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Charity begins at home

September 16, 2011

When calamity strikes our part of the world, it strikes with a vengeance. Even the forces of nature have no mercy left for a land misruled for decades. Nature’s fury too unleashes itself on the hapless victims of bad governance; it leaves the poor destitute and the miserable wretched. This is no divine intervention, rest assured. We have elected our own leaders to lord over us. It is they and not God whose intervention we need most in bettering our affairs.

Praying to God to alleviate the sufferings of the flood victims in Sindh and those laid infirm by the Dengue virus in Punjab, as President Zardari so earnestly requested the nation on the eve of his departure for England, was clearly the only panacea left with his government in the face of the crises at hand. Prime Minister Gilani, while also on a trip abroad, chose the other option: he carried with him the begging bowl to Iran and got it filled with some 10 million dollars. Ads appearing in newspapers on his behalf also request “My people” to contribute to his relief fund. So are we running a country or a cult here? And defying the gods that be thereby.

Some 10 million people are displaced by the floods in Sindh while Dengue epidemic in Lahore alone has reportedly affected nearly 4,000 people, forcing the Punjab government to shut down all educational institutions in the province for ten days. There are well-founded fears that the virus could spill into the neighbouring provinces too as Punjab borders every other province in the country, and the mosquitoes do not necessarily discriminate between the people of one or the other province. However, they seem to mind the Indian border with due diligence and have not ventured 14 miles east of Lahore to plague Amritsar, for instance. The Indians must have done something right to keep them at bay.

To a large extent, the flood and Sindh and Dengue in Punjab are both man-made disasters. They could have been prevented or at least contained within manageable limits with some proper planning. The problem of salinity and water-logging in Sindh is well documented and has consistently increased in terms of the areas it affects over the years; yet, nothing was done all these years to contain the growing menace despite last year’s harrowing floods. If it’s not the rivers overflowing and bursting their banks this monsoon season, it’s simply the rain that’s wreaked much more havoc in rural and urban Sindh alike. Had the drainage system been cleared and streamlined ahead of the rainy season this year, Sindh would not have drowned the way it has.

Not that it wasn’t put on paper (like so many ghost schools out there). The accountant general will undoubtedly tell you that the allocated funds were indeed released to the authorities concerned in Sindh for the very purpose, just as enough anti-Dengue virus spray was provided to the Lahore municipality which instead of spraying the city streets sold the stock (marked ‘For government use. Not for sale.’) in the open market. But there shall never be any accountability for this or that lapse because it is just not the done thing here. Year after year it’s the same story.

The jet-set leadership has to put its feet back on the ground to experience first hand the misery their misrule has unleashed on those they have the audacity to call “my people”. Whether it is ill-gotten or hard earned money, the fact remains that leaders from the Zardaris to Gilanis to the Sharifs, Khans and the rest of them ruling this country are filthy rich; many have got only richer over the years. It’s only fair that before carrying the begging bowls abroad or asking the world to help, they too should make some individual monetary contribution to the relief effort. If PIA employees can contribute a day’s wages, what is deterring the elected representatives from making some such token effort?

In fact, people like the president, the prime minister and the chief ministers and their party chiefs can help by simply cutting down on their state-paid seven-course meals which they devour themselves and shamelessly offer to stunned foreign dignitaries whom they beg for help at the same time. Why not enforce a one-dish menu for their royal lunches and dinners in a country whose internal and external debt is now going straight up to its ears?

Charity should really begin at home. While Nawaz Sharif is right when he says we need to break the begging bowl, it is time he too coughed up some of his golden coins to alleviate the misery over which his heart bleeds. Maybe by doing so the opposition leader can shame the president and the prime minister into making similar donations — even if they be to their own relief funds — which, alas, have little credibility with Pakistanis and foreigners alike.       

The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.