The people of Karachi are angry … which is something of an anomaly. We aren’t the type to get fazed easily; despite prolonged power cuts, little water and questionable sanitation, we have soldiered on.
The events of the past two weeks, however, have left us speechless, not only because over 1,000 people dying from the heatwave, but also because Sindh has no political leadership to speak of, and the crisis has been handled mostly by the citizens of Karachi, who have stepped in to fill the void.
Where are Karachi’s emergency services? What if we didn’t have philanthropists like Edhi and others in the city; can you imagine the death toll then? Why have we not followed in the footsteps of Punjab and adopted their emergency services model of Rescue 1122, which provides emergency ambulance, rescue and fire services?
Travel across Punjab from small towns to larger cities and the presence of Rescue 1122 is very visible. It started in 2004 with just 14 ambulances and now it has expanded into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Rescue 1122 may not be a solution to all of Karachi’s issues, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction
Dr Rizwan Chaudhry has been working with Rescue 1122 as a first responder for the past seven years. Having completed his degree from Ukraine, he lived in Italy for a few years and then moved to Pakistan and joined the services.
“I felt that by working as part of the Rescue 1122 team I would be giving back to my country,” he says.
When rescue 1122 receives a major emergency call such as a fire or a bomb blast, it dispatches its fire, rescue and ambulance cars together. The rescue services are monitored through a control room, which exists in every district in Punjab. Each ambulance is tracked through a proper tracking system and everything from the speed to the directions the ambulance takes are monitored. The control rooms are further monitored through a provincial monitoring cell.
The teams at Rescue 1122 are trained from the sentry level to district emergency officers, and are made to take refresher courses throughout their service. There is specialised training of paramedics, firefighters and water rescue teams, and everyone from the lowest position to the highest gets basic training that teaches them each others’ work. They also all know first-aid and how to respond to an emergency.
Dr Chaudhry and his team are well aware of the risks their job poses.
“The job is a very dangerous one. Even if you help save a drowning victim, you can put your own life in danger. Bomb blasts are fatal as well and there is a limit to the protection we can be given,” he says. “More than our work, this is our passion.”
A few years ago, he lost his own brother who was serving in Rawalpindi and died while trying to save the lives of others; that, however, has not deterred the doctor who continues to serve, and says:
“The green uniform we wear is a uniform people are beginning to respond to.”
He is right. Rescue 1122 has been able to build a trust with the communities it serves and people across the board turn to them for help. The Punjab government has invested in their services, which has allowed the rescue services to develop their resources and invest in the right equipment, vehicles and materials.
Dr Chaudhry admits that the services are not perfect and they require more investment and commitment to expand their base.
Last year, while filming in Hafizabad, I came across a young woman who was shot and left to die in a river. She was rescued by 1122 and received timely medical assistance that allowed her to live. A few months after that, my team was filming in Lahore and saw firsthand the work the rescue 1122 team did after a bomb blast. This kind of a rescue service is essential in Pakistan, in every single province and city. Karachi, being the largest in the country, needs it the most.
How often will citizens step in when the government fails them? In Sindh, sadly, that is almost every single day. There has to be some inflection point for us. A moment when we all collectively say, we have had enough. I don’t think Rescue 1122 will solve all of our problems, but it will be a step in the right direction.
The question we need to ask ourselves is how many more will have to die in Karachi before the Sindh government realises that it is time to step in and actually do something that matters.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 5th, 2015