Dawn Editorial 23rd May 2024

Flooding threats

WITH temperatures in GB and KP forecasted to be four to six degrees higher than normal this week, the threat of Glacier Lake Outburst Floods and flash floods looms large. GLOFs, triggered by the sudden release of water from melting glacial lakes, can lead to widespread destruction, including loss of life, damage to property, and the disruption of essential services. The increasing frequency of these events, driven by climate change, necessitates urgent action. The immediate response must focus on ensuring the safety and preparedness of regions likely to be affected. Timely and accurate dissemination of warnings is critical. Local administrations should activate evacuation plans, prepare temporary shelters, and mobilise emergency services. Residents must stay vigilant, avoiding travel to high-risk areas and preparing emergency kits with essentials. Given that summer is in full swing and GB is a popular tourist spot, the authorities should ensure that visitors are well-informed about potential hazards and safety protocols.

In the long term, a comprehensive disaster management strategy is essential. The Scaling-up Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF-II) in Northern Pakistan project by UNDP and the Green Climate Fund is a laudable initiative. It includes constructing protective infrastructure, slope stabilisation measures, and early warning systems. However, more is needed. As has been described in these pages, continued investment in infrastructure is crucial. Building flood barriers, improving drainage systems, and regularly monitoring glacial lakes with satellite technology can mitigate the impact of GLOFs. Pakistan should collaborate with international climate bodies for technical expertise. Sustained community involvement is equally vital. Local groups and leaders must foster awareness and preparedness through campaigns, drills, and forming disaster risk reduction committees. Establishing emergency response teams within villages can ensure swift action. By fostering a culture of preparedness, we can protect lives from the mounting threats posed by climate change.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2024

Culture of violence

WHILE political differences are part of the democratic process, there can be no justification for such disagreements translating into violence. Unfortunately, in Pakistan — where political violence has never been far from the surface — these negative trends have only been amplified over the past few years. Both social and mainstream media platforms have been used to pillory opponents, and promote a culture of toxicity. The attack on PTI information secretary Raoof Hasan in Islamabad on Tuesday appears to be linked to this woeful environment of intolerance. Mr Hasan was attacked in a parking lot after leaving a TV channel when a group of individuals closed in on him. The CCTV footage of the episode is disturbing, and police say the politician was attacked with a blade. In a statement on social media, PTI founder Imran Khan has pointed a finger at “powers that lurk in the shadows”, while the federal information minister has called for a probe.

Though an investigation has been initiated, the PTI seems dissatisfied with the transparency of the probe. These reservations should be addressed and the perpetrators punished. It is an unfortunate reality that when parties fall out of favour with the powers that be — like the PTI has currently — such mysterious attacks, disappearances and detentions targeting their leaders and workers grow in frequency. This culture of victimisation has had a chilling effect on Pakistani politics. While on one hand, there have been positive developments, such as the release on bail of PTI leader Parvez Elahi on Tuesday after nearly a year in jail, many other party leaders and supporters remain in detention following the events of May 9. The political class, instead of applauding the victimisation of opponents, must speak out against such targeting for political affiliations. Equally important is the need to change the toxic narrative that has begun to dominate politics. The PTI, sadly, particularly through social media, has contributed to this toxicity. To prevent further deterioration and restore a sense of civility to politics, all parties, whether in power or in opposition, must shun venomous narratives, and only target the policy weaknesses of their opponents. More urgent is the need for all political actors to condemn the use of violence against rivals. Those who profess a belief in democracy should either speak up now, or prepare to face an even more repressive atmosphere.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2024

Energy inflation

ON Tuesday, the Oil & Gas Regulatory Authority slashed the average prescribed gas prices of SNGPL by 10pc and SSGC by 4pc in view of the revenue requirements of the two public utilities for the next financial year. On average, SNGPL consumers should pay Rs179.17 per mmBtu less during the next fiscal year, while SSGC customers should get relief of Rs59.23 per mmBtu.

However, that will not happen where SNGPL customers are concerned, because the government intends to recover from them the tariff differential of Rs581bn not passed on to them during the last six years. A report in this paper estimates that the Ogra determination of SNGPL’s financial losses on account of average price increases from FY19 to FY24, which were not passed on to consumers in full by the government for fear of a political backlash, provides the authorities room for a hike of up to 87pc in the company’s gas prices next year. Chances are the government might not recover the entire amount from inflation-stricken gas consumers in one year and may spread it over a few years. The authorities have already shared their plans to raise both gas and electricity prices from the new fiscal year.

Energy inflation has been a major cause of the surging cost of living over the last couple of years. Even though headline inflation came down to just above 17pc last month from its peak of over 38pc last May, the planned hike in energy rates could again push up prices during FY25.

With the government trying to secure yet another loan from the IMF to preserve the country’s new-found economic ‘stability’ and improve its credit rating, the authorities have also shared with the Fund their plans to raise gas prices from August and the base electricity tariff from July. In addition, the government would be required to increase taxes to boost its revenues by 1.5pc of GDP. These measures will again drive up inflation, burdening the people with even more costs. The household budgets of the majority, especially those in the low- to moderate-income bracket, are already stretched thin; further erosion in their purchasing power and reductions in real wages will thrust them far beyond breaking point.

The upcoming budget and the financial measures accompanying it will determine who will bear the ever-increasing burden of IMF-mandated adjustments: the elite classes, or the hapless majority. The widening gap between the haves and have-nots is already tearing apart Pakistan’s social fabric.

Unless the government can plug this gap, matters will spiral out of control, and it will be difficult for politicians and policymakers to deal with the ensuing chaos. Protests against economic policies and high prices are growing and are not likely to subside without financial relief.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2024

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