The army is here because the government isn't

Published June 25, 2015
In these five days, I have observed absolute apathy from all those who matter. —Reuters
In these five days, I have observed absolute apathy from all those who matter. —Reuters

Five days of hell, of death.

As I write this, I can say with assurance that at least 950 people in Karachi alone have died in the past five days due to heat-related medical complications. And with equal assurance I can tell you that this number is the minimum possible, since hundreds of dead brought directly to the Edhi morgue have not been accounted for, as it cannot be ascertained right now whether they were victims of heat. But given the unusually high number of dead bodies coming in each passing day, we all have a fair idea of who the killer is.

In these five days, I have observed absolute apathy from all those who matter: Sindh government, federal government, local political parties.

With power cuts exacerbating the situation, the provincial government appears to be nonexistent. Not a single measure of substance from the government to mitigate the situation has been reported in the media even after five days have passed. They all sit watching silently from their cool, comfortable shelters.

Also read: After bombs and bullets, heat preys on Karachi

There is no official death toll, no official call centres have been established, no one knows who to talk to in order to confirm the number of dead. Everyone is relying on announcements made by hospital representatives to know what is happening on the ground.

The government’s inefficiency is clear in that a large number of people are not dying inside hospitals, they were brought to the hospital dead, which means that declaring emergency in hospitals is not going to be very effective because the hospitals are not where the people are dying.

Any official ground help that has come has been from the army and the Rangers, which is of course not to be credited to the provincial government. It is a pity, really, that those who claim to be the upholders of democracy have to rely every now and then on the very institution they claim is a threat to democracy.

This practice – of the army filling in for the government – has become so usual in Pakistan, especially in Sindh, that it does not even seem odd; army camps in times like these are a given.

Yet, this practice is never labelled as “interference” in fiery speeches at local party events by our political elite. I ask them, is the army not overstepping its domain to help you in times of disaster because you are inefficient, because in all these decades of rule you have been unable to put in place a basic response mechanism as your duty was?

See: Heatwaves: What Pakistan can learn from developed economies

To me, it seems you call it “interference” only when it pinches you, but gladly welcome it when it veils your inaction.

As the country’s biggest city suffers a crisis, the federal government is blaming the shortage on the provincial government, the provincial government is blaming it on the federal government half the time and on K-electric the other half (the Chief Minister actually led a dharna against the company yesterday), while the army has set up relief centres across the city, trying to help people beat the extreme weather and power outages.

What can you call it but a disgusting show of incompetence on part of the governments?

Finally, on the fourth day, the Chief Minister called a meeting and took measures to manage loadshedding by saving power in government offices and markets. Better late than never, I suppose.

As far as the local political parties are concerned, I saw no mobilisation among their ranks to help people when they needed it most. And I say this because we all know that the worst-hit strata in this tragedy is the city’s poorest.

Also read: Is Karachi experiencing climate change?

Those living in bungalows hardly ever die of heatstroke or heat exhaustion. Telling people to drink more water on air is not going to help them, neither are emotional speeches in the National Assembly.

We’re not asking you to beat nature. We’re asking you to at least try to neutralise the damage by using your position, by taking extraordinary measures, by doing what you are supposed to do because – as big a cliché as it may be – actions do speak louder than words.

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