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enter image description herePakistanis have a poor risk perception. Many preventable deaths and injuries occur because of it. Imran Khan’s fall from a forklift truck, which could very well have been fatal, speaks volumes of the poor risk perception of the event planners.

While campaigning late in the evening, Mr. Khan was being lifted to the stage from an unsecured forklift truck. Footage of the incident reveals that the plan was a recipe for a disaster waiting to happen. The makeshift platform on the forklift was not secured. When yet another well-meaning PTI worker tried to climb on the forklift, he inadvertently pushed Mr. Khan and others off the forklift to the ground.

Risk perception and preparedness are key to avoiding unnecessary disastrous outcomes. Risk perception is a subjective judgement one makes about the probability of a negative or an adverse outcome. For instance, trying to have a better understanding of the odds of one falling off a makeshift platform on a forklift could be categorised as risk perception. Obviously, those who came up with the brilliant plan to use an unsecured forklift to hoist Mr. Khan to the top of yet another unsecured container did not think of the risks involved. Unfortunately, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) organisers are not alone with poor risk perception.

The tragic death of the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 was also a case of poor risk perception. Having been explicitly warned of the threats against her, Ms. Bhutto failed to remain seated in the secured vehicle as she was leaving after addressing a political rally. She died of trauma to her head after a bomb blast while she stood though the vehicle’s sunroof. Apparently her head hit the hard metal used to secure the vehicle against bomb blasts. Others seated within the car with her remain unscathed. It is safe to assume that had she remained seated within the secured vehicle, she would have escaped harm like the rest of the passengers.

Every time I see people hanging from a moving bus or train, or a family with kids riding a motorcycle, I am reminded of two things. First, Pakistanis have poor risk perception. They seldom factor in the probability of negative outcomes, such as an infant falling off a moving motorcycle. At the same time, I am reminded of the fact that the lack of means may force many Pakistanis to assume risks that they could not avoid. If a family could afford a car or a ride on secure and reliable public transit, the children could be spared a hazardous ride on the motorcycle.

But what to say of avoidable risks and risk preparedness. Take fire or emergency drills as an example. While I was a live-in director of a student residence at McGill University, we would regularly hold surprise fire drills. We would trigger the fire alarm in the middle of the night and evacuate the building as per set protocols. We would monitor the evacuation time for each floor and look for individual students who failed to follow the evacuation procedures. We would then follow-up with the students who may have taken the wrong path to exit the building or took too long to evacuate. At the same time, the local fire department monitors its response time to the University residence that is situated on the mountain, offering picturesque views of the beautiful Montreal.

It is rather odd that a country that faces severe natural hazards, floods and earthquakes to name a couple, is least prepared to cope with them. This is a direct result of poor risk perception and planning. It was not always like this in Pakistan. I grew up in a Pakistan where such preparedness existed to some extent. The British indeed left Pakistan with the foundation for risk preparedness. Parts of Murree that were built by the British had proper provisions for fire hydrants. There is one fire hydrant still installed, most likely not functional, on the Lower Mall in Murree, reminding of the prudent planning British planning traditions.

At the first Pakistan Urban Forum in Lahore in March 2011, I asked the participants if they had ever seen a fire hydrant in Pakistan. Not a single participant of the hundreds present in the audience replied in affirmative.

As a child, I recall seeing the civil defense volunteers in Rawalpindi during the monsoon season. Before the heavy rains would set in, civil defense volunteers would prepare for flash floods. Their teams were equipped with rescue boats and other equipment. Alarms were tested in advance to ensure that in case of a flash flood, the vulnerable communities could be warned by sounding alarms. Years later, when flash floods inundated large parts of Rawalpindi, no such preparedness existed. People lost their life savings and belongings to flood waters that crept into their homes without warning.

While some risks may be unavoidable, most are. The widespread use of Kohl (surma or kajal) in South Asia is one example of an avoidable risk whose risk perception is poor. Kohl often contains large amounts of lead. Women in South Asia, and not just in Pakistan, apply kohl as eye makeup. Many unsuspecting mothers apply it to their infants, exposing them to lead poisoning. Introducing any foreign object to one’s eyes should be considered risky, let alone lead.

Pakistanis can avoid the excessive burden of disease, injury, and death by having better risk perception and preparedness. This will not happen if even the foreign-educated political leaders assume unnecessary risks and thus set poor examples.

Author Image

Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of

He tweets @regionomics

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (45) Closed

Shawn May 09, 2013 07:27pm

Can you come back to your native land and help it with its risk assessment? Otherwise, it is useless to compare it with an affluent country like Canada. When people have nothing, they don't ask "what if". When countries are overflowing with population, they don't sit back and to do risk assessment. They just keep on going and leave the inevitable to a higher power. That's all they can afford. Luxuries of risk assessment can be afforded by nations who have "arrived"
When the earthquake hit in Gujarat, India in 2001, my neighbors in San Diego, asked me about earth quake insurance in India. To this day i recall their naivet

mak May 09, 2013 07:47pm

good article with sensible and logical discourse. thanks

CommonSense May 09, 2013 10:46pm

Risk preparedness comes with education. This is an excellent example of average Pakistanis level of compenency. This along with other actions related to economics, social norms, religious tendencies, equality among sexes, and religious, ethnic sects shows that the average Pakistani is uncivilized.And in cases of extreme risks, it shows the value of average Pakistani is miniscule.

BASHARAT HUSSAIN May 10, 2013 11:40am

I believe in destiny . How can a muslim say that if we had more risk perception ,deaths or otherwise untoward would not have happened. Murtaza Haider sahab seems to be really worried. HATS OFF .

Saleem May 10, 2013 04:01pm

Granted that your article raises concerns that need immediate attention. However, with no infrastructure in place the people of Pakistan will continue to brave the conditions and situations they are put in, be it transport or fire safety. Risk perception is directly related to infrastructures and facilities we are surrounded by. Lack of fire hydrants will hardly ever discourage a mother of 6 children to cook her chapatis on a make-shift stove, right next to a pile of hay.

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Dilawer May 09, 2013 06:14am
Excellent article. There is a rule of thumb that climbing over one meter height require a security hook in most countries except in India/Pakistan. Why think of risk when you can more babies and not to worry about anything. Imran should have known better.
gangadin May 09, 2013 07:12pm
Is it possible that this guy doesn't have the intellectual capacity to perceive risk? Think about it before you go voting for him.
Qazi May 09, 2013 04:55am
Salam Sir, Qazi here..Good one. I didn't know you write in dawn. Best Regards
Jamshed Khan May 09, 2013 04:48am
A fair assessment and a good article.
NASAH (USA) May 10, 2013 01:33am
"Obviously, those who came up with the brilliant plan to use an unsecured forklift to hoist Mr. Khan to the top of yet another unsecured container did not think of the risks involved" -- were not his friends. Not one person but four people on a small platform for one person. How reckless can you get - another sign of immaturity.
Maniza May 08, 2013 10:03pm
really???? you think Benazir Bhutto was killed because she had a "poor risk perception." Its like saying the children who are killed by drone attacks died because they had a "poor risk perception" or actually, John F. Kennedy was assassinated because he had a poor risk perception. Or Perween Rahman was killed because she had a poor risk perception. As for Imran Khan he fell off a lifter--that was an accident-indeed those with him had a poor risk perception of how many people can actually stand on top of a pinhead without the risk of falling of.
Zulekha Soorma May 09, 2013 06:20am
As a Health, safety & Environment professional , I agree with you. Indeed risk perception is absent from the everyday lives of people. Those people who work in multinational companies have been trained in risk management and emergency response and they have the necessary response potential. Mr. Khan's party has a leader who has been head of an organisation recognised for its HSE standards. There are international life safety codes for large meetings etc but our people are totally ignorant of those. The Civil Defence organisation is all but finished as they do not have the funds and personnel to provide service to people. It is indeed sad that such disasters happen. Nowadays safety is bypassed for security and security access doors are provided in large offices. They should become disabled in case of sounding of fire alarms. In a country where efficient public transport is not available and schools are housed in residential areas, what can be expected in terms of risk perception and management. The Baldia town fire and the tragic Bangladesh building collapse are living examples of poor risk perception. The aftermath of the 2005 earthquake and recent floods also show lack of rescue planning.
hyderphd74 May 10, 2013 12:25am
You are right. Benazir was killed not because of poor risk management but entirely due to her own foolishness. If one is provided with an armoured vehicle, it is common sense and very much expected of the person, to STAY inside. Armoured vehicles and body guards are provided when there is enough evidence of risk to life. Inspite of this precaution, if the person steps outside in any which way, it is entirely that persons fault.
amen May 08, 2013 11:51pm
haider bhai, u r right at the core of the problem bcoz u uses the very basic thing ........... logic..... that's what is lacking back there in pakistan
Amjad Wyne May 08, 2013 11:48pm
Murtaza Haider writes, "As a child, I recall seeing the civil defense volunteers in Rawalpindi during the monsoon season." - I believe you are talking about the time when Ayoub Khan was the president. He was declared a bad person and a dictator by Pakistani politicians.
El Cid May 09, 2013 04:04pm
. Such a fall could have fatally injured a younger man. The Great Khan was pulled down by his very own bodyguard in a reflex movement, as the video shows, as the guard selfishly steadied himself by grabbing on to the person he was supposed to protect. Also, the lift and the way it was being used would not meet ordinary warehouse safety standards. All this suggests poor training standards of the guard team which endangered Pakistan's Hope. What if a real threat had materialized. However the fall also proves that The Great Khan has the strength and endurance, physical and mental to rise and stand up again and can do the same for Pakistan. No other leader has those abilities. Most are not physically fit enough to negotiate with foreign leaders and are at medical and health risk even while enduring the 'rigors' of watching TV.
Rehan May 08, 2013 02:19pm
Well stated Murtaza Haider. This is the problem in all third world developing countries. While it was frightening watching the incident that happened yesterday I couldn
Azee9 May 08, 2013 02:47pm
Agree with the analysis with minor correction. Benazir died of bullet in her head-still poor risk perception.
Khan May 08, 2013 02:50pm
Imran khan a very poor decision makers and very short sighted politicians. This also reflects how much IQ these politicians have and they claim to run the country in comming years. I would actually appreciate Zardari and Bilawal for their correct decision of running media campaign only as they are smart enough not to risk their lives and their workers lives by rallies where they will be direct target of Talibans.
MS May 08, 2013 02:51pm
It's not about poor risk perception. It's about shirking responsibility and accountability at every step of the way by every level of society. Just look around and you will see that Pakistanis (irrespective of their standing in society) exult gossip, paranoia, superstition, and conspiracy theories probably more than any other nation. Its convenient to hide behind conspiracies as they afford us the chance to point outward, to prevent us from doing a self evaluation. You see, if its not our fault how can we even do something to make it better ?
aaa May 08, 2013 03:10pm
I do agree with infants on motorcycles. Its a recipe for disaster. Imran khan's accident could also have been avoided. The distance between nawaz sharif and his supporters is a good example and should have been followed by all leaders. With so many people so close to imran khan i dont think anyone out with a bad intention could have been stopped. I dont guess everyone is getting checked for small knifes etc. Anyone could throw anything to any leader like a glass bottle. The supporters should be at a good distance.
rana1 May 08, 2013 03:23pm
This is how,due to human negligence we loose the lives of our beloved ones to carelessness.But our pakistanis still need to learn more from the western etiquette of campaigning as how a leader is given the time and space to stand,move and give his views.In our society everyone wants to be around their leader jostling him or her,including our journalists.As you have pointed out,we still need to learn many many things.
Suma Pinto May 08, 2013 03:33pm
I was looking forward for this kind of response from dawn and it came from the finest of writer in the form of this article. I m 42 year old and have seen numerous political and non political rallies here in India, but the politician of stature of Mr. Khan would hop on stage via Forklift truck is unimaginable to me. The fault lies not with the method but attitude of risk perception. It was not an emergency. The Almighty takes care of us but we got to look for our self on this earth. Hope you will find resonance Mr. Writer.
saqib May 09, 2013 05:42pm
Pakistan is better under martial law. Democracy is rubbish, wont work at all. Curfew after 8 pm and no TV, ban it.
Javed Nabi May 09, 2013 05:39pm
Every Pakistani politician that has come to power so far has turned out to be a dictator by surrounding himself with his friends and relatives in key positions. So every politician ended up having just 1 priority and that was to loot the country and get rich. Zardari is the champion so far.
Imran May 08, 2013 04:02pm
Well said! This is a topic that is rarely discussed in south Asian countries. From unsafe buildings to poorly run emergency response systems, we are in dire need of educating the general public about risk perception and safety issues.
A. Khan May 08, 2013 04:16pm
Risk perception ..ahem.. otherwise known as Allah ki marzi in Pakistan.
M Aslam May 09, 2013 05:08pm
Appoint Imran Khan as PM with the help of Zardari and you will witness a lot of accidents heppening with Pakistan. Poor people are going to select a careless, leader for "Change" No matter whether this change is good or bad- God bless Pakistan
Javed Nabi May 09, 2013 05:01pm
Allah helps those who help themselves......
Ram Iyer May 08, 2013 04:51pm
A very thought-provoking article on a topic that is often overlooked. The author must be congratulated on his brilliant analysis and presentation. This again highlights the cultural gap between east and west.
glaris May 08, 2013 05:32pm
Good article. We should strive to avoid the risks that can easily addressed through little preparedness and planning...
Gulbaz Mushtaq May 08, 2013 05:35pm
Good article
G.A. May 08, 2013 06:01pm
It's bad enough that he fell. What's more upsetting is the lack of paramedics available at a huge rally and the way Imran Khan was carried without a stretcher. I witness this behaviour of the crowd and paramedics over and over again after every disaster in Pakistan.
hyderphd74 May 08, 2013 06:17pm
Dr. Murtaza Haider: Pakistanis believe in 'Every thing happens with Allah's Murzi'. So if it is Allah's mandate the person will fall off the motorcycle, if it is Allah's mandate then even hundreds of fire hydrants will not save a dwelling from burning to ashes. You are trying to inculcate a sense of responsibility and teach the importance and pitfalls of risk taking to a nation that whole heartedly believes in 'nothing can and will happen without Allah's will and if He so wills, it will happen no matter whatever safety measures and precautions one might take'.
tariq k sami May 10, 2013 01:46am
Agree. I think there is some inherent fault in our genes. I think the root cause is lack of humility.
Naveed Ahmed May 09, 2013 07:44am
Oh Come on.. you are missing the point and the crux of the article.
M. Jan May 09, 2013 10:13am
I totally agree with the point that there is very little perception of risks posed by numrous hazards in the lives of Pakistanis.I went to the cemetry in my village during my last visit to Pakistan, accompanied by one of my relatives. He showed me dozens of new graves and explained the causes of death. Sadly, vast majority were 'accidental' deaths that could have been easily prevented with basic awareness of safety and a mindset that doesn't accept these trajedies as destiny.
A sincere Pakistani May 09, 2013 10:19am
An excellent article. There is an urgent need to create awareness of risk managment among Pakistani people.
Dr Ansari May 09, 2013 11:01am
i fully agree with the contents of this article. The role of Human Factors in risk perception cannot be stressed enough.
Mano May 09, 2013 04:26pm
You can replace Pakistan with India and still every sentence is equally valid. We have a tendency to miss the forest for the woods. There are accidents happening all over the country, but little is done to understand the problem and work towards improvement. Thanks for this nice article.
mdammy May 09, 2013 04:28pm
You can replace Pakistan with India and still every sentence is equally valid. We have a tendency to miss the forest for the woods. There are accidents happening all over the country, but little is done to understand the problem and work towards improvement. Thanks for this nice article.
Realist May 10, 2013 05:09am
The PTI leader has , to his credit, been very effective at arousing emotion and passion amongst those who had lost all hope. However, the recklessness about his own safety that he showed is not the type of example that either he or his team should be setting. Tragically we have had more than our fair share of shaheeds; what is badly needed now are leaders who can go beyond the dizzy heights of passion and do the hard work desperately required to transform dreams of promised lands into realities.
saket May 10, 2013 06:33am
Saqib pleases implement for yourself. Don't use internet , TV etc. as per so called Pakistani Mullas and Taliban That's a main reason of Pakistanis backwardness. After 50 years (if I am correct) of martial law, your eyes are not open than God bless you and Pakistan
Darjat May 10, 2013 08:27am
Murtaza Haider has reflected true picture of the Pakistani Society. The society must focus on prevention, preparedness and mitigation in managing any potential disaster- man-made or natural.