Friday December 02, 2022

When will the people matter?

August 04, 2022

While there’s plenty of political activity in the country ranging from the decision by the ECP declaring that the PTI was guilty of hiding pardon funding and other matters such as the shenanigans in the Punjab Assembly, we are forgetting about the people and what their fate is. It is time that politicians turned their attention to the situation that they are in.

Across the country flooding has destroyed homes and lives. The monsoon has affected districts such as Lasbela in Balochistan, close to Hub, where such heavy rainfall is not a customary occurrence. The same is true of Cholistan and other places. Karachi too has been devastated already and it seems more rain lies ahead. On television we have seen people saying they have been stranded in regions in southern Punjab including Rajanpur in Cholistan without any food, any medication or milk for small children. They say they are literally starving and no help has arrived. It is uncertain what PDMAs and for that matter the well-funded NDMA is doing in this situation of disaster. The disaster in fact only makes news as a minor item in the political shenanigans we continue to witness from day to day.

Political parties have not done much to offer help to the flood affected people who could say that they have no place to move to and no help to do so. Some welfare organizations have come in to help them but far more is needed. In parliament and in the provincial assemblies the situation of the people should be on the priority list. In Karachi shanty towns have also been devastated by the flooding and property completely destroyed. The usual story of house collapses has come in from hilly areas where torrents have slipped down the mountains and destroyed homes.

The fact is that this happens every year. Yet we do not care enough about our people or do anything about it. It is a priority that people be given help and that their MPAs and MNAs at the very least visit the most affected areas and offer what help they can from the resources at their disposal. It is hard to believe that the PDMAs lack enough funds to remove people stranded in floods to safer areas or at the very least to transport food and other vital items to them. People say they are starving – literally so, not even metaphorically. They have no food to eat and this should perhaps be a bigger priority than the question of who is elected chief minister of Punjab or precisely how this process takes place. It should also be the main point of discussion in the National Assembly.

It is also true that it is not just flood-hit people who are facing starvation. Others say that inflation has hit them so badly they find it difficult to place even one meal on the table for their families and that children are going hungry because it is simply impossible to buy food. It is quite true that food inflation is to some degree a global phenomenon created by the havoc caused by the long Covid-19 pandemic. But even so, given that we know a third of our population lives on the poverty line, something needs to be done to rescue them from the terrible fate they face. They cannot be forced to live in these conditions and to die because of hunger.

In the present moment, although newspapers and the media choose not to report these facts, children are literally dying both in Balochistan and Sindh and perhaps in southern Punjab because there is not enough nutrition to sustain them and keep them alive. Quite obviously, something needs to be done and it is the primary task of our representatives to do so. Pakistan is now behind all other South Asian countries in terms of its social indicators; this is simply not acceptable.

This is a task which should come before attacking each other at every moment or raising objections to the Election Commission of Pakistan or creating controversies about recent political events. Yes, these issues have their own importance but they can be placed on the sideline for at least some time until a way is found to save people and keep them alive. As is always the case in every disaster including this one children and women often suffer worse. They are less able to escape the floods than the men. We have heard stories of children climbing up trees as a way to save themselves from flood waters. Obviously, this cannot continue for any length of time.

At the same time something has to be done to make sure people are able to buy at least the minimum required to feed families even without a flood. At the moment they are unable to do so. The prices of ghee and other commodities have come down slightly as has petrol but they remain high and virtually inaccessible to too many people.

We as citizens must also consider what our own duties are. Yes, philanthropy is a huge affair in Pakistan. This is good but it needs to be organized and simply charity will not help people in the long run. They need safe housing and they need a plan where homes washed away by hill torrents can be shifted to other places.

People must come first in any country. So far, we have not seen the kind of street protests Sri Lanka faced. This in itself shows the degree to which people have been depoliticized and demoralized. They need help and it must come fast before further disaster strikes. Indeed the disaster in the country is making too little news and people are generally unconcerned unless they live in the disaster zone themselves. This has to change.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. She can be reached at: