The Express Tribune Editorial 8 October 2019

Water scarcity


A new World Economic Forum (WEF) report posits that water crises are among the most significant risk factors in doing business in South Asia. Water, according to the report based on a survey of over 12,000 business leaders from around the world, presents the greatest challenge to business in India and is the second-biggest risk in Pakistan. Incidentally, the only greater risk for Pakistan, according to the report, is “energy price shock”, a reference to the rising demand for energy as populations and economies grow. Pakistan is heavily dependent on imports to meet demand, and because the sector is highly subsidised, governments bear most of the repercussions of market fluctuations.
As for water, the report quotes a description of the issue as “a problem of scarcity amid abundance”, explaining that despite the presence of major rivers, many citizens must queue for limited supplies of drinking water. It notes that South Asia is home to around a quarter of the global population but has less than 5% of the world’s renewable water resources. Low per-capita water availability and relatively high levels of water use are also troubling, with Pakistan having the fourth-highest rate of water usage in the world, despite being on the brink of officially being tagged as “water-scarce”.
The lack of proper infrastructure to deliver clean drinking water is highlighted as a significant problem, while dependence on a single source – the Indus system – makes the country more at risk of disruptions from extreme weather events, which will only increase and grow harsher due to climate change. The report also brings up the geopolitical challenges presented by water scarcity. “Water is a potential weapon in cross-border disputes, as countries have at times threatened cutting off flows because of outbreaks of violence in disputed territories.”
Many have gone hoarse exhorting the government to address water waste, but amid an ever-evolving list of challenges, this one keeps getting pushed down on the agenda. It is easy to cast blame on India. It is much harder to convince the agricultural elite to reduce water waste and work to improve supply efficiency. But, to quote Hillel, if not now, when?



Striking medics and JUI-F


The strike by doctors, nurses and paramedics in K-P entered the 11the day on Oct 7. The Grand Health Alliance (GHA), the umbrella organisation under whose banner the strike is being observed, has refused to end the strike in return for the release of doctors and allied medicare staff working in government hospitals. They said they would not call off the strike until the government withdrew the Regional and District Health Authorities Act (RDHAA) of 2019. On Oct 5, the Peshawar High Court granted conditional interim bail to around 16 doctors and paramedics asking them to produce good conduct bonds and not to protest during duty hours. They were arrested under the MPO on Sept 27. Striking doctors say they are working in all departments except the OPDs. The GHA claims doctors, nurses and paramedics were thrashed by the police outside the Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar around a week ago while they were on their way to the provincial assembly to stage a peaceful protest against the RDHAA and for acceptance of other demands.
All political parties, except the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have extended their support to the striking doctors. On Oct 4, leaders of the GHA held a meeting with Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to seek his support in their struggle. A GHA leader told reporters that they would organise medical camps during the Azadi March announced by the JUI-F from Oct 27. The likelihood of the JUI-F supporting the doctors’ strike would further strengthen Maulana Fazl’s attempt to topple the PTI-led government at the centre. Maulana Fazl can easily enlist the support of large numbers of madrassa students and now the likely support of doctors would add to his backing among the masses. Things seem to be looking up for the JUI-F sponsored march.



Hope for transgenders?


The Sindh Police, it seems, is all set to receive a policy overhaul. The province’s chief minister has given a go-ahead to a comprehensive reform package that aims to update the force’s workings on several fronts. Some of the measures envisioned are the establishment of model police stations and a special police branch along with upgrading Sindh police personnel’s pay scales to bring them on a par with those of their counterparts in Punjab. It also includes a plan to provide relief and employment to police personnel maimed or blinded in the line of duty. Most significant, however, is the Sindh chief minister’s announcement to allocate a quota for transgender persons in not only the police force but all provincial government departments. Although it is premature to celebrate given Pakistan’s previous track record with positive announcements, the decision if carried to term has the potential to improve the conditions of transgender people in a lasting way.
The transgender people in Pakistan face extreme marginalisation is no secret. This marginalisation, among other things, is brought on by the stigma they face from the wider society and the lack of opportunities available to them. Interestingly, the two issues are mutually reinforcing – stigma results in lack of opportunities for transgender people and the latter, in turn, further fuels derision and violence against them. In that respect alone, the decision to reserve a government employment quota will go a long way in improving their lives.
But that is not all. Time and again, we have heard the transgender community point out the hurdles to justice they face. Time and again, we have also seen the government machinery turn a blind eye to their plight and needs. In the face of such institutional negligence, allowing transgender persons to be part of government departments will perhaps result in some developing sensitivity towards the issues they face. In particular, employing transgender police officers will, at the very least, improve the community’s access to justice and protection.
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