Dengue-nabbit

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Missed out on the agony of a dengue affliction? Chances are if you are indeed one of those fortunate souls who have been spared the fever, it can still cost you dearly. And nowhere is a heavier toll exacted than in the mega city of Lahore. On the front lines in the war against dengue, the citizens of Lahore seem to get no respite. If a terrorist doesn’t get them, a mosquito just might. But if the mosquito doesn’t get them, hasty decisions nearly always will. And that’s why your favourite columnist has a new axe to grind.

Having been born and bred in this city for most of my life, one has witnessed the vandalism done to the provincial headquarters in the name of the public interest. But recent developments not only take the cake, they eat it too.

In an earlier op-ed column (The Alarming Aedes), I had suggested that shutting down schools for ten days was an excessive measure. For when you have the luxury of ridding premises and communities of mozzies and their breeding sites in as little as a weekend, a ten-day gap seems arbitrary at best, and can be disastrous for teachers and students who now have to make up for lost time.

But one didn’t know the meaning of lost time until this past Monday when the government ordered schools to open at 9 AM. As anyone commuting at that time in Lahore would testify, the government certainly didn’t endear itself to working class voters by dispensing with its policies of staggered times for schools and offices. In a bid to gain political mileage out of a bad situation, the government really layeth the smack down on nearly two million urban commuters by deliberately ordering the overlap of school, college and office times, causing what many are referring to as the worst traffic jams this city has ever seen.

For someone who lives in the south of Lahore who has to commute for at least an hour just to get to work, such a move was nothing short of the worst form of torture ever practiced since Marquis de Sade. For when an hour’s commute become a nearly three hour ordeal, one begins to question the efficacy of overlapping timings, and whether the single brain cell shared between government agencies responsible for traffic management is being put to any use.

The consequences of such decisions are just more economic losses to an already beleaguered province. And here’s what it all comes down to – loss of productivity through man-hours wasted while stuck in traffic. A man-hour or person-hour is the amount of work performed by an average worker in one hour, and we’ve lost several of them ever since the government made its ill-planned decision. One is not qualified to do so, but perhaps some economist can do a back of the envelope calculation to figure out the actual losses to the economy when taxpayers cannot get to their place of business on time. Whatever that number may be, don’t blame it on the mozzies.

Why the government didn’t stick to its policy of staggered timings is beyond me, but here’s some advice for the luminaries at the Punjab Civil Secretariat. Relax. I’ve finally managed to figure out the root cause of the dengue virus and it’s not what you were expecting.

It turns out my pal Mr Z (and millions just like him) are responsible for the uncontrolled spread of dengue. Mr Z would be considered a reasonable man who relies on a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face to see him through. Ask him about mosquito repellents, removal of breeding sites and similar preventive measures and you get frothy, if inebriated, assurances on his immortality and an earful of expletives that can’t be mentioned in this fine publication. So why is the government bending over backwards when Mr Z and his kind couldn’t care less?

It seems that the government is more interested in gaining political mileage out of micromanaging a crisis (they are quite adept at that now) rather than letting broad principles of good social service delivery take root.

For example, let public awareness amongst citizens take precedence over arbitrary changes to uniforms, timings and other ad hoc solutions. Or let the government establish key indicators to evaluate the performance of regulators and service providers in the health and education sectors. If it was really desperate, the government could even plaster the city with images of dengue victims to instill some awe for the virus. Perhaps then people like Mr Z would begin to believe in their own transience. Perhaps they would even learn to take preventive measures before an outbreak sets in. And maybe, just maybe, I can get to work on time.

The writer is a consultant on public policy.