Daily Times Editorial 16 November 2019

Lightning deaths in Thar


Rain has always been good news for water starved Pakistan, especially the drought-hit Thar region. Occasionally, nature’s thunder brings death and destruction, mostly hitting the poor segments. These deaths, however, stem from roof collapses, electrocution, drowning and flashfloods. Off and on, lightening also chips in its share in deaths. For the first time, late on Thursday, a bolt of thunder killed 20 people — men, women and children – in a single strike in the rural areas of Mithi, Chhachhi, near Islamkot town, Ram Singh Sodho village near Diplo town and other villages in Tharparkar district. As the population is scattered and often without modern communication means, officials say, more casualties may be reported in the next few days. Also, 30 people were admitted to public hospitals for treatment of burns from the lightning. Besides human casualties, lightning claimed hundreds of animals’ lives as well.
The mass scale deaths from lightning should draw our attention towards this overlooked threat. These casualties could have been avoided had the public been educated about relevant safety drills. Most of the lightning deaths occur from cardiorespiratory arrest, while those surviving the flash of lightning suffer amnesia, paraesthesiae and traumatic spinal injury.
Our textbooks should have lessons on lightning and how to behave in rains. The public should be taught that when thunder strikes, they should immediately take shelter in a building equipped with plumbing and electrical wiring. A probe will reveal that the lightning struck those people who were inside their houses but those structures had no plumbing or electricity. All over the world, lightning related deaths have been reduced just because of plumbing and electric wiring as these installations divert electric shocks. Similarly, getting on a fully enclosed metal vehicle can save you from lighting. Standing under a tree or taking refuge in huts and tents increases the risk of being struck. If one is trekking a mountainous trail or peak, it is better to avoid high-risk areas such as summits, ridgelines, isolated trees and skilifts.
With an increase in global warming, these unpredictable weather patterns may lead to more lightning incidents in Pakistan. And, to be sure, most of the lightning victims are poor people in rural areas. It is time the public should be educated about anticipating thunderbolts and safely managing them.


Too little relief for wheat farmers


The Rs50 per maund increase in the minimum wheat support price by the Economic Coordination Committee is insufficient for formers and hardly “safeguard growers’ interests”. After a considerable increase in the prices of inputs like seed, fertiliser, electricity and fuel (to irrigate farms) and insecticide, farmers were expecting a substantial increase in the support price. The last raise was announced five years ago when the government increase support prices by Rs100 to Rs1,300 for 40kg bags. Dismayed at the dismal fiscal perspectives of the wheat cultivation, farmers have lost interest in the food crop. Unprecedented rains in February and March last year wreaked havoc too. The government failed to announce any compensation for the farmers at that time but it promised to announce a new price regime to support the farming community.
Now, when the wheat sowing season has begun, the meagre support price increase is likely to dishearten the farmers. The problem is that farmers have never used the option of strike or leaving their field without a crop. The government should recognise their commitment and listen to them. Whenever the wheat support price is discussed by policymakers, their mind is influenced by the price of roti in urban areas. Any substantial increase in wheat price is going to ultimately increase the price of bread, triggering strong public and media backlash. On more than one occasion, the government has announced subsidy for urban tandoor walas and flour mills but no such relief has been extended to helpless farmers.
Pakistan used to struggle with the wheat target until 2008 when Pakistan Peoples’ Party government increased it from Rs450 to Rs1,000 in a single go, revolutionising the yield production. Since 2009, Pakistan always saw a surplus yield, but with the passage of time, input prices increased while wheat prices remained stagnant. In the last 10 years, wheat price has been increased only by Rs350 whereas a urea fertiliser bag, which used to be sold at Rs800, now costs Rs2,000. Globally, wheat price is around Rs1,575.
The prime minister has announced a Rs6 billion relief package for the Utility Stores Corporation. Such relief should also be given to farmers to increase their capacity to improve farming techniques. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has also demanded more increase in wheat price. The government must listen to him, which is reflective of millions of farmers’ voice.

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