The Express Tribune Editorial 30 August 2019

Open defecation


Health experts have explored a strange link between defecating in the open and stunting. They insist that open defecation is effectively impeding the intellectual capacity of a huge population of Sindh province, while warning that unless people stop urinating and defecating in the open, more than half the next generation will be stunted. While the very link is pretty far-fetched, it is quite understandable that open defection is a source of contaminated food and water which do give rise to diseases like hepatitis A and E, typhoid and diarrhea, besides causing malnutrition. According to experts, 900,000 children die of water-borne diseases across Pakistan every year, and of them 90,000 belong to Sindh.
That eradication of open defecation — as part of steps to improve the general level of cleanliness and hygiene — will effectively improve the overall healthcare of people is hardly debatable. And towards that end, the Sindh government’s sanitation policy — with the motto Saaf Suthro Sindh i.e. Neat and Clean Sindh — meant to eradicate open defecation by 2025 is commendable. The implementation of the policy, however, remains a serious challenge, with the people working with rural communities not too confident about the prospects. They feel it is a daunting task to do away with this centuries-old practice from rural settlements, where a vast majority of adults, including women, prefer to go to the fields to defecate while children attend to the call of nature anywhere they wish to.
The pace of the sanitation programme is another area that has come under criticism. Experts, while believing that the Sindh government’s speed to eradicate open defecation does not match its aims, call for a vigorous mass drive to meet the target of eradicating the practice of open defecation within the stipulated time period. If our experts are to be believed, proper physical and mental growth is not possible without zero open defecation.


Democratic development


This has been a momentous week for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) in general and the erstwhile Fata in particular. This is the week when residents of the newly-merged tribal areas have finally seen their own elected representatives — totalling 19 — take their seats in the power corridors of the province — the provincial assembly. Thereby, it gave the residents of these areas greater control over their fate. In short, after centuries of tribal customs and colonial laws, these areas will now benefit from the gift of democracy.
Democracy today means so much more for the residents of the tribal districts. They faced the scourge of militancy and were then displaced due to the military operations to dislodge the terrorists. Democracy is the promise of development for an area which has long been neglected, treated as a pariah almost. And the same promise, of infrastructure development, is what has been demanded in the first couple of assembly sessions. Representatives from across the tribal areas have raised issues of missing facilities, some of which have become collateral damage in the war against terror. They have called for basic facilities such as roads, highways, schools and hospitals — even as basic as drinking water supply schemes.
Indeed, the provincial and federal governments have committed substantial funds under a special programme to develop the tribal areas. But the development and the use of funds need to be closely monitored by locals to ensure that it is spent where it will benefit the locals the most. For this very reason, K-P Chief Minister Mahmood Khan has hinted at including two of these newly-elected representatives in the provincial cabinet where they will be in a better position to help bring about real change in the tribal areas. One of these lawmakers is expected to be a woman.
The areas in question are still steeped in tribal customs, where elders and the strongest tribes used to call the shots. By introducing democracy, it is hoped, the doors of real development will finally open.


For common man’s relief


As the economy remains the toughest challenge for the incumbent government, Prime Minister Imran Khan is particularly focused on how to save people belonging to poor and lower-middle classes from the brunt of the prevailing economic crisis. For the purpose, he has launched Ehsas Programme for providing social protection to the vulnerable sections of society as part of his vision to alleviate poverty from the country. The programme — a package of various social services regarding provision of food and shelter to those in need, creating employment opportunities, taking steps for district development, etc — is now being consolidated with the merger of all social protection programmes being run at the federal and provincial level under a single framework. The PM’s Housing Programme to construct five million houses for the shelterless people of the country in five years is yet another initiative meant to improve the lot of the common man.
Currently, with inflation having turned into a double-digit demon, Prime Minister Imran realises the need to stop the prevailing price hike from taking its toll on the vulnerable class. Chairing a high-level meeting at the PM House yesterday, Imran directed a proper system to be introduced to keep a check on the prices of edible items. The formation of market committees, ordered by the PM, will help the authorities take action against hoarders and profiteers, and keep the prices within the common man’s purchasing power. The auction process at the markets also needs to be made transparent in order to discourage exploitation of farmers and enable them to get a fair profit of their labour. The PM’s orders for adopting an organised strategy will be genuinely helpful in the context. The concept of Sasta Bazaars, introduced in the federal capital, needs to be followed in other parts of the country too. That the PM realises that provision of sustenance to the poor is the responsibility of the state is heartening to know, indeed.


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