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Climate change made simple November 27, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : South Asia - General, Trevelyan, James , comments closed

James Trevelyan

Climate change debate is now sweeping Australia.  The difficulty for people who are not researchers in science disciplines is that there is always a spread of interpretation among scientists at the core of the research on any scientific issue – even ones that seem simple.  Global warming science is highly complex.  Therefore, it is easy for outsiders (particularly those with strong interests) to pick on isolated comments and even the exasperated comments of those on the inside and conclude that the science is therefore wrong.  Science is never wrong, and never right.  Each scientific contribution comes from one or more individuals who only see part of the issue, and therefore each needs to be interpreted in the light of that. (more…)

Cracks along a quiet frontier November 24, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Trevelyan, James , comments closed

James Trevelyan

A recent journey to the Karakoram Mountains, the roof of the world on the border between China and Pakistan, provided insight into the nuances of the relationship that gave birth to the famous highway.  The two countries recently agreed to widen and strengthen the highway originally opened in the mid 1980s.


A Chinese semi-trailer crawls southwards between Hunza and Gilgit. Photo by the author

Chinese engineers have started reconstruction work on the northern Pakistan section between the Shangri-La road house east of Chilas and the Khunjerab pass on the border.  However, to the traveller, the distinction between reconstruction and destruction is a fine one.  Instead of a progressive work plan upgrading a few kilometres at a time, the Chinese contractors have excavated hundreds of massive gaps in the highway to build culverts along the entire 200 km stretch.  The culverts which allow floods to pass under the highway have to be rebuilt before the new roadway can be laid over the top.  Every few hundred metres, all traffic has to negotiate a rough bypass track made from rocks, mud and sand.  The 85 km journey from Gilgit to Hunza which would normally take 2-3 hours has become a nightmare boneshaking experience of six hours or more.  These challenges are compounded by the almost complete lack of apparent maintenance along the rest of the road by the Pakistan military Frontier Works Organization.  Driving from Gilgit to Islamabad  takes around 20-22 hours.  Gaping potholes in between go unrepaired, forcing drivers to follow a slalom course to avoid them.  Many culverts have been allowed to become completely blocked so flash floods wash the road away instead.  The cost in delays and vehicle damage is spreading to the entire community. (more…)

Countering militancy in Pakistan: an engineering response August 17, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Pakistan, Trevelyan, James , comments closed

James Trevelyan

Recent studies of engineering practice have started to draw aside a cloak of invisibility that has enveloped the work of engineers for centuries if not millenia.  These studies started with the observation that the real costs of essential engineered services such as water supply, electricity, transport, construction, and communications can be much higher in Pakistan than industrialised countries.  For example, safe drinking water can be between five and 25 times the cost in Australia, and electricity can be between 2 and 5 times as much (Trevelyan, 2005).

Attempts to understand these differences in cost exposed a critical lack of knowledge on how engineering practice works, even in advanced industrialized countries.  Research studies in Pakistan, India and Australia have now enabled us to understand why engineering fails to deliver in countries like India and Pakistan. (more…)