Political inertia in heat crisis

Published June 24, 2015
A man tries to help another who has fainted due to the heat at a roadside in Karachi. —AP
A man tries to help another who has fainted due to the heat at a roadside in Karachi. —AP

EVERYBODY wants to blame someone else — nobody wants to take any responsibility. The chief minister of Sindh showed up in the provincial assembly yesterday only to demonstrate that he was totally unaware of what has been happening in the provincial capital during the days he was away. Once the peak of the heatwave, that has caused more than 700 deaths in Karachi alone, appeared to have passed, the chief minister issued instructions to close “offices, schools and colleges”. Never mind that it is summer holidays and schools and colleges are already shut. He blamed K-Electric, the city’s power company, and its private management for failing to ensure the supply of uninterrupted power during the heatwave, accusing its private management of acting like businessmen, but said nothing about the dismal state of power supply in Sukkur and Larkana, the cities he had just come from, where power riots have been taking place for days and electricity supply is in the hands of state-owned corporations.

But Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah is not alone in issuing bizarre instructions and engaging in a blind blame game in the midst of a crisis. As power load-shedding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also reached unbearable proportions, Chief Minister Pervez Khattak stood in his own provincial assembly and threatened to burn down the offices of Pesco, the state-owned power utility that serves the province. He did not say how that act would help alleviate load-shedding in the province. Meanwhile, Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali threatened to take K-Electric from its private management if it did not improve its performance, and blamed the deaths in Karachi’s heatwave on the power utility. He is apparently unaware that the power to take such a step does not belong to him or to his ministry. Nor did he explain how the performance of his own ministry, which had promised zero load-shedding for domestic consumers during Ramazan, was any better.

All three gentlemen are major figures in our political galaxy, but their words sound like those of angry little men addled up in the heat of the moment — all thoroughly worked up but bereft of any ideas. Perhaps it would have been better for the Sindh chief minister to cut short his visit to Larkana and return to Karachi to organise relief camps for victims of heatstroke, even if it meant using the party machinery to run and staff them, as has happened on numerous occasions in the past, rather than resort to absurd instructions and a blame game. Where are the government relief camps in the affected localities? Or those run by political parties, or even by medical students? Where is the campaign to spread public awareness about the early symptoms of a heatstroke? All that these irresponsible statements demonstrate is the tremendous disconnect between the political leadership and the people they purport to lead.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2015

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