Symptoms of a deeper crisis

How can the administration, tasked with safeguarding the citizens, ignore the fact that they are getting crushed in a mad rush?

Symptoms of a deeper crisis


he government’s attempt apparently to alleviate the plight of the people distressed by an inability to pay the high price of wheat flour has resulted in the death of at least 11 people. Many more have been injured in the frenzied stampedes at the distribution centres.

In a country where a majority of the population is poor, the powerful remain unaffected by the suffering of fellow citizens. The images of the trampled and the despair in their eyes are heartbreaking.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif launched the free flour initiative during the country’s worst economic crisis, hoping to offer a lifeline to the impoverished. However, its execution left much to be desired.

Chaos reigns at flour distribution centres, pointing to a nation on the brink of disaster. Destitute elderly women are seen falling before the onslaught of fellow citizens, all clamouring for a meager handout. The baton-wielding police tasked with maintaining order appear only to add fuel to the fire, pushing the desperate over the precipice and into the abyss of tragedy.

The chaos of the stampedes raises serious questions about the administration’s ability and willingness to deliver essential services. It threatens to turn the prime minister’s flour distribution programme into an empty gesture. The gaping wounds of the financial turmoil remain unhealed. The officials’ inability to anticipate the crowd’s reaction speaks of a lack of preparedness.

Who can one hold accountable for such a chaos? It is pointless to blame the victims. Those queuing up for such bailouts are by definition desperate on account of their poverty and the lack of an assurance with regard to the next meal.

The scenes of misery speak of insensitivity on the part of government officials and others in charge of distribution.

Arguably, the free flour distribution was meant to provide a ray of hope in the gloom. Alas, it has only revealed the bitter truth of inequality. The disparity between the rich and the poor has been growing for decades and has now assumed monstrous proportions. The suffering of the deprived is met with a cold shoulder from the affluent.

The disturbances that caused fatal stampedes were not just some unfortunate occurrences. They are a clear sign also of the vast divide that separates the lucky ones from the neglected. The loss of lives calls for reflection on the state of affairs.

We must reflect on the lessons the failure holds. Those in charge must answer for their deeds. The policymakers must find ways of addressing the root causes of disparity. They must stop looking for half measures and partial solutions that hurt the underprivileged and at best create an illusion of welfare. The elite and the well to do should step out of their luxurious abodes and confront the harsh truth of their own making.

Amidst a storm of shattered hopes and broken dreams, the nation stands at a crossroads. The news of deaths at the flour distribution centres is a grim reminder that poverty’s hold on large swathes of the population. It is easy to point fingers in almost any direction but progress can only come from honest soul searching.

How can an administration, tasked with safeguarding the poorest of the poor among the citizens, ignore that they are getting crushed in a mad rush? How can a country flourish if the weakest in the society have no hope of ever overcoming the inequality? A nation must find practical answers to these questions or face the peril of brutal violence.

The scary ghost of extreme poverty is stalking our paths. It’s time to face it head-on, not with crumbs for the starving, but with a world where riches are for everyone not a few fortunate clans and coteries. We must always remember the souls lost to the combination of poor administration and extreme poverty and join hands to stop such tragedies from recurring. We must show genuine kindness to those in need of assistance and pursue fairness for all Pakistanis.

The poorly executed initiative is a stark reminder that thoughtful action requires attention to detail as well as a thorough awareness of the lives of the intended beneficiaries. If the beneficiaries are not treated with adequate regard for their dignity even well intended initiatives will be remembered only for their failures.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at the School of Sociology, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad

Symptoms of a deeper crisis