Monday, March 10, 2014

Daily Times Editorial March 11, 2014

Crisis and politics Appropriately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Thar yesterday to see for himself the conditions in the drought-hit region and be briefed on the measures being taken for relief and succour to the suffering people of the area. The prime minister asked after patients admitted in the hospital in Mithi, along with PPP Patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, and both leaders distributed cheques amongst the victims of the disaster. Having been briefed by officials on the situation, the prime minister addressed the assembled residents of Mithi and promised the federal and provincial governments would ensure that their sufferings were eased and better times returned to their lives. He also announced a Rs one billion relief package for the disaster-hit area’s relief and rehabilitation. On the ground, reports speak of the army, Rangers and NGOs having set up relief camps. The army reports it has already distributed 45 tons of food and treated 1,625 patients in its field hospital so far. The Sindh government has also announced a food package of Rs 100 million, whereas Balochistan is dispatching 1,000 bags of rice to the area. In addition, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah announced that compensation of Rs 200,000 would be paid to each family that had lost a child and the total number of children that had died would be released to the media. He also announced a scheme for 100 reverse osmosis plants to turn undrinkable water into water fit for human consumption. Wheat distribution, the chief minister revealed, had been doubled from 25 kilograms per family to 50 kilograms. Taluka (district) level committees were being set up comprising administration and food department officials to oversee a just distribution of wheat worth Rs 420 million, while another committee comprising one MNA, one MPA, one media person and local notables would monitor the whole process. The belated but positive response by the federal and provincial governments, army, paramilitary and civil society is cause for some satisfaction, but the blame game and polticisation of the disaster are leaving a bad taste in the mouth. For example, when Sindh’s chief and other ministers blame the media for exaggerating the disaster, the best reply was given by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani during the suo motu hearing on the disaster when he said had it not been for the media reporting, the issue may have been swept under the carpet. The chief justice pinned the blame for the debacle squarely on the Sindh government and said our heads should hang in shame at the deaths of children and all else that had transpired in Thar. Despite the flow of relief and succour to the hapless victims of nature’s cruelty, the situation is far from stabilised. Reports speak of five more deaths of children in the Umerkot Civil Hospital and the continuing influx of more patients. More than 2,500 are hospitalised, straining the thin medical services in the region to breaking point. One report claims only 900 of the 47,000 flour bags available have been distributed so far. Other reports speak of the continuing migration of thousands of families to the irrigated areas of the province in search of water and food, selling their livestock for a song along the way to buy food for their families. While criticism of the Sindh government is rife, the temptation of our political parties to use all and every occasion to criticise their rivals needs to be resisted at this time of national calamity. Hamza Shahbaz Sharif’s and the Sindhi nationalist parties’ lambasting of the Sindh PPP government at this juncture appears therefore to be ill timed and in bad taste. What is relevant though is what the prime minister said about not just confining ourselves to providing relief for the present crisis but finding ways and means to avoid such catastrophes in future. If there is any silver lining in this tragedy, it could be the fact that it has focused minds on a permanent, not temporary, solution to Thar’s recurring woes.

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