Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Media Category: Print
Media Organization: The News

Shahzada Irfan Ahmed is a mid-career journalist based in Lahore and works as an Assistant Editor cum Senior Reporter with The News on Sunday, the weekly section of Pakistan’s leading publication The News (

He writes on myriad issues ranging from environment, social sector development and climate change to poverty, interfaith harmony and governance.

His association with The News spans over a decade. Before joining the organisation in 2003, he had worked as desk in-charge at Daily Sun, Lahore, In-charge Commerce Desk and Senior Staff Reporter at Daily Times and News Editor at official news website of South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA).

He works as a stinger with Wall Street Journal and correspondent with IPS feature service. He has also worked on assignment-to-assignment basis with Channel 4 of UK, National Geographic and PBS, USA. He won Daniel Pearl Fellowship in 2009 and got an opportunity to work as staff reporter with daily Houston Chronicle, in Houston, Texas, USA for five months.

Contact: 4rth floor, 13 Davis Road, Lahore 54900

Nominated Work

Title: Well being

How proximity to an oil/gas well may bring prosperity to a community neglected by state?

uplift Well being How proximity to an oil/gas well may bring prosperity to a community neglected by state? By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed It’s time for roll call. The young energetic boys, clad in their yellowish orange uniform, raise their hands one by one and speak out their names loudly. Every student is supposed to speak out his address as well, so that the teacher can work out the attendance rates of children coming from different areas. The exercise does not take long as the teacher has to simply write down a digit or digits in the address column. The children simply yell out the number of the gas well they live close to and do not have to mention anything else. The message gets across. Students of a government elementary school in Daharki, Sindh, these boys have grown up seeing personnel of oil and gas exploration companies all around. Despite inhabiting land rich in natural resources and home to more than a dozen of country’s biggest industrial units, these people have had little contact with the representatives of the state. It is estimated that the government revenue generated from this city is next only in volume to that generated from Karachi but unfortunately the state expenditure on development here is one of the lowest. In Daharaki, there are no functional Basic Health Units (BHUs), government dispensaries, government schools with proper buildings and furniture or safe drinking water provided by the civic authorities. All the major development one can see is mainly due to the initiatives of oil and gas companies and other corporates under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations. No doubt, it is binding on big companies to spend their funds on development projects in the areas of their operation. But the question here is that does this obligation on companies exonerate the state of all its responsibilities with respect to meeting the basic needs of its citizens? The answer simply is that the CSR funds are meant to supplement the efforts of the state in such areas and can no way be an alternative to government resources meant for this purpose. The investments they have made in Daharki are much more than mere fulfillment of a contractual obligation, states Col (retd) Dr Sanaullah, Deputy Manager Medical at Mari Petroleum Company Limited — a public listed company doing exploration work here since 1957. He tells TNS the oil and exploration companies are required by law to invest in the social sector development but their investments are manifold of what would have been enough to fulfill this requirement. “Here the company itself identifies public’s needs and executes projects which suit them the most.” Mari Field areas lie within the vicinity of a desert. Initially there were no roads and the local communities could not access public transportation facilities and commute easily with other areas nearby. Over the decades, the company has laid up infrastructure in the area which includes 57 kilometers of metalled road, 308 kilometers of dirt (kacha) road, 13 bridges over canals etc and is spending around Rs 14 million on its maintenance and operation every year. In fact, Sana says, there is a typical model of development in Daharaki. It starts with discovery of a gas well. The area of the well belongs to private parties but soon after the discovery, it is bought over by the company at a good price. Instead of outsourcing the security to some company, the owner of the land is offered the job of chowkidaar at Rs 20,000 a month for an eight-hour shift. As there are three shifts, and a backup is required on an off-day, the owner gets around Rs 80,000 a month which is quite a handsome amount. Most owners open shops at the sites of the wells. The discovery is followed by laying of road network, shifting of communities to the site due to development, opening up of shops and markets etc, dispensaries and so on. So far, 113 gas wells have been discovered in Mari Fields and almost all of them have communities centered around them. The members of these communities identify themselves with the numbers of these wells. The company manages mobile dispensaries to provide treatment to over 100,000 patients annually in remote areas including those close to Indo-Pak border. Unfortunately, these areas do not have functional government dispensaries. No doubt one-time investments are also a big deal, but the real issue is how to sustain these initiatives. This is really a big concern for them, says Sana while referring to the Mari Maternity Home constructed by the company back in 1990. This maternity home is located in the central location of Mari field in union council Dad Leghari, the oldest village there, even before partition of Pakistan. This maternity home was handed over to Sindh Health Department but it could not make it functional for many years. On the request of local notables, MPCL had to take over its operations in May, 2003. This maternity home treats over 15,000 patients annually and offers services of normal deliveries, DNCs, ultrasounds and other gynecological procedures. “We have generators here as there is hardly any electricity throughout the day. Even if it is there, the voltage is too low for even the ultrasound machine to operate,” says Dr Shahida Faiz, gynecologist at the facility. The expectations of local communities in oil or gas rich territories are also high. Discouraged by lack of response from state, they look to corporates for relief. Probably, this was the reason why locals from Sanghar district approached Supreme Court last week and complained about disregard of contractual obligations and neglect of social sector development by oil and gas exploration companies in the district. The apex court has sought details of different Exploration and Production (E&P) companies’ spending under CSR in their jurisdictions. However, there is an explanation on why it is sometimes difficult to fulfill certain obligations. For example, it is impossible to give maximum jobs to locals in the absence of technically trained manpower. For this very reason, major industrial units in Daharaki could give low-paying and non-technical jobs to locals and managerial and technical posts would go to outsiders. But today, the Technical Training Center (TTC), Daharaki trains needy local youth in the fields of mechanical engineering and chemical engineering. Set up by The Pakistan Chemical & Energy Sector Skills Development Company (PCESSDC) with financial support from Engro Foundation, MPCL and others, the center offers a three-year diploma in these subjects. This qualification increases employability of students — a proof of which is that the Engro Group has offered to hire the complete batch of 80 students as soon as it passes out, says Brig (retd) Raja Muhammad Ali, CEO, PCESSDC. An interesting fact is that though mega companies may compete with each other in business arena, they have to work in tandem with each other to avoid duplication when it comes to execution of development work. For example, MPCL does not need to worry about incidents of snake bites in Daharki as Engro Group is running a huge facility to cure these. On the other hand, the MPCL manages a TB Clinic at its lease area where all the tests required for the diagnosis of the disease and X-rays are available free of costs. The patients come from Mari lease area, other areas of Ghotki, Rahimyar Khan, Jacobabad and District Sukkur, says Dr Tajammul Baig Mughal, Senior Medical Officer at the facility. The facility works in collaboration with WHO, and tracks new and old patients from over a huge catchment area. “We cannot afford to miss them as every single patient has the potential of infecting 15 more people if not treated in time,” he adds.

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