THE earthquake in northern Punjab and parts of Azad Kashmir has brought with it bitter memories from the 2005 catastrophe that claimed almost 75,000 lives. So far, some 40 people have been reported dead in Tuesday’s quake while over 500 have been injured. Cellular network services remained suspended in many places, preventing a more accurate assessment.
While rescue efforts this time were quicker and better than before — perhaps owing to the smaller scale of destruction — the loss of life could have been averted had the authorities put to use the lessons learnt from the 2005 tremor.
The statement given by the National Disaster Management Authority chairman shortly after the quake speaks volumes for the state’s apathy when disaster strikes. Responding to a question, the NDMA chairman said aftershocks could not be ruled out, but the situation was ‘nothing serious’ since there were several fault lines in the country.
Considering that the affected area of New Mirpur lies on the active Samwal-Jharik Kass fault line, which, experts say, was also activated in the 2005 earthquake, this statement is simply absurd and insensitive, and the people who lost their homes and loved ones would disagree with it. The quake was the second major one to have hit the area — that lies in seismic zone 4 (the most at risk) — in two decades. The devastation of the 2005 earthquake should have made a deep impact on how the government views and deals with natural disasters, but unfortunately, we do not seem to be any wiser. The fact that an earthquake preparedness strategy approved by the Planning Commission in 2007 has been lying in cold storage is evidence of this lackadaisical approach.
In terms of geographical location, Pakistan is more prone than many other countries to natural disasters, the incidence of which has drastically increased owing to global warming.
According to a report by the disaster management authority in KP, all 26 districts of the province are now vulnerable to natural calamities because of the increased frequency of extreme weather events (in addition to seismic activity in the region) as compared to only 13 districts a decade ago.
This is also true for the rest of the country that now witnesses torrential rains, floods and droughts on a routine basis. Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, with all its urban perils including substandard construction, also lies in a zone of ‘noticeable’ seismic danger, according to the Geological Survey of Pakistan. Many areas are so densely populated that only a mild tremor would be enough to incur large-scale loss of lives.
Regrettably, our collective approach towards disaster management leaves much to be desired. It is time the government moved on from ‘first-aid rescue’ — the short-term provision of tents, medicines and food to the affected — to developing and then implementing a comprehensive and sustainable policy to counter disaster and deal effectively with its aftermath.
IT would be a good idea for the chief executive officer of PIA, Air Marshal Arshad Mahmood Malik, to refrain from boasting about the revenues or ‘operating profit’ that the national carrier is running these days until the company has filed its annual and quarterly results as it is required to do under the law. PIA is a listed company and its shares are publicly traded. It makes for a sorry sight to see the head of a listed company paint the financial health of his company in glowing colours when he has not been able to report financial results for almost two years. PIA last filed its annual results in August of 2019, and those were for the calendar year 2017. Even this came after the company had to be placed on the defaulters segment by the stock exchange, the frontline regulator. By law, these results are supposed to be filed within 120 days of the end of the year. Clearly, PIA is deep in default with regard to this elementary obligation of all listed companies.
No financial results since 2017 means six quarterly filings have been missed, four in 2018 and two in 2019. The logic for this delay is unconvincing. We are told that the company’s accounts people are still learning the ropes of the new software that is supposed to handle company finances. This cannot be seen as a valid reason to keep stockholders in the dark about the financial health of the company they own, and is no excuse to violate the law and fail to file these results on time. New to corporate ways, the CEO has still to learn some elementary lesson, and somebody needs to point out that shouting the ‘good news’ from the rooftops does not impress corporate circles. Before coming up with any numbers for revenue or profits in public gatherings, PIA should focus on delivering on its responsibility to its shareholders and furnish a complete and audited picture of the company’s balance sheet and cash-flow statements down to the latest quarter. At the moment, it seems that the CEO himself does not have a very clear picture of the finances of his organisation. This is hardly surprising given that the national carrier is still working on finalising the 2018 numbers. It is for this reason that he should not expect others to believe in the numbers that are being given verbally.
ACCORDING to the special assistant to the prime minister on health, Dr Zafar Mirza, the number of registered dengue patients in the country now stands at over 10,000. Out of the total, 2,363 patients are from Punjab; 2,258 from Sindh; 1,814 from KP; and 1,772 from Balochistan. To make matters worse, malaria too has been on the rise in recent months. The two worst-hit cities are Karachi and Rawalpindi. Just yesterday, another patient in Karachi succumbed to the disease, raising the number of fatalities in the city to 11 this year alone. These are alarming figures, and they are expected to grow as parts of the country continue to experience moderate to heavy rainfall, temperatures soar, and the cleanliness of the cities remains a challenge for the authorities. The WHO classifies dengue as the world’s “fastest spreading vector-borne viral disease”, with approximately 40pc of the world’s population at risk of contracting it.
Pakistan has struggled with containing the spread of the disease at different points in its recent history. While Dr Mirza has advised opposition leaders to not ‘politicise’ issues concerning health, such disasters are directly the result of poor governance — one cannot neatly separate politics from public health. When Lahore was hit with a dengue epidemic back in 2011, the then chief minister was able to counter the further spread of the disease by being proactive and taking the necessary measures such as enacting new laws and seeking the expertise of medical teams from Sri Lanka to ensure that such a tragedy would not take place again. This knowledge and assistance was then passed on to the KP government, when it was facing its own dengue outbreak in 2017, which resulted in over 50 deaths and thousands rushed to hospitals to seek treatment. So while citizens should take preventive measures, the ultimate responsibility of carrying out anti-dengue campaigns and fogging rests with the government, and local governments must be empowered to this end.