Subh-e-Nau Magazine

The Increasing Health Impacts of Mobile Phones

Mobile phones are increasingly leading to all kinds of issues for users, including health.     

Eighteen year old Hassan cannot imagine a world where cellphones did not exist. Life without technology – especially cell phones – seems to be a challenging existence for those of his age.
Despite mobile phones being introduced in the mid-90s the technology was still exclusive and only became common during the 2000s. With the arrival of smartphones and new features being added every now and then, making everything so much accessible and convenient, cell phones became even more common.
Gone are the days when landlines rang for important messages, it is now a cell phone number that is given out as the primary mode of communication in most circumstances. Now even camel owners in Thar desert etch their mobile phone numbers on their animal’s coat so that if it strays away, an onlooker can call the owner directly to inform him.
Therefore, cellphones have already cut across the socio-economic strata.
The number of users is also clearly growing, whether it’s a smartphone, or a basic mobile set. PTA’s last annual report of 2018 reveals that the mobile subscribers figure stands at 150 million giving boost to the total tele-density which stands at 74 percent. This was in June, 2018. Updated figures on PTA’s website show the number has increased to 164 million users.
Nevertheless, while cell phones can have several positive impacts on the user’s life as well as on the economy, health experts in Pakistan and all over the world have observed that they also have serious adverse health impacts too. It may be integral to move along with developing technology, but the fact is that as the number of users rise, along with that rises the risk of what they are exposing themselves to in the process – that is radio or electromagnetic frequency.
The Government of Pakistan has raised an issue of proliferation of towers and the resultant hazards affecting human health.  The towers using antennas are one of the main sources of producing Electromagnetic Energy or Radio Frequency “RF” Energy, including radio waves and microwaves, which is used for providing telecommunications, broadcast and other services.
In Pakistan, Frequency Allocation Board (FAB) and PTA authorize or licenses most RF telecommunications services facilities. Because of its regulatory responsibilities in this area, PTA often receives inquiries concerning whether there are potential safety hazards due to human exposure to RF energy emitted by transmitters.
Heightened awareness of the expanding use of RF technology has led some people to speculate that “electromagnetic pollution” is causing significant risks to human health from environmental RF electromagnetic fields.

Health Impacts

But before even RF starts to affect the user, some invisible health issues begin to develop – sometimes not even directly associated with the use of phones. These are also dependent on the health and age of the users.
According to statistics collected by the PTA most users fall between 21 to 30 years and make up to 77 percent of cell phone users. It has been noted that roughly about 27 percent of young people, between the ages of 11 and 14 years admit that they never turn their cell phones off, according to interviews.
Depending on person to person, and even culturally, the infiltration of cell phones all over the world, has led to more waking hours being in front of the phone screen. It has been estimated that on average a young adult spends around four to five hours (a quarter of a day), using the cell phone.
Also, depending on the level of addiction, the health of the user is affected differently.

Cell Phone Obsession

Among teenagers, and young adults, the problem is worse. Cell phone use has become is such an obsession that that many people have started to use cell phones late at night or even sometimes all night long
It does not matter what the drug is, anything can be an addiction, says Dr Rashid Ahmed of the Jinnah Hospital, Karachi. “In this case addiction for a cell phone arises out of the habitual drive for a continuous need to use one’s cellphone repeatedly. In an addiction, pleasure is derived directly by use of the ‘drug’.
Corroborated by the Diagnostic Criteria of the DSM-5 criteria, some of the signs and symptoms seen in cell phone addiction:
  • The need to reach for the phone first thing in the morning and finding it difficult in letting it go off at night;
  • Increasing cell phone use and preoccupation with phone;
  • Negative impacts on social life including family;
  • Becoming anxious or agitated when the cell phone is out of sight; and
  • An inability to cut back on cell phone use. The term Nomophobia is used to describe this phenomenon (NO MObilePHOnePhoBIA).
For such users, the withdrawal symptoms when away from their phones are similar to the withdrawal symptoms of hardcore drugs. Anger, mood swings, temper tantrums (mostly seen in children), depression, feeling of loss, irritability and/or restlessness.
US based Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a rise in the rates of cell phone use over the years but they have also found that girls were particularly at risk: the suicide rate among girls rose by 65 percent between 2010 to 2015, while the rate of severe depression also rose by 58 percent.
“In Pakistan this is thankfully not the case,” notes Dr Rashid. “Pakistan is still behind in terms of use of cell phone as compared to the US. But definitely there have been scares such as the Blue Whale challenge that ended up causing deaths of young people, including a couple of them in Pakistan too.”
Dr Rashid says that other reasons however could push children to close themselves in their screens such as unhealthy or abusive family relationships, pushing young people towards anti-social behavior and depression.
But he says the research to prove or disprove these theories is very little.
Dr Faiza Javaid Tariq in an article for the JPMC Medical journal says that in addition to behavioral and mental health issues, physical and psychological problems have been reportedly resulting from excessive use of cell phones, such as spine rigidity, muscle pain, ocular afflictions reflected in fatigue, dryness, blurry vision, irritation, or ocular redness, auditory and tactile illusions – the sensation of having heard a ring or felt a vibration of a cell phone, and pain and weakness in the thumbs and wrists leading to an increased number of cases of tenosynovitis.

Sleep disorders

Studies have found that those who use mobile phones for too long tend to also have sleep disorders as a result. This means factors to interrupted sleep pattern that include getting awakened in the middle of the night due to message notifications, and vibrations and also the increased screen time from late evening until after midnight.
A lot of apps are now available which tend to reduce the screen’s blue light that has impacted not only eyesight but also sleep disorders. Eye comfort apps give a yellowish warm light to the phone screen, so that the bright light does not harm the eyes.
Glaring at the screen or even small font sizes puts a lot of strain on the eyes. Since mobile devices have comparatively smaller screens the user ends up squinting or widening his or her eyes. Dry eyes, irritation, swelling and reddening may occur and sometimes in the long term, eye focus may also be affected.
“Mobile users are very informed about what kind of phones they use, but most of them have no idea how to protect themselves,” says Dr Shahnaz Shiekh, a specialist in Medicine.
It would be advisable for people to keep the phone at a distance – at least 30 centimeters away – from their eyes when using it, she recommends. “Try not to check your phone in the middle of the night because instead of resting your eyes helping the pupil to relax, your eyes receive a sudden burst of light. This makes eye muscles to retract all of a sudden and strains them.”
Dr Shahnaz stresses on rests and breaks, even if checking cell phone messages is part of someone’s professional life.
“Relaxing your eyes, using daily drops to avoid dryness and irritation, closing them in a dark room, or placing an ice pack or cucumbers could do wonders to help relax eye muscles,” she says.

Radio Frequency (Rf) effects

All cell phone devices transmit radio waves and create electromagnetic fields as they communicate with base stations.
According to information on the subject, how much the RF levels are depend on the distance from the base station, as well as what type of mobile phone set is being used, but a source within the telecom sector informs that all commercially available mobile phones comply with the safety limits endorsed by World Health Organization.
“The actual exposure level or SAR value (Specific Absorption Rate) is printed in the user manual or on the box,” says the source. “At our company we do not refrain from showing any concern about the health aspect that may arise from electromagnetic fields or otherwise. That is our company policy.”
One of the companies reveals on its main website information not just about Radiofrequency but also about how it is responsible for public health through social responsibility. It says that the company at all base stations and antenna installations strictly follows international and national guidelines for health and safety. Network equipment, such as antennas at repeater sites and base station sites, emit RF energy to ensure extensive and high-quality mobile coverage. The company rules declare that whenever new network equipment is installed, guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), that are endorsed by WHO, are followed thoroughly.
Not all the local companies, however, give important health and safety information on their websites.

Impacts of RF

Most of the RF energy is used in the telecommunications sector but radio and television broadcasting, personal communications services (PCS), cordless telephones, radio services, microwaves, point-to-point radio links and satellite communications also tend to use RF energy.
There are several other health impacts because of Radiofrequency (RF) fields that are emitted by mobile phones. These fields generated from cell phones themselves are generally more than a thousand times higher than from base stations.
Most research has concentrated on the following areas:
  • cancer – RF fields have been classified by the International Agency for Research on cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans
  • other health effects – changes in brain activity,
  • electromagnetic interference – pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, and certain hearing aids) there is the possibility of causing interference with their operation; and
  • Traffic accidents – three to four times greater chance of an accident taking place.
There are many published reports in the scientific literature concerning possible biological effects resulting from animal or human exposure to RF energy.
Various studies and researches over the years show that exposure to high levels of RF radiation can be harmful due to the ability of RF energy to heat biological tissue rapidly. This is the principle by which microwave ovens cook food, and exposure to very high RF power densities, i.e., on the order of 100mW/cm2 or more, can clearly result in heating of biological tissue and an increase in body temperature.
Tissue damage in humans could occur during exposure to high RF levels because of the body’s inability to cope with or dissipate the excessive heat that could be generated.
Under certain conditions, exposure to RF energy at power density levels of 1 to 10 mW/cm2 and above can result in measurable heating of biological tissue (but not necessarily tissue damage).
The extent of this heating would depend on several factors including radiation frequency; size, shape, and orientation of the exposed object; duration of exposure; environmental conditions; and efficiency of heat dissipation.
A medical journal from a UK medical college reveals that two areas of the body, the eyes and the testes, are known to be particularly vulnerable to heating by RF energy ‘because of the relative lack of available blood flow to dissipate the excessive heat load (blood circulation is one of the body’s major mechanisms for coping with excessive heat)’.
The journal adds that laboratory experiments in the past have shown that short-term exposure (e.g., 30 minutes to one hour) to very high levels of RF radiation (100-200 mW/cm2) can cause cataracts in rabbits. Temporary sterility, caused by such effects as changes in sperm count and in sperm motility, is possible after exposure of the testes to high-level RF radiation (or to other forms of energy that produce comparable increases in temperature).

What Are The Safe Levels For Rf Energy Exposure?

The specific absorption rate – or SAR as it is known – refers to the rate of electromagnetic energy that is absorbed by the human body when using cell phones and other devices emitting radio waves. It is measured in Watts per Kg of human tissue.
If the SAR limit of cell phones is 1.6W/Kg (as in the US), the total time that a person can use the cellphones is a maximum of six minutes at a time. This basically translates to only 20 minutes per day.
Some countries have now made it mandatory to display the SAR value of cell phones on their handsets, but there are others that have not yet woken up to the dangers of using cellphones.
There are those who may suffer from seizures, paralysis, stroke, psychosis, cardiovascular problems thanks to changes in electromagnetic waves as well. As a result of these dangers, there have been development of Exposure Guidelines and standards by various organizations and countries over the past several decades. In North America and most of Europe exposure standards and guidelines have generally been based on exposure levels where effects considered harmful to humans occur.
Safety factors are then incorporated to arrive at specific levels of exposure to provide enough protection for various segments of the population. Not all standards and guidelines throughout the world have recommended the same limits for exposure.
For example, some published exposure limits in Russia and some eastern European countries have been generally more restrictive than existing or proposed recommendations for exposure developed in North America and other parts of Europe. This discrepancy may be due to the possibility that these standards were based on exposure levels where it was believed no biological effects of any type would occur.

Other Health Concerns

Sara, 20, has been suffering from severe muscle and joint ache since the past two weeks. She says she did not figure it out until suddenly she realized that she had been spending a longer than usual time playing games on her cell phone.
“I had to keep holding my phone for that of course, so my elbows were in the same position, as were my hands, and I have no developed a terrible ache in my limbs because of this,” she says. “There are times I wish I could just cut off from my cell phone but of course we have become too dependant on them.”
Health experts have also warned of bad posture and a new condition formed thanks to cell phones in particular, known as “tech neck”.
“Looking downwards for long periods of time strain your neck muscles and cause tightness or spasms,” says Dr Leila Shahnawaz. She says that nerve pain could also occur in the back and shoulders and recommends taking breaks and doing exercise for posture especially yoga or Pilates.
Although not common, but a research paper meant to investigate the effect on certain vital hematological parameters namely hemoglobin level, white blood cell (WBC) count, platelet count and erythrocytes sedimentation rate (ESR) due to the prolonged exposure to mobile radiations through in vitro examination of human blood samples was carried out. It was revealed that mobile phone radiation did in fact affects blood hemoglobin levels, white blood cells and platelets count and ESR.
Last but now the least, a scientific peer review of a landmark United States Government study concluded that there is “clear evidence” that radiation from mobile phones causes cancer, specifically, a heart tissue cancer in rats that is too rare to be explained as random occurrence.
The study was done by the National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services and is one of the largest such studies showed that the scientists had exposed thousands of rats and mice to doses of radiation equivalent to an average mobile user’s lifetime exposure. The peer review also found “some evidence” – one step below “clear evidence” – of cancer in the brain and adrenal glands.
Another research had found risk of “rare neuroepithelial tumors on the outside of the brain was more than doubled… in cellphone users”; there was an apparent correlation between “brain tumors occurring on the right side of the head and the use of the phone on the right side of the head”; and the “ability of radiation from a phone’s antenna to cause functional genetic damage [was] definitely positive”.
In summary, we should limit the excessive usage of mobiles as they are shown to have ill effects on our health and well-being.
Writer: Xari Jalil

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Urban Gardening — Seasonal Planting Guide

This month Subh-e-Nau presents a seasonal planting guide relative to the city you live in but, please remember that this guide is simply that, a guide, as due to climate change you may be able to sow your seeds either before or after the period specified depending on the ambient temperature. Also, experimentation is the name of the game therefore, if you think the time is right for sowing certain varieties then go by your gut feeling and do it. (Part-III).


  1. AUBERGINES: Sow all the year round. Crops will be heavier during hot weather. Require full sun and protection from wind. May need staking. Sow seeds just under the surface of rich organic compost in seed trays or pots. Plant out in to the ground at two feet apart all round or individual ten inch pots when seedlings have developed four to six leaves. When plants are approximately one foot tall pinch out growing tip to encourage side shoots.
  2. BASIL: March/April or August/September. Sow thinly just under the surface of good, well draining soil/compost. Does well in pots. Needs sun and warmth. Protect from wind, particularly sea breezes. Nip out growing shoot when six inches tall to encourage side shoots. Nip out flowers unless you want to collect seed.
  3. BEANS: Sow French and Runner beans from March to October. Need support if climbing varieties. Require sun shine for at least five hours per day. Snake beans can be sown in April/May. Soil should be rich in organic matter and well drained. Sow directly in the ground or three seeds per ten inch pot. Planting depth twice the size of the bean. Keep watered.
  4. BEETROOT: Sow from October to April. Good, well drained soil is needed. Sow directly in the ground half an inch deep. Do not transplant but thin out to six inches part. Rows should be twelve inches apart. Regular watering and ample light necessary.
  5. BROCCOLI; Sow September to December. Start off in seeds trays or pots of rich compost/soil. Require at least six hours of direct light. Plant out one foot apart all around when seedlings have developed four to six leaves. Keep watered. Harvest central flower first and side shoots should follow.
  6. CABBAGE: All year round depending on variety. Propagate as for broccoli.
  7. CAPSICUMS: Sow all year round and treat as for aubergines.
  8. CARROTS: Sow end August to end November depending on variety. Sow thinly in sandy soil quarter of an inch deep, rows one foot apart. Do not transplant. Thin out to three or four inches between plants.
  9. CAULIFLOWER: All year round depending on variety. Grow as for broccoli and cabbage.
  10. CELERY: Sow October/November directly in rich ground. Sow seed thinly just under soil surface in rows twelve inches apart. Thin seedlings out to six inches apart. Earth up as required if the variety so specifies. Keep watered.
  11. CHILLIES: Sow all year round in pots or trays of rich soil/compost. Need full sun. Seeds should be thinly sown quarter of an inch deep at the most. Transplant one foot apart all around when seedlings have four to six leaves. Does well with one plant per seven of ten-inch pot.
  12. CORIANDER: Sow all year round but keep in shade during hot weather. Reasonable soil conditions required and lots of water. Does well in pots.
  13. COURGETTE & ‘KADDU’ generally: Sow seed on edge September to March in rich, well drained soil. Plants should have at least two feet all around depending on variety. If climbing then support needed.
  14. CUCUMBER: Sow from September to March. Sandy soil with lots of organic material worked in is best. Need support if climbing variety. Soil must be well drained. Direct sunlight preferred. Plant seed on edge two feet apart all round. Fine in pots.
  15. ENDIVE: All year round but in partial shade during hot weather. Reasonable, well drained soil required. Sow thinly just under the soil surface, in rows nine inches apart. Keep well watered.
  16. GARLIC: All year round. Rich, well drained soil preferred in full sunlight. Plant cloves, two inches deep, four inches apart all around. Don’t over water.
  17. GINGER: March to June. Plant pieces of root with nodes on, at a depth of two inches, six inches apart in rich, sandy, well drained soil in full sun. Water sparingly.
  18. LADIES FINGER: Sow from June to December. Soak seeds in warm water for twelve hours before planting out twelve inches apart all around. Keep watered. Needs plenty of sunlight.
  19. LETTUCE: All year round but in partial shade during hot weather. Sow seed thinly just under soil surface or in seed trays/pots for transplanting at the four leaf stage. Distance between plants should be at least six inches. Need lots of water.
  20. MELONS:  Sow October to April. Rich, sandy soil preferred. Plant seed on edge, at least three feet apart. Keep well watered.
  21. MUSTARD: October to February depending on variety. Giant Red Mustard can be sown from October to the end of April. Scatter seed thinly just under the surface of reasonable soil and keep watered.
  22. ONIONS: September to November. Rich, well drained soil in full sun. Can be sown direct or started off in seed trays/pots of well draining compost and transplanted to five inches apart all around when large enough to handle. If growing green onions then these can be thinly sown, quarter of an inch deep in rows six inches apart. Watering important.
  23. PEAS: October to March: Soak seeds for twelve hours prior to planting. Rich, well drained soil necessary. Sow two inches apart in rows three feet apart if climbing varieties and two feet apart if bush/dwarf. Climbers need support. Full sun best. Water daily.
  24. POTATOES: September to December. Rich sandy soil is ideal. Plant six inches deep, two feet apart in flat beds and earth up the shoots as they appear until you can’t earth them up any longer. Water three times a week. Can be grown individually in buckets or drums.
  25. ROCKET: All year round if kept in shade during hot weather. Not fussy about soil but needs regular watering. Sow thinly directly in the ground or in pots.
  26. SPINACH: All year round. May need protection from birds. Not particular about soil but requires plenty of water. Scatter seeds in prepared soil and rake in.
  27. SWEET CORN:  Sow March to May. Soak seed for twelve hours prior to planting to speed up germination. Needs full sun and rich soil. Sow seed direct in prepared bed four inches apart and two inches deep. Water three times a week.
  28. TOMATOES: All year round but subject to blight in hot, humid conditions. Rich, well drained soil and at least five hours direct sunlight preferred. Sow just under the surface of good compost in trays or pots and plant out, two feet apart when the seedlings have developed four to six leaves. Tall varieties need support. Bush and trailing varieties are ideal for pots and hanging baskets. Plenty of water required.
  29. THYME: Sow September to November. Not particular about soil but must be well drained. Partial shade preferred in hot weather. Thrives in pots. Thinly sow the seed just under the soil surface. If transplanting required then wait until seedlings are well established. Do not over water.
  30. TURNIPS: September to December. Like heavy soil with plenty of organic material added. Sow thinly, quarter of an inch deep in prepared soil and thin out firstly to four inches apart and later to six inches if large roots are preferred. Water three times a week.

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD/RAWALPINDI/PESHAWAR (Growing instructions as for Karachi)

  1. AUBERGINES: Sow April to end of May.
  2. BASIL: Mid March to end of April depending on temperature. A second sowing can be tried from the end of August to the end of September but will finish when temperatures begin to drop. Will not tolerate frost. Basil needs warmth to germinate but young plants burn up in hot sun.
  3. BEANS: French beans and Runner beans should be sown during March or October/November. Broad beans in November/December and Snake beans in April/May. Tall varieties need support. Require sun for at least five hours per day except for Snake beans which need full sun.
  4. BEETROOT: October/November.
  5. BROCCOLI: September to December depending on variety.
  6. CABBAGE: March to November depending on variety.
  7. CAPSICUMS: April to the end of May for best results.
  8. CARROTS: Sow end of August to end of November depending on variety.
  9. CAULIFLOWER: September to end November depending on variety.
  10. CELERY: September to November.
  11. CHILLIES: Sow April to June. The higher the temperature then the hotter the pepper.
  12. CORIANDER: Sow February to November unless there is frost.
  13. COURGETTE & ‘KADDU’ generally: March/April.
  14. CUCUMBER: Beginning of March if temperatures allow through to the end of April or even May.
  15. ENDIVE: February to November depending on temperatures.
  16. GARLIC: September to December in full sun.
  17. GINGER: March to April.
  18. LADIES FINGER: March to May depending on temperature.
  19. LETTUCE: February to November depending on variety.
  20. MELONS: April/May.
  21. MUSTARD: September to November depending on variety. Giant Red Mustard can also be sown in very early spring.
  22. ONIONS: September to November for bulbous onions, the same for green onions with repeat sowings in March to April.
  23. PEAS. September/October or February/March.
  24. POTATOES: March to September for repeat crops of new potatoes.
  25. ROCKET: March to May and September to November.
  26. SPINACH: Early spring or early autumn are best although can succeed in summer if grown in partial shade.
  27. SWEET CORN: Sow April to June.
  28. TOMATOES: March to October unless your area is subject to frost when the last sowing should be in July/August. However plants can be over wintered if given frost protection.
  29. THYME: September to November or March/April. Frost hardy.
  30. TURNIPS: September or March.

QUETTA (Growing instructions as for Karachi)

  1. AUBERGINES: March to May.
  2. BASIL: April/May.
  3. BEANS: French beans and runner beans in April, Snake beans in May and Broad Beans either November or March.
  4. BEETROOT: March.
  5. BROCCOLI: September to November or March depending on variety.
  6. CABBAGE: As for broccoli.
  7. CAPSICUMS: March to May.
  8. CARROTS: March to April or September/October for over wintering (Frost tolerant varieties only).
  9. CAULIFLOWER: As for broccoli.
  10. CELERY: March and April or hardy varieties in September/October.
  11. CHILLIES: April to June.
  12. CORIANDER: March to September/October but in shade during periods of extreme heat.
  13. COURGETTE & ‘KADDU’ generally: April/May.
  14. CUCUMBER: April/May.
  15. ENDIVE: March to September. Best in shade in hot weather.
  16. GARLIC: March.
  17. GINGER: Not suitable.
  18. LADIES FINGER: April/May.
  19. LETTUCE: As for endive.
  20. MELONS: April/May.
  21. MUSTARD: September/October plus Giant Red Mustard can be sown for a rapid crop in March.
  22. ONIONS: March/April for bulbous onions. March to August for green onions.
  23. PEAS: March/ April or November.
  24. POTATOES: March/April.
  25. ROCKET: March to May or September/October. (Indigenous in Baluchistan).
  26. SPINACH: March to May or September.
  27. SWEET CORN: April/May.
  28. TOMATOES: March/April.
  29. THYME: March/April or September/October.
  30. TURNIPS: March.

UPLAND AREAS (Cultivation as for Karachi but watering requirements may be different as can the need for summer shade).

* Please note that as snow melt, therefore the spring sowing seasons varies from year to year, increasingly so as a result of climate change, planting times are more general than species specific.
  1. AUBERGINES: Late spring.
  2. BASIL: Late spring to early summer.
  3. BEANS: French beans and runner beans during spring, broad beans in November. Snake beans not particularly suitable.
  4. BEETROOT: Early spring.
  5. BROCCOLI: Early to mid spring and early autumn depending on variety.
  6. CABBAGE: As for broccoli.
  7. CAPSICUMS: Late spring.
  8. CARROTS: spring or autumn depending on frost hardiness of variety.
  9. CAULIFLOWER: As for broccoli.
  10. CELERY: Spring.
  11. CHILLIES: Late spring to early summer.
  12. CORIANDER: Early spring to September.
  13. COURGETTE & ‘KADDU generally: Late spring.
  14. CUCUMBER: Late spring to early summer.
  15. ENDIVE: Early spring to September.
  16. GARLIC: Early spring.
  17. LADIES FINGER: Late spring to early summer.
  18. LETTUCE: As for endive.
  19. MELONS: Late spring.
  20. MUSTARD: Autumn although Giant Red Mustard can also be sown in early spring.
  21. ONIONS: Bulbous onions early spring. Green onions early spring to early summer.
  22. PEAS: Spring or late autumn depending on frost hardiness of variety.
  23. POTATOES: Spring.
  24. ROCKET: Early spring to early autumn. (Indigenous in some upland areas).
  25. SPINACH: Early spring to autumn depending on variety.
  26. SWEET CORN: Spring.
  27. TOMATOES: Late spring to early summer.
  28. THYME: Early spring to summer. (Indigenous in some upland areas and extremely frost hardy).
  29. TURNIPS: Early spring.
Not all available vegetable and herb varieties are listed here due to lack of space plus, there are numerous species climatically suitable but not yet widely available to home growers and farmers therefore, on the whole, these have been omitted for the time being but will be discussed in detail in future articles.
Writer: Zahrah Nasir


Non-woven bags- Environment Friendly or a Future Hazard?

Plastic pollution has emerged as a global issue due to its inertness. It takes more than 400 years for a plastic to degrade in the environment. So, what about these non-woven bags which are being circulated in the markets as an alternative?          

According to International Coastal Cleanup Report 2019, the most prevalent items found during ocean cleanups in order of abundance were: cigarette buts, food wrappers, straws and stirrers, disposable spoons and knives, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic grocery bags, other plastic bags, plastic lids and plastic cups and plates.
Excessive littering and plastic waste end up in our oceans which severely damages terrestrial and marine life. Several events involving animal deaths due to plastic ingestion are reported each year. According to US Center for Biological Diversity, if the current rate of plastic use continues, it will outweigh total number of fish in the sea by 2025. Environmental NGOs and activists are demanding strict actions and strategies from authorities to restrict the use of single use plastics. Subh-e-Nau started its campaign on plastic bag bans 15 years ago and has to date introduced paper, cotton and jute bags as alternatives to various plastic bags in various institutions and organizations, including educational institutions such as the University of Karachi. Unfortunately, none of these have been taken up by the public, academia or the authorities, as each works within their own mandate and agenda.

Plastic Bag Bans in Practice: A scrutiny needed

Plastic bags have been focused mainly by various governments across the globe due to their widespread use and careless littering behavior of individuals. A report on “single-use plastics” by UN Environment Programme states that more than 140 regulations have been introduced in several countries imposing bans or levies on use of plastic bags. However, different impacts have been observed in countries depending on various factors associated with the bans. No or very small impact was observed in most of the developing countries due to poor waste management systems, lack of implementation of bans, no available alternatives, smuggling from other areas and introduction of thicker plastic bags.
Authorities in Pakistan are also concerned about plastic pollution and Pak-EPA has recently introduced a regulation in Islamabad “Pak-EPA Ban on Polythene Bags Regulation, 2019” in this regard.
According to this regulation all manufacturing, import and wholesale trading of polyethylene bags other than flat bags (without handles; with subject to terms and conditions) was banned in ICT. Other provinces are also devising detailed strategies following this ban.
Permitted bags as defined in the regulation are bags made of material other than polythene that includes jute, paper, cloth, papyrus, 100% degradable material like potato starch etc.
However, due to lack of knowledge all the major stores have started using non-woven polypropylene (SBPP bags) as an environment friendly alternative to polythene plastic bags. Polythene and Polypropylene both are polyolefins and derived from the same source.
Non-woven polypropylene contains carbon and hydrogen elements, micro-organisms are unable to digest high molecular weight polymers lacking hydrophilicity. Polymer is bio-inert lacking biodegradability in the landfill.
These polypropylene bags will also contribute towards microplastics after their disintegration. Microplastics become part of food chain effecting life of thousands of terrestrial and marine animals. Due to their small size, microplastics cannot be collected and even seen by naked eye.
A similar plastic bag ban was introduced in Maharashtra and many other states of India; however non-woven polypropylene and all other single use plastics were also banned.
Using another type of plastic as a replacement to previously used plastic can never be environment friendly. Non-woven (SBPP) bags looks like fabric, however, they are purely manufactured from plastic. As a responsible nation, we aim to resolve the issue of plastic pollution in the country and save the environment from the hazards associated with it. If we ignore such important factors and repeat the mistakes in policies that may result in devastating impacts in the long run.
All types of single use plastics; “Polythene, Polypropylene, Non-woven Polypropylene” must be banned and only biodegradable alternatives should be encouraged in order to save our natural environment from future synthetic threats.
Writer: Isma Umer


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