AS temperatures soar faster and furiously, meteorologists conclude that extended hot spells will hit every year. Therefore, the government’s cavalier approach towards heat tragedies is deplorable. On Wednesday, a first-year student in Khairpur died of the heat after he fainted during a test. Several others also collapsed at exam centres. Last month, heatstroke took the life of another man as he waited at a flour distribution point in Hyderabad.
According to a study quoted in The Economist, “between 2000 and 2019, South Asia saw over 110,000 heat-related excess deaths a year”. An IPCC special report on climate extremes inferred “temperature extremes are shifting globally. Heatwaves are projected to become more frequent and severe in India and Pakistan”. For these reasons, albeit lamentably late, authorities must realise that rescue plans should be put into action on a war footing: asphalt expanses peeled off for green cover and vegetation, fines imposed for every tree felled, vast parks converted into forests, greenhouses and fountains constructed to improve air quality, and factory and vehicle emissions scaled down to permissible limits. In a nation roiled by climate calamities, each tree and green belt has to be shielded as they are forces of alleviation which protect and regulate ecosystems and employment. Green cover also services sustainable development. As a breathless nation waits for these goals to take shape, the government, charitable groups and individuals should make generous contributions of food, shade, water and rest facilities for the outdoor workforce — labourers, street vendors and policemen — as the heat can exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory ailments. Undeniably, progress cannot be made at the cost of shelter and nature; it will be inutile. So far, global ways to counter the climate toll seem to be at odds with the ones pursued by our lawmakers; they prefer high-rises and malls to foliage and clean air. Their only choice is to pause and save lives.
Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2023
THERE can be little argument with the fact that Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits; as most economists of repute have observed, unless the state takes immediate and decisive steps for course correction, default and financial chaos will be our lot. Yet the PDM administration seems to be living in some alternative universe where the financial management of the state is concerned. Instead of belt-tightening, the government is lavishing funds on lawmakers, most likely with an eye on the elections. As reported, the cabinet’s Economic Coordination Committee on Wednesday approved an additional amount of Rs20bn for lawmakers in the name of the Sustainable Development Goals Achievement Programme. Under this scheme, ruling coalition lawmakers get Rs500m each, ostensibly to implement civil works in their constituencies that will contribute to the SDGs. But instead of sustainable development, these lavish handouts will sustain many a political career among the ranks of government loyalists.
It is odd why a government that launched a much-trumpeted (and failed) austerity campaign earlier this year is doling out such large amounts of money when it only has a few more months — constitutionally, at least — in power, and when the coffers are empty. Perhaps if the national treasury were flush with cash, a case could be made for the distribution of funds. But with reserves slipping into dangerously low territory, the move is highly irresponsible and smacks of politics. Effectively, only lawmakers belonging to the PDM and parties allied with it will get the funds, which means that rather than focusing on development, the government is trying to ensure that with the transfer of cash, many an electable and ‘influential’ will stay loyal come election time. In addition, there are serious questions of transparency where the money is concerned, as there is no strict monitoring of how and where such funds are being spent. This means that lawmakers have been virtually handed over a blank cheque by the government, at the expense of the taxpayer. In fact, some experts have argued that discretionary funds for lawmakers’ development schemes should be abolished to help check our profligate ways. The PDM’s economic management — or lack thereof — has been disastrous thus far. The last thing the coalition should do is squander billions of rupees in political bribes when the economy is deep in the red.
Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2023