Dwindling WhatsApp Privacy

Meme’s have abounded as well as an intense internet discussion on just about every online forum regarding the new WhatsApp policy.

Users feel the new policy compromises their privacy by opting to share certain user information with a broader Facebook network. It is pertinent to mention that the policy for Europe has remained unchanged.

WhatsApp currently has about 2.5 billion users globally. These users, except for the ones living in Europe, must agree to the new WhatsApp policy by February 8th if they want to continue using the messaging app.  As per the new policy, WhatsApp will now collect user data including the users’ name, mobile number, photos, statuses, phone model, operating system, device information, IP address, mobile network, location and other related information. This information will then be stored and shared with various social media platforms, especially with Whats App parent company Facebook.

Many people are wondering, why this information being collected and for what purpose? Well WhatsApp itself  has stated that this information can be used for better operation of services and even for providing, improving, understanding, customising, supporting, and marketing services or products especially in respect to Facebook products or services. It is worth noting that approximately 21.5 billion USD of Facebook’s revenue around the end of the year 2020 came from ads. WhatsApp does not have ads but by analysing various information and statistics of WhatsApp users, it could be possible to offer respective WhatsApp users targeted ads on Facebook as well as Instagram. The more appropriate ads would be assessed after analysing a WhatsApp user’s information. In fact, via analysing users’ habits on WhatsApp, appropriate IG and FB business pages could be recommended to.

The rise of online shopping during pandemic could have been main catalyst for the change in WhatsApp privacy policy.

Though the catalyst could be speculation ,it has been specifically  mentioned that chat between a user and a company could be used  for own marketing purposes by the company  which may include advertising on Facebook.”  This shows that WhatsApp policy has definitely changed policy to promote online shopping or online business transactions.

In WhatsApp’s defense they have stated that private messages and even group messages are secure. What is not secure are the messages and pictures shared with business pages. WhatsApp admits that the communication with businesses will not be private but communication with your family or friends will remain private. Large businesses will basically be given hosting services to manage and communicate via Facebook and WhatsApp chats will be used to communicate with customers as well as send information like purchase receipts. The fact is that this information is then used for further marketing purposes i.e. Facebook advertisements. This is also why WhatsApp states that business accounts on the messaging app are clearly labeled. This way you know that the information from this chat will be shared.

One of the most surprising facts regarding the WhatsApp policy is that this policy has not changed for European countries. European data protection authorities which under the European Union’s strict privacy laws are empowered to fine companies as much as 4% of global annual revenue if they breach the bloc’s rules. Furthermore the European Union’s antitrust authorities fined Facebook back in 2017 practically 110 million euros. This could mean that there is a definite reluctance in having the new policy extend to the EU to avoid any further fines. It is disappointing yet not surprising to learn that this same fear of fines does not extend to South Asia including Pakistan.

For Pakistan, a nation which consists of society where people prefer their privacy this has caused a definite uproar. It has been reported that Ministry of IT is now in the midst of developing a new app which will protect the data of Pakistani users. It is claimed that the personal information will also not be shared with any third parties. The users will be able to register with the app using their mobile and CNIC numbers, according to the IT ministry. One can’t help but wonder why despite various government funded incubation centers such as Plan 9 and NIC, this initiative was not taken before?

It is important to develop domestic market of messaging apps tailored to suit our society. The new WhatsApp Policy already states the sharing of a plethora of information. What will happen when this policy starts extending further and further, next seeking approval for access to personal chats and calls? If we do not focus on local messaging app development it may very well be the case in the future that we will have to sign away what little is left of our privacy to WhatsApp and Facebook.

Effects of Corona virus on Businesses in KP

Amidst this ominous shadow cast by Covid-19, something new and fascinating has happened around the world when it comes to improvement in environmental pollution .

However Covid-19 lockdown has greatly reduced economic activities not only around the world but in Pakistan too specially in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.

Recently KPK reported hundreds of new cases of coronavirus during ongoing second wave.

Earlier the lockdown in February forced closure of many businesses which has affected the economy of the province to a great extent, especially tourism and hoteling business was hit hard.

Back in 2018, KP was one of the fastest growing economies among the provinces in Pakistan. Despite battling terrorism, KP was able to come out of low security province and excel in economy.

Today, it contributes approximately 13% of GDP to Pakistan’s economy largely thriving on agriculture besides seasonal tourism gave an additional boost to the provincial economy.

All this seems to have changed after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns which has resulted in rendering thousands of people unemployed specially the daily wagers but also affecting GDP growth. The businesses destined to suffer the most are micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). MSMEs are highly dependent on routine businesses cash influx as well as their small number of loyal customers. The famed bazaars and small shops of KPK fall under the category of MSMEs hence these businesses are finding it hard to survive during this era of the pandemic. These MSMEs are providing employment and income to a significant number of people in KPK. According to SBP (State Bank of Pakistan) MSMEs contribute about 40% to the national GDP. As per a recent report of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), Pakistan is estimated to be one of the most hardest-hit countries by this pandemic.

In addition, a project study by the World Bank ‘Economic Revitalization of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and erstwhile FATA’ showed that the four most visited sites of KPK recorded a significant amount of tourism—approx. 5 million. These sits in KPK support 8,665 direct jobs, contributing about 5 million USD to the local economy. These tourist spots and public places have been closed since March. Many restaurants which tourists visited had to be closed or downsize their operations to focus on only home deliveries with the majority of employees end up being laid off.

Another unfortunate issue is that some small businesses that want to stay up and running or have the potential to remain open are simply unable to because the owners do not know how to utilise technology. Many are unable to use a phone to start social media accounts for their restaurants to promote home deliveries. Owners of small shops sometimes also find it challenging creating social media business pages where their goods can be sold. In addition, even the Government of Pakistan is technologically inept when it comes to integrating technology with tourism. There is a potential to give virtual tours of various tourist sites for a small fee. Even special shows could be performed on those aforementioned sites and people could be invited via ZOOM to watch those shows.  It would not be as enriching or stimulating as real life but it could prove to be a new experience for many people.

However, none of the above is taking place on a scale it should be which is causing many businesses within KPK to suffer. The tourist spots once filled with the laughter and smiles of warmth are now cold and empty. The economy of the province which was growing at a promising rate is now in decline. Therefore, despite the environment thriving under the corona pandemic, businesses are among those bearing the brunt of the undesirable impacts.

 

Tourism potential of Swat

Tourism potential of Swat

There is no doubt that Swat is unique in terms of culture, heritage, history and natural beauty. There are many parts of Swat that already attract tourists such as White Palace, Malam Jabba Hills, Kalam, Bahrain, Swat river and many famous lakes. However, there are various facets which have hitherto remained untapped such as development of archeological sites and improvement of infrastructure that can give a much-needed boost to tourism in the valley. The government has already pledged funds to boost tourism in Swat but unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has stalled much needed work to develop tourism industry.

The White Palace, built in 1940 by the King of Swat, usually experience a steady influx of tourists especially in summers. However, due to Covid-19 pandemic, the shutdown of hotels has caused a slump in tourism. The White Palace is said to be cut from the same stone as Taj Mahal. It is so splendid that even Queen Elizabeth has stayed in the White Palace for three days. It is said that the king paid special attention toward roof construction. It has many layers which includes; bronze layer, deodar wood layer, lime layer, mud layer, again deodar wood layer and finally top layer of iron. The multilayers of the roof give extra strength and keep the heat at bay. It is pertinent to mention that previously there was a mini-zoo which contained pheasant, partridge, love bird, peacock, monkey etc. However, during the flood of 2010, it was moved to Islamabad. Till this day the mini-zoo has not yet returned to White Palace. The outlook of White Palace has deteriorated and requires much needed maintenance. If the White Palace is refurbished and updated, it will become an even better tourist attraction. The zoo should also be re-established in order to increase overall attraction of the spot.

“Swat has got something more unique in shape of archaeological monuments and history which makes it comparatively more attractive tourist spot in the world. Swat valley offers a unique combination of beautiful landscape with rich cultural heritage and history to the visitors. The excellent combination of all these makes Swat valley different and attractive for international tourism,” said Thomas Kolly, Ambassador of Switzerland to Pakistan.

The Swat Museum is a testament to the rich history and is filled with archaeological pieces dating from 3500 BC to 1100 AD. It is located in Saidu Shareef and is one of the main tourist attraction.

Other than museum, various historical testaments exist in different parts of the valley depicting its rich culture and history. There is an image of the Buddha carved on the rock at Jehanabad which is probably dated to the 7-8th century A.D. A large number of other rock-carvings of comparable workmanship in Swat are dated to the centuries of the 1st millennium A.D. It is quite unfortunate, that a vast number of Buddhist images in ancient Udyana were destroyed by people in their ignorance and there now remains a small number of similar rock carvings which can still be seen. Very few figures have survived in the valley over the centuries. However, it would be prudent to make these carvings into tourist attraction spots by setting up picture booths and other tourist attracting services i.e. shops, eateries, souvenirs centered around these sites of historical significance. For instance, steps leading to the base of Buddha in Jehanabad can be constructed in order to enable people to get more nearer to the site.

There is also a need to conduct more awareness campaign to better inform world regarding the uniqueness of Swat to attract tourists. Not many people know that Swat is where Alexander of Macedonia fought major battles to cross into the plains of Pakistan. It is also not well known that Swat was the cradle of Buddhism where approximately 1400 monasteries flourished. The Great Gandhara School of Sculpture was also located here; imagine the number of artists that would flock to this spot to view a refurnished ancient depiction of the once great institute where an expression of Graeco-Roman expression art was taught in the context of local Buddhist traditions.

Ruins of great Stupas and Buddhist sculptures should be preserved and rehabilitated to attract maximum number of tourists. It would also be helpful to place information boards around various sites explaining their historical significance and background. However, it is not only the archeological and historical sites which need improvement. The true beauty of Swat lies in the natural geography of the region which should also be improved to promote tourism to its full potential.

Madyan is one of the most popular hill stations in Swat due to breath-taking panoramic views and Swat River. It’s pleasant atmosphere and surrounding views make it a priority for tourists. The tourists also enjoy restaurants located near the river where fresh trout is served to the customers.

There are other places such as Bahrain and Malam Jabba which offer similar views and amenities to tourists. However, one of the main issues especially in terms of reaching Malam Jabba is accessibility. Malam Jabba is the largest ski resort in Pakistan known as “The Malam Jabba Ski Resort” which is owned by Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. It has a ski slope of about 800m with highest point of the slope 2804 m (9200 ft.) above sea level. This Ski Resort came to fruition due to the collaborated efforts of Pakistan Government and Austrian counterpart. This resort is equipped with modern facilities including roller/ice-skating rinks, chair lifts, skiing platforms and snow clearing equipment. However, after the initial equipping and furnishing of the Ski Resort, the facility needs constant maintenance to attract steady flow of tourists.

Bumpy, ill-maintained roads and lack of metal roads are another major factor which frustrate tourists. There are so many breath-taking sites in Swat which are not accessible due to lack of road. A family that may have gone to eat an early lunch at White Palace and then decide to visit Jarogo waterfall in Chatekal Valley of Matta Tehsil, which is about 55 kilometres from Mingora, would be sorely disappointed to discover that there is currently no road that leads to Jarogo Waterfall.

“This is one of the best waterfalls in the world. I have never seen such a big waterfall in this part of the world. I invite all Pakistanis and foreigners to visit this particular place,” said Amjad Ali, a professional trekker and tourist. The water cascading down the waterfall covers more than 120 metres of area and gives the visitors a heavenly experience. Many people aware of this mostly hidden gem have implored the government to make this area more accessible for tourists so that it can be developed into a tourist spot.

Many tourists also urged the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government to properly market the tourist site for national and international tourists. Zahid Khan, president of the All Swat Hotel Association, said his district had hundreds of sites worth seeing but lack of interest on part of the government left them unknown to the world.

Provincial minister KPK for Tourism, Culture, Sports, Archaeology and Youth Affairs has said that the PTI government is taking steps for the promotion of international tourism in Pakistan. The government has allocated Rs. 500 million for approximately 20 archeological and scenic sites to be developed as per international standards for the promotion of international as well as national level tourism. The first phase was development of five ski resorts in KP, including Gabin Jabba in Swat. The minister further said that the government had already formed a tourism authority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which would work for the promotion of tourism.

The important archaeological, religious, and scenic sites of Swat need to be developed to correctly tap into the tourism potential of the region. This will not only bring financial benefits to Swat, but also create job opportunities for locals. Tourism in one region ultimately benefits Pakistan on a national level as well. No doubt the coronavirus pandemic is a setback to the tourism plans of the government, however, tourism industry in Swat needs infrastructural improvement to attract steady flow of international tourists. Swat has immense tourism potential which is unique due to its geographic location and it should definitely be tapped into and taken advantage of.

Swat valley through the ages

Swat valley through the ages

Swat, the land of enchanting beauty is a mesmerizing and peaceful valley situated in the Hindukush mountain range. Its majestic beauty attracts tourists from all over the world who enjoys the beauty, tranquility and peaceful environment of the valley. Any tourist who visits Pakistan never returns without visiting Swat.

History of Swat goes back around 2000 years and the region has witnessed many rulers, cultures, civilizations & religions. Alexander the Great came to Aornos (present day Swat Valley) where the last siege of his famous campaign in this part of the world took place in the winter of 327 – 326 BC. He fought for six months with Raja Arnos of that time and was fatally injured in a battle.

Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi arrived in Swat and conquered the entire valley in the 11th Century AD. He assigned the task of defeating Raja Geera to one of his Generals Pir Khushal. The Raja was killed while escaping the fortress. Pir Khushal, too, was martyred in this battle. His mausoleum is located in Odigram Swat.

Swat Valley remained under the control of Dalzaks and Swatis. Consequently, Yousafzai from Afghanistan (Kabul) captured Swat through Bajaur and Dir.

Zaheer-ud-din Babar observed the rising power of the Yousafzai in the valley and sensed a grave threat from them. He ordered his military to attack the Yousafzai force. The then Head of Yousafzai, Malak Ahmad and his advisor confined themselves in the fortress and Mora Mountains. Babar brutally failed to break into the fortress and therefore offered a treaty to Malak Ahmad as his main aim was to invade the entire India which seems impossible without the active support and help of Yousafzai.

In 1555, Man Singh attacked the Yousafzais with an army of fifteen thousand soldiers but faced defeat. In 1787, Raja Tordal camped at Attock Fort and prepared for a battle with the Yousafzais but ultimately had to cease fighting and sign a treaty.

In the 1800s, British observed the significant strategic value of the Swat Valley and in the year 1863, they attempted to crush the freedom fighters in Buner (one of the districts of Swat). The people fought bravely and defended their land by defeating British soldiers at Ambela. After a few years, in 1897, the tribesmen of Swat under the command of Swat Sartor Faqir won the battle against Britishers and stopped them from entering Swat.

However, the Swat valley witnessed many wars and some political rivalries through the ages. Miangul Abdul Wadood brought many social, economic and political changes in the valley. In 1949, he handed over Swat’s government to his son Miangul Abdul Haq Jahanzeb.

Jahanzeb tried his best to improve the system of Swat state in conformity with the requirements of modern times. He improved the fields of communication, Education and Health. He promoted Tourism in the area by holding fairs on Eid festivals. The princely state of Swat was merged into the provincial setup through a presidential ordinance issued by the then military ruler, General Yahya Khan on 29th July, 1969.

The valley saw a short Taliban rule in 2007 followed by a military operation which was able to evict Taliban and return normalcy to the region. Tourism was badly affected due to terrorism. However, the situation now has significantly improved and the tourism has returned to the area. Current government is endeavoring hard to develop tourism as an industry and has focused its efforts to develop Swat as a tourist hub with requisite facilities. The valley saw gradual improvement in tourism on yearly basis since last five years. However, this year tourism has declined sharply due to corona pandemic.

Billion Tree Tsunami Project: Boon or Bane?

Launched in 2014, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province took a challenging initiative to plant a billion trees. This was in direct response to the Bonn Challenge (a global goal to restore 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land). Simultaneously, it also reaffirmed PTIs commitment to fight against global warming. The international standard for forest cover as recommended by the UN is 12% and Pakistan has only 5% forest cover. Therefore, the initiative was aimed at addressing the fast eroding forest cover and to reach the international standards of forest cover. Criticism for the project known as ‘Billion Tree Tsunami Project’ abounds. However, the benefits of increased forest cover cannot be denied.

It is an indisputable fact that forests help maintaining healthy ecosystem. It provides shelter for animals, soil and water conservation services and clean air. Forests prevent desertification and degradation of land. Trees help in climate change mitigation as they are natural carbon sinks. Perhaps one of the most evident factor regarding the importance of forests is that their significance has also been highlighted as per our SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

The SDGs are our sustainable road map and 17 SDGs have so far adopted by all UN member states who are striving to achieve them by 2030. As per SDG 15, the aim is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. Forest management and prevention of forest degradation have been clearly outlined within this SDG.

Therefore, 169-million-dollar project was also in-line with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda. In fact, Pakistan reached its goal (in August 2017) of a billion trees ahead of schedule and became one of the first countries to achieve its goal under the Bonn Challenge. The project was essentially two-fold and concentrated on plantation as well as regeneration. The aim of the project was 550 million tree saplings planted in two phases and the remaining 450 million saplings were to be naturally generated in forest enclosures. Plant species to be planted included oleander, Aeasia Arabia, chir pine, walnut, ziziphus, Palosa, Shisham, eucalyptus.

According to an IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) article, the initiative is a resounding success. Planted trees are reinforcing riparian embankments in important catchment areas, including along the banks of the Indus, Kunhar and Swat rivers. The project has also added tree resources to agricultural lands currently engaged in farm forestry, improved biodiversity by restoring wildlife shelters and will contribute to CO₂ sequestration through new tree plantations. 13,000 private tree nurseries have been established, which in turn enhanced local incomes, generated thousands of green jobs, and empowered unemployed youth of the province. Approximately 500,000 green jobs have been created and given to women of KPK.

Inger Anderseon, DG of IUCN has stated, “IUCN congratulates the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on reaching this momentous milestone. The Billion Tree Tsunami initiative is a true conservation success story, one that further demonstrates Pakistan’s leadership role in the international restoration effort and continued commitment to the Bonn Challenge,”.

However, despite such international backing and undisputable benefits, the project has come under a significant amount of censure. Some environmentalists have stated that the wrong species are being planted in the wrong areas. Plant enclosure for plant regeneration is causing issues in terms of land tenure. Many landowners have taken their land from tenants and entered into five-year plantation agreements with the government. Social inequality is increasing due to the Billion Tree Tsunami Project. One such example is of Amir (name changed) who used to be a goat herder. In 2015, their landowner contracted with forest department for plantation. Amir and his father were told they could no longer graze their goats on this land. They tried to get land from other people but land was becoming scarce as more and more landowners were contracting with the forest Department. These landowners have entered into contracts with the intent to obtain free tree plantation on their land. Once the five-year contract expires, it is forecasted that these landowners will cut down the trees for their own financial benefits i.e. timber, fuel, wood-products.

Therefore, the Billion Tree Tsunami project is not completely faultless. As it was the first of its kind of initiative in Pakistan, the negative aspects should be taken into consideration and an attempt at rectification for ten billion tree tsunami project should be made. The ambitious ‘Ten Billion Tree Tsunami’ project has built upon the success of its predecessor in an ambitious gambit to replicate the original projects success throughout Pakistan. To prevent past adverse social impacts from being repeated, the government can put a cap on the types of trees being planted in specific areas. The government can also put a condition on landowners so that they do not cut off the trees after the five-year plantation contract expires. Additionally, the ‘green’ jobs created through this project should give preference to hiring of those individuals that might have lost their livelihood opportunities due to landowners entering into contracts with the government. It is also pertinent to mention that people like Amir may have lost one means of livelihood but due to creation of ‘green’ jobs, new opportunities for employment also simultaneously opens up. Awareness campaigns for these new jobs in established nurseries etc. should also be put into action.

The Billion Tree Tsunami project garnered international recognition and has been deemed a positive endeavor on behalf of PTI government. Any new endeavor is not without unintended drawbacks but analysts can learn from past mistakes. It is still too soon to ascertain whether the project will have long-term benefits for the country’s climate as the trees are still saplings. Concrete research shows that afforestation is always beneficial for a region in tackling climate change which is why this initiative was spearheaded by PTI in the first place. It might be idealistic but let us hope that when the Billion Tree Project is revisited in ten or fifteen years’ time, it will be found that the project most positively had long-term beneficial impacts socially, economically and environmentally.

Challenges Faced by Women in KP

KPK has a rich history, diverse culture and a mix of rural and urban areas. The province is slowly but surely moving towards modernization despite various challenges. However, women are still facing basic human rights issues and lags behind their counterpart in every facet of life. Existence of cultural, social and behavioral challenges are physically and mentally affecting their lives.

Education is the basic right of every human on this planet. Even the International human rights law prohibits discrimination against women in the area of education. But almost half of the women population in the province are illiterate due to cultural and traditional barriers. Despite improvement in overall literacy rate, there is significant disparity between male and female literacy rate in KP. Many women are unable to get proper education due to early marriage and patriarchal society.

Another challenge is sexism and gender bias which limits women’s rights in general. KP society is generally conservative and has an erroneous belief that women determine the gender of children. Women are viewed as ‘baby making machines’ only. They also face pressure by extended family members to conceive immediately after birth neglecting any reproductive health challenges or lifestyle choices both parties involved might have.

Domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment have become more prevalent in recent times. Honor killings and forced marriages of minor girls are common in the province with many blaming it on the inefficiency of the provincial commission on the status of women.

Even a decade after its formation, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commission on the Status of girls has not deliver on its promise of empowering the women in the province by checking gender-based violence and disparity. In 2009, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly legislation on promoting women’s rights and elimination of all kinds of discrimination has not brought any change in women situation.

According to an annual report issued in 2019 by Aurat Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working for the rights of women in Pakistan, 7,206 cases of violence against women were reported in KP and 4,504 women and girls were killed during the last 11 years. The report included details of only those incidents that had been reported in media. Therefore, the number of unreported cases is even much higher. The report also mentioned that 778 women were killed in 2019. In most cases, the killers were close relatives of the victim and were able to evade the justice system.

Many girls remain unsafe at their homes and are sexually abused by a relative taking advantage of joint family system. Various such cases have surfaced recently, however, most of such incidents goes unreported to protect so called family honor. Social perception about family honor have only link with women chastity giving a free pass to men.

One more major challenge is unequal and discriminative treatment at workplaces due to rigid employment models, poor facilities and lack of a critical mass of women to support each other. Women at work places also face sexual harassment and if not complicit are forced to resign. The trauma and memory of such harassment at times leads to psychiatric issues, as women find it hard to speak up in public due to fear of being stigmatized.

These challenges are all rooted in the complicated social fabric and cultural beliefs of KP which stereotype women, limiting it to traditional roles only. Provincial government as well as private sector are not putting required efforts to empower women and shelve the traditional barriers. There is a need to focus more on rural areas where violence against females is much more pronounced and prevalent.

It is imperative to recognize that the societies only prosper when true gender equality exist and women have complete access to their rights i.e. access to education, equal wages, land ownership rights, sexual rights, freedom from violence, and maternal health rights. To overcome these obstacles and challenges, a change in attitudes is needed alongwith provincial government focused efforts.

Love for Books Needs Revival

” Fading away like the stars of the morning
Losing their light in the glorious day “

This is part of a verse of a popular hymn sang at Christian funerals but I find it apt to describe the culture of book reading. It is fading away. It is gradually dying.

Books aren’t just pieces of paper bound together. They contain wisdom, motivation, stories invoking tears or laughter, pieces of the human life crafted together in such an appealing fashion to gently drag a reader into a world of imagination and reality. When I was a child, I loved to read books. We had tons of books on every subject you can think of. Our house was like a mini-library. Along with other beautiful toys and gifts, we received books for our birthdays.

Reading books helps to unite people of diverse cultures and beliefs together from the establishment of reading groups, communities, and forums where different minds converse on the book of the week. There is this joy that envelops one when coming home after a stress-filled day to relax with a book, your cat or chosen pet on your lap.

How about when you want to access a great number of books made free for your reading pleasure? The public library stands firm in its unwavering promise to serve its community shelves and shelves of books. In this modern-day, books enclosed in pdf, epub, and other file types have become the norm. While we should go with the flow of the digital age, nothing beats the excitement we get turning the pages of the book we are currently reading until we get to the end. Staring at the screen for hours may cause some eye issues nobody wants.

The importance and benefits of book reading cannot be over-emphasized. As a teenager growing up then, my love for books usually kept me engrossed, my attention devoted to the words in the fine print. I would be so deeply buried in reading that I wouldn’t hear my mum calling me to send me on an errand (sorry mum!). It earned me some reprimanding and corrections. I was encouraged to read, but not at the expense of my house chores. After running those errands, you would see me back in my room picking up that same book. I even stay awake all night sometimes to finish reading a book, especially if it was lent to me.

As an adult now, reading books shaped my reasoning and understanding. I have not been left in the Dark Ages about modern concepts. I have managed to stay afloat in this ever-changing world. It improved my vocabulary. The times perusing the dictionary while reading a book to better understand the ‘big’ words written paid off beautifully. With the emergence of new words, grammar rules, and diction, a greater part of me feels gratitude for the countless hours spent usefully on my books. It gave me the ability (and pride) to converse with fellow learners and geniuses individually or in groups.

Book reading always help people network better, make quality friends and connections. When invited to speak on a panel, or to speak, there is no cowering or hiding behind the wall, afraid to speak. Being knowledgeable about that particular topic you are asked to speak on is undeniable power.

Efforts are being made to revive this flickering flame yet sometimes we wonder in our private bedrooms whether it is yielding good fruits or not.

The idea that reading books are boring has encroached into the minds of the youth of today. Compulsive use of smartphone, tablet, and computer interfere with book reading because of the games, apps, and online worlds they connect the youth to. Interest is turned to short skits, funny videos, and TikTok. While this is considered helpful for stress relief, it should have its place among books. However, that seems not to be the case. Also, students these days have become social media obsessed and they love to spend their time on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Hence, their productive time which can be spent on book reading gets wasted.

Reading is considered a hobby for seniors. In movies, we always see the elderly sitting on their rocking chairs either knitting or reading a book while the young ones drive fast cars, smoke, and party till dawn. Books just don’t have a place in this modern age. This is erroneous thinking by some persons. How can books not have a place in this era? It has existed for years, decades, and centuries before our great grandparents were even born.

The avid book lovers and the government can find ways to improve the situation of reading books. They can organize events, conferences, and programs targeted specifically at the youths to educate them on the importance of book reading. NGOs can be created to support book reading through organizing festivals.

A program could be established that young people, their parents, and whoever is interested can read books to sick patients in hospitals. This can help in putting smiles on their faces, and making them forget, for the moment, about their illnesses. The government should ensure that they provide books, academics and others, to students of school age either free or at a discounted price.

In places where there are none, public libraries should be established so that the older ones can relive the memories of going there, and the younger ones can experience it new.

Delegates of the government can be sent to schools to read to children. Properly introducing these delegates and having them read hardcover books can instill awe and a sense of purpose in these young future giants.

‘If the President reads books, I will, too, so I can become a President.’
To keep up with the digital age, copies of hardcover books can be bought from online bookstores which will be delivered to doorsteps of the readers.
To us who still read, keep up the work!