including employment, water, food, shelter and healthcare, are the building blocks for sustaining life and nationhood. Without those necessities, people may be enticed to extreme measures, including the drastic decision to migrate thousands of miles for a better quality of life. Or they might join a group that either provides them with such resources or promises a future with those rewards. Several Al-Qaeda franchises, as well as ISIS, have been posting pictures lately of scrumptious banquets as to insinuate that the jidahists are living the high life in war-torn Syria. This is a clear juxtaposition to the immense food insecurity faced by thousands of Syrian refugees, a situation so dire that vulnerable children are dying of malnutrition and water-borne diseases.

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Images via The Week

A similar phenomenon is occurring in Saharan Africa. Al-Qaeda has raised its profile in Mali after the 2013-14 French intervention, integrating with nomadic groups by offering food and water to recruit impoverished individuals in the plethora of slums across the country’s urban areas. This resurgence has led some to criticize the military intervention, Operation Serval, as a failure, with such recruitment tactics allowing them to gain a foothold in critical areas. Clearly, these groups are not limiting their recruitment to others who share their religious ideology and political aspirations. They want bodies, and individuals–especially young men–for fighting, and these men are desperate to escape such dire circumstances. Although food and water are not the only recruitment tactics, they are jarring simply because it is a relatively easy fix in comparison to military intervention, clandestine hunts for Al-Qaeda leaders and overseeing negotiations. Mali is an extreme example, but may be more of what is to come as terrorist operations and severe scarcity intersect over the coming years.

The long-term solution to mitigating terrorism across the region starts with a humanitarian approach. Military intervention, peacekeeping and other traditional tactics are arguably part of the solution, but policymakers need a comprehensive approach and not a policy band-aid. Perhaps we should consider incorporating food and water security into the security agendas of the United States and its developed allies. A failed state has severe implications for the stability of the Middle East and North Africa region due to haven it creates for terrorists (see, Iraq), and the overspill it generates for neighboring countries, including Nigeria, and even Western Europe. For Western European nations such as France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain, the Middle East and North Africa is within immediate geographical boundaries, making conflict and illegal immigration much closer to home. The current migrant crisis has drawn thousands from the Middle East and North Africa. Before the current E.U. migrant crisis, North African illegal immigration was already growing out of control, the Mediterranean Sea a thin barrier to the pressing national security of these European nations.

Poverty and resource insecurity is not merely a remote problem, subjugated to areas of the developing world and thus inconsequential in the lives of those residing in the developed world. Extreme depravation is a serious threat to U.S. and European security and defense policy because of the threat it imposes on such a fragile region and the immediate security of its European allies. Incorporating unconventional, non-traditional strategies may become an integral part of its strategy and long-term stability to the region. Cultivating programs that support sustainable food production, freshwater extraction and industry can act as deterrents for membership into these militant groups and reduce the growth and popularity of extremism as a whole across the entire region.