Express Tribune Editorial 3 December 2020

Breast cancer prevalence


A recent webinar on breast cancer — organised by the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (Comsats), an inter-governmental organisation having a membership of 25 developing countries — has brought to the fore alarming facts about the prevalent of the disease among Pakistani women. They are: Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer in the whole of the Asian continent; around 90,000 women are diagnosed with this disease every year, and of them 40,000 — or 44.44% — lose their lives; and one in 10 Pakistani women could develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
The speeches made by the experts at the webinar carry valuable suggestions and recommendations — listed as follows — for beating the disease in the country. One-stop breast cancer clinics should be established at places in the county meant to address financial, cultural, mental and physical needs of women, under one roof. Such steps would be helpful in breaking the stigma surrounding the disease. Measures need to be taken to overcome the lack of knowledge, appropriate facilities, family support and fear related to the disease in society. Awareness is not only needed among women but also among men as they are part of the family and contribute equally towards the journey of recovery.
Above all, the situation stresses the need for enhancing government allocation for healthcare, in general. To the contrary, latest estimates by the Economists Intelligence Unit reveal that Pakistan ranks at the bottom of the table showing spending on health by countries in the South Asian region as a percentage of the GDP. While the Maldives spends 13.7% of GDP on health, the same figure for Pakistan stands at just 2.6%. The spending by seven South Asian countries ranked in between the two are: Afghanistan 8.2%; Nepal 5.8%, India 4.7%, Bhuttan 3.6%, Sri Lanka 3.5% and Bangladesh 2.8%. The authorities concerned need to pay urgent attention.



Textile exports


The federal government is expected to formally announce a five-year policy for the textile sector in the coming days. Reports suggest an ambitious export target of about $20 billion, while the industry would be facilitated by providing electricity, gas, water, and other necessary inputs at favourable rates or with reduced tariffs. Textile mill owners have welcomed the proposed policy and claim that it will put the economy back on track. This remains to be seen, not because of any major weakness in the government’s plans, but because mill owners and operators have often failed to do their part to keep up with foreign competition.
Indeed, the recent increase in textile orders from abroad has more to do with President Trump’s trade war with China than anything else. With Trump and his economic policies being shown the door in another seven weeks, there is a high likelihood that US-China trade ties will normalise again in several areas, including textiles. The All Pakistan Textile Mills Association celebrated the policy by saying it would double exports and create five million new jobs in the next five years. But at the same time, they continue to ask for even more tax breaks and even exemptions from workplace safety audits. While we are all for helping a vital industry remain competitive, it should not be at the cost of encouraging other sectors to develop.
Textiles may have been our past and even our present, but it need not be our future. Failure to innovate has often been cited as a weakness in the sector, and we have not seen any significant steps to address that. Indeed, even the industry group’s announcement points to the failure to innovate. The eye-catching number of new jobs promised will not be forthcoming if international best practices such as automation are adopted. As international competitors use literal well-oiled machines to turn their operations into well-oiled machines, our industrialists continue to think short term and rely on government handouts and cheap labour. Unfortunately, in the long term, this lack of foresight will doom the industry.



High-rises near airports


Allowing construction of tall buildings in the vicinity of airports would not be a good decision. Media reports, however, suggest that the government is about to abolish the condition of acquiring a no-objection certificate for the construction of high-rise and multistory buildings within 15.24km radius of an airport to accelerate construction activities in the country. At present NOC has to be obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority and the Pakistan Air Force for construction of multistory buildings near airports. This condition is applicable in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. The Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority has moved a summary with the federal cabinet seeking removal of the NOC condition. It maintains that the progress made in aircraft and flying technologies has rendered the old rules obsolete.
However, current rules governing construction of multistory buildings in advanced countries like the United States and Britain prohibit such constructions in the vicinity of airports. Our own experience in the PIA plane crash of May this year establishes that the presence of tall buildings near airports is inadvisable. In this air crash, 97 passengers, including the aircraft’s crew members, died. Only two passengers survived. After the pilot lost control of the aircraft, it dashed against residential buildings and in the process eight people were injured on the ground. One of the injured, a girl house help, later died in hospital.
Construction of high-rise in the vicinity of airports is discouraged because they obstruct flights and radar operations as well as pose dangers to those living in buildings close to airports. This is why even in most developed countries multistory buildings are not allowed within 20kms radius of airports. In Pakistan, however, things are moving in the opposite direction. Multistory, single-story residential buildings, restaurants and wedding halls abound very close to airports. At least this is so in Karachi. Birds flock near restaurants and marriage halls and they interfere with flights. Despite innumerable warnings by the relevant authorities, such restaurants and marriage halls remain in place. The presence of birds close to the airport continues to pose hazards to flights.

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