DAWN Editorials – 15th Dec 2022

Typhoid cases

ISSUES of public health and quality of life are relegated to the margins in Pakistan. This is the primary reason why there have been reports of over 200,000 typhoid cases in Sindh in the first 10 months of the year. These include cases of the dangerous extensively drug resistant, or XDR, strain of the waterborne disease. According to health experts this paper spoke to, while typhoid cases have been reported from across Sindh, 70pc to 80pc of the cases from Karachi are of the XDR strain. Moreover, the situation in the flood-affected areas is believed to be worse, as these regions are in the grip of waterborne diseases, amidst other health and sanitation challenges. The XDR variety is particularly of concern as, true to its name, it tends to resist most antibiotic treatments. The strain was first traced in Pakistan in 2016 when an outbreak began in Hyderabad, and has since become a major challenge for medical professionals.

There are several ways to counter the threat posed by all variants of typhoid that experts, including the WHO, recommend. Many of these are long term, such as improving health and sanitation facilities, as well as providing clean drinking water. But to tackle the disease immediately, it has been proposed that children under 15 be vaccinated against typhoid. Moreover, in order to contain the XDR strain, firm steps must be taken to curb the rampant overuse of antibiotics in the country. Medical professionals need to be made aware of the fact that antibiotics should not be prescribed for minor ailments, while the sale of these drugs, without a doctor’s prescription, must be banned. Awareness campaigns against self-medication are also required. To reduce the burden of typhoid and other waterborne, preventable diseases, the state needs to provide better sanitation facilities and safe drinking water to the public, while initiating extensive vaccine drives. If the XDR strain is not addressed with seriousness, a new public health nightmare awaits Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2022

Children at risk

HOW diseased must we be as a society that, four years after little Zainab Ansari’s gruesome ordeal galvanised the nation, incidents of child abuse, rape and murder still remain a regular feature of the news cycle? It is alarming how frequently incidents involving the rape and murder of children appear to be occurring in recent days. At least three stories in this paper on Wednesday alone concerned heinous crimes against children. In Karachi, police arrested a six-year-old girl’s adult neighbour for raping and killing the child and dumping her body in an abandoned house outside the metropolis. She had stepped out of her house to buy something from a vendor. Another story concerned a case involving an 11-year-old’s alleged rape by her stepfather. After being convicted earlier, the stepfather was exonerated of the charge because the Sindh High Court saw deficiencies in the case investigation.

The third of the stories highlighted an unfortunate reality that needs to be discussed more. The chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court, who has been hearing a case pertaining to the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2018, wondered at one point whether the state was doing enough to protect transgender children, as they are most vulnerable to exploitation. “It is unfortunate that these children are abandoned by their own families and, as a result, they are abused by criminals and fall prey to paedophiles and other predators in our society,” Chief Justice Syed Muhammad Anwer remarked. The court also made the helpful suggestion that we should have special homes for such abandoned children where they can be protected and looked after. It is inexcusable that such facilities do not already exist. Have we learnt nothing about the need for proactively protecting our children against some of the worst forms of violence perpetrated by human beings? Important strides were made through the Zainab Alert, Response and Recovery Act of 2019, which was meant to reduce kidnappings, quickly recover children and also increase awareness about the dangers they face. However, its implementation has left a lot to be desired. It is imperative that we introduce our children to concepts like ‘stranger danger’, ‘good touch, bad touch’ at a very early age as a minimum means to ensure their safety. The government must launch a nationwide awareness campaign regarding this menace and educate parents and guardians to protect their children and wards against the dangers they face.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2022

Crop losses

THE lingering economic impact of this summer’s calamitous floods, which have hurt the country’s rice, cotton and wheat output, has started to show.

Last week, this newspaper had reported that the country’s cotton production had dropped by more than 40pc, mainly on account of the floods and climate change. The rice harvest is projected to be at least 10pc less than last year’s crop. The deluge has affected soil conditions to such an extent that wheat plantation has become difficult in many places in Sindh. The next wheat harvest could see a considerable drop in cereal production.

In short, flood-damaged crops will force Pakistan to increase its food and cotton imports to make up for harvest losses at home. The impact will also be felt on rice and textile exports.

More imports and fewer exports are hardly something Pakistan’s dollar-starved economy can afford, as it will put greater pressure on the current account.

Though the State Bank governor is hopeful that the pressure on the declining foreign currency reserves will largely be offset by the falling international oil and commodity prices, many analysts fear that the current account deficit will exceed the initial estimates of $10bn.

With the cash-starved government struggling to restrict imports to ease pressure on the external account and boost reserves to prevent debt default in the medium to long term, this cannot be good news for the flood-stricken economy.

That the impact of the floods on the agriculture sector and the overall economy will be felt for years to come is a given.

Farmers took years to emerge from the negative impact of the 2010 floods on their lives and livelihoods. The destruction caused by the recent floods is of a much higher magnitude, with the deluge inundating almost a third of the country and affecting or displacing 33m people. Besides massive crop losses, the farmers have seen their livestock being swept away by the raging waters.

The country’s agriculture sector has been in extreme distress for a very long time now, owing to multiple factors, ranging from poor government policies to lack of investment in agricultural research to climate change to low mechanisation. This is reflected in the decreasing crop yields and farm incomes, and rising rural poverty and food shortages.

Pakistan had turned into a net importer of food and cotton for the large textile industry long before the floods had hit. This year’s deluge, which will continue to torment the economy and the people for years to come, has compounded our agricultural woes and food insecurity.

The prime minister has announced a package for agriculture, but that isn’t enough to help revive the sector and rehabilitate the flood-affected farmers. We need long-term policies, and heavy investments in rural infrastructure and research to cope with climate change, in order to turn around farming in a sustainable way.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2022

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