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Opinion

June 29, 2015

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Karachi: dance of death

Once called the city of lights last week saw Karachi turned to a city of death, with more than 200 lives lost in just five days, as the mercury boiled, generating a deadly heatwave, with a lethal mix of loadshedding and acute shortage of water, showing an abysmal collapse of emergency health services.
Reportedly, looking at the number of patients, the emergency wards of both public and private hospitals were closed down. With no more space left, graveyards turned away bodies for burials. Cold storage units, even private ones, ran out of space and shrouded dead bodies were put on roads. These heart-wrenching scenes shook the conscious of everyone, except the ruling elite who as usual played politics by blaming electricity megawatts.
Tragically, those who died were mostly homeless, petty workers with no safe shelters, or poor, ageing and ailing persons from the poorer parts of the city and elsewhere in the province. With no stable lifestyles and weak body immune systems, they were easy prey to any wrath of nature, intensified by the incompetence of authorities and added to by the criminal silence of the ruling elite in the province – who largely live in posh areas with high living standards and leave the less privileged areas to the vagaries of nature and manmade disasters, generated out of their appetite for loot and plunder of the public exchequers.
Over the years, Karachi has been turning into a human catastrophe. Either the mercury boils up or the rains flood the streets – there is always death and destruction. From target killings to slow killings due to the inadequate and lethargic service provisions in the lesser developed and poorer areas, the tune of death never stops in Karachi. And this time it has danced with a deadly heatwave. To beat the heat with easy and immediate response, the administrative and political authorities of the centre and the province kept keeping score on TV channels, as more of the marginalised were pushed to death.

This is another form of criminalisation, which is found justified across the board by our ruling elite.
For example, with the death toll crossing, no top politician visited either the hospitals or the relatives of the deceased, preferring TV studios to the streets. An ageing chief minister of Sindh came out of his bunkered slumber on the fifth day, followed by a visit by Imran Khan on the sixth day. Khan directly landed from London and tried to fill the gap, but it had widened too much to be filled so easily.
Ignoring and leaving unattended the crisis, Zardari and his family left for Dubai a day before Khan’s landing, creating even more vacuum. They seemed to have walked over the dead bodies due to their own heightened tensions with the Rangers and NAB.
However, the skies of Karachi kept looking for the prime minister and his entourage. Sitting at the top, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif only took ‘notice’ of the severity of the situation and reviewed the binding agreement between state-run Wapda and privatised K-Electric with his minister for water and power, who with his talks generates more controversies. He came up with the unmatched logic on the floor of National Assembly that Islamabad had nothing to do with Karachi and K-Electric.
Notably, with 26 percent shares of K-Electric in hand and top regulator Pepra at their side, Islamabad can act anytime in emergencies by offering immediate response and services ,in case of absolute failure and wide-scale deaths – since security of life has no match and binding agreements between both parties can be amended if the key aim is to provide power services ensuring safety and longevity of the life.
Every successive government during the last two decades has failed to control the deepening crisis of energy in the country. Energy has become a national crisis. Therefore, it needs a strategic and state-owned response, devoid of politicisation, irrespective of governmental terms, similar to the national security policy being pursued lately in country. Otherwise, a nuclear nation drowned with darkness and death doesn’t cannot stand along with a club of emerging nations.
Globally, climate change experts have been alerting and issuing warnings to the nations, with a red note on more risks to the lives of marginalised segments, as evident from Karachi’s ongoing death toll and its marginalisation representation. With the weather cycle disturbed regionally, leading to extreme weather and scaling up of temperature by 2 centigrade globally, the heatwave has already costed more than three thousands lives in India. By crossing the border, it touched Sindh but encircled Karachi. With the boiling up of temperature, the pressure of coastal winds went dead slow, generating suffocation, exhaustion and death.
Not long ago, this lesson whirl-winded from the other end of border. It went unheard and unattended. With some public health precautionary measures and an adequate flow of supplying safe water, we could have avoided hundreds of deaths. All that was conditional on the prevalence of good governance in the province. With this, an already ongoing, unfortunate and extraordinary crisis of governance has been further exposed in Sindh, which criminally patronises the ruling elite by handling the rest of us with cosmetic lip service, accompanied by a drumbeat of its decades-old legacy of people-centred politics.
The writer is an anthropologist and freelance analyst based in Islamabad.
Email: [email protected]

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