Who’s there?


The devastation caused by rains and floods in Sindh and the deaths caused by the dengue epidemic in Punjab indicate that the impact of natural calamities and widespread diseases increases manifold with unresponsive governments in power.

There were enough indications available regarding there being more than usual monsoon rains this year. Neither the federal government nor the Sindh administration however cared to the make necessary preparations. Months before the advent of the rainy season, the top government leaders in Islamabad were fully focused on protecting some of the PPP high ups and PML(Q)’s Moonis Elahi in the Hajj and NICL scams. A tussle continued to rage between the federal government and the SC for months over the transfer of honest civil servants pursuing the investigation honestly. There were hectic meetings at the Presidency to devise and reconsider strategies to outwit the apex court. This was considered crucial to keep the PPP-led government at the center in power. Reports predicting adverse weather failed to draw anyone’s attention.

In Karachi, target killings climaxed during the crucial months of June and July. Everyone in the Sindh government knew about who was involved in the killings. A report by a Joint Investigating Team had concluded early this year that the largest number of killers belonged to Altaf Hussain’s party. Everyone knew that the only way to stop the killings was to arrest and prosecute the killers irrespective of their political affiliations. This could not be done as the directive given to the Sindh administration by Zardari was to bring back the MQM to the ruling coalition’s fold whatever it might cost.

The media meanwhile was reminding the government that it was not paying attention to the impending monsoons that would be higher than the normal. A national daily on July 1 carried a report of the sad state of preparedness with the heading “Provinces fail to prepare for monsoon”. The report mentioned the forecast that the rainfall would be more than normal and the monsoon would start earlier this year. The report also pointed out that the mid-term restoration and rehabilitation works in provinces were not yet completed. Further that Sindh, where thousands of people affected by last year’s floods were yet to be rehabilitated fully, had completed only 62 per cent of the work so far.

The Sindh government however remained callously indifferent to reports of the sort. The chief minister showed little interest in getting the canals and drains repaired in the interior of the province. A whole lot of ministers under Qaim Ali Shah’s guidance were engaged in getting the MQM on board. During Ramazan, they attended joint Iftaris and congratulated one another over the prospects of MQM ministers rejoining the cabinet soon. They gave concessions to the MQM which caused province-wide protests. This provided Sindh government another diversion which simply ignored the impending disaster.

So when torrential rains started to wreak havoc in Sindh, the provincial government was found to be thoroughly unprepared to deal with the situation. This indicated a callous disregard for the common man. Timely preparations would have saved many lives and brought down the scale of the devastation.

A similar disregard for the common man was shown by the Punjab government. The early cases were reported from Lahore but now the dengue fever has spread to several cities including Faisalabad and Multan. Keeping in view the situation that arose last year, there was a need to conduct sprays in the city at the outset of the monsoons. Most of the areas of Lahore from where the epidemic started were either not adequately sprayed or the chemicals used were substandard.

The government had in fact failed to acquire the necessary chemicals and spraying machines by the time the monsoons started. Last week, it was reported that currently only 1,000 kg pesticides are available while the government needs around 0.1 million kg in the coming days. The government is now negotiating with France and India to import WHO certified dengue pesticides to meet the urgent demand. There is reportedly a shortage of spray machines and trained staff also.

Instead of conceding the lack of preparedness, the Punjab government has tried to underrate the threat. Last week, Shahbaz Sharif jokingly said that if his government failed to control the mosquitoes, it would ask the army to target them with heavy guns. The state of denial continues. On Wednesday, PML(N) MPAs in Punjab Assembly accused the media of creating a scare. The contradiction between the official and unofficial figures also underlines the fact that the government wants to play down the issue. According to a media report, as many as 1,612 persons were tested positive for dengue virus on Thursday, while the government claimed that there were only 501 new cases in the city. Meanwhile, the death toll is steadily rising.

The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.