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Dawn Editorial 1 September 2020

Managing disasters

HEAVY monsoon rains during the last month have caused significant loss of life and property across the provinces. According to the daily situation report by the NDMA on Monday, torrential rains, and the ensuing flooding and landslides in different parts of the country have killed at least 163 people, including 66 children, since mid-June. Most rain-related deaths — 61 — were reported from Sindh where urban flooding in Karachi is said to have killed almost 50 people. Scores of villages in that province were reported to have been submerged, with the provincial government declaring 20 districts as ‘calamity hit’. In KP, the death toll, according to the NDMA, had spiked to 48 by Sunday, while fatalities in Balochistan, Punjab, GB and AJK were 17, 16, 11 and 10 respectively. Intense rains and subsequent flash floods are also to blame for the damage to nearly 1,600 houses — mainly in Balochistan and KP — in addition to the destruction of roads, schools and public hospitals. Hundreds of affected people have been displaced and had to be evacuated and shifted to safety. Many in the rural areas of Sindh and elsewhere lost their crops while scores of tourists were stranded in the north owing to road closures following landslides.
Over the last several years, floods of varying intensity have become an annual feature in Pakistan, largely because of the changing climate, environmental degradation and deforestation. Similarly, urban flooding has become a regular threat for residents of cities owing to poor town planning and lack of investment in infrastructure. On top of that, the performance of national, provincial and district institutions responsible for disaster management has been less than satisfactory when it comes to extending relief to affected communities and helping in their rehabilitation. Little has changed in this sphere even after the creation of disaster management bodies at the national and provincial levels after the devastating Kashmir earthquake in 2005. Several factors such as shortage of financial resources to acquire machinery and equipment needed for rescue work, as well as lack of trained manpower, are said to be responsible for their poor performance whenever disaster strikes.
The situation demands that the government formulate an integrated strategy for mitigating and managing disasters like floods instead of confining its response to just providing relief to the affected people, which can never be adequate. It is time the federal and provincial governments moved beyond piecemeal, isolated flood-management measures, which have until now been limited mostly to annual repairs of flood-protection embankments. The long-term strategy should focus on strengthening the flood forecast system based on the extensive use of technology — such as the telemetry system — for more accurate weather and flood predictions to protect vulnerable communities. That should be followed by developing the disaster management authorities’ capacity so that they can provide timely relief to those affected and rehabilitate them as quickly as possible.



Plan for Karachi

A FEW days after Karachi was lashed by record-breaking rains, there is a palpable feeling of rage amongst this hapless city’s residents. This is not without reason, for in the face of a devastating calamity the people have been left to fend for themselves by those who wield power in this country.
Extreme weather events happen all over the globe, yet damage is mitigated by planning ahead and ensuring that all humanly possible measures are taken to protect lives and property. But in Karachi’s case, these measures are mostly limited to press statements — or the distinct lack of them — and the federal, provincial and local governments seem far more interested in attacking each other’s performance than in solving the city’s problems.
However, in the wake of the latest disaster, there seems to be a change in tone, with the prime minister himself paying attention to the crisis in the country’s commercial capital. On Monday, Imran Khan said he wanted a “Karachi Transformation Plan” finalised soon, while earlier he had stated that the centre would “not abandon” Karachi in times of crises.
This resolve to prevent such disasters from happening again in Karachi is commendable, and to underscore his commitment Mr Khan should visit the metropolis as soon as he can to witness the devastation for himself. Under the prime minister’s plan, the city’s key issues — solid waste management, water shortage, matters related to water and sewerage as well as transport — will be focused on.
From here on, both the federal and Sindh governments need to put politics aside and combine forces to help bring Karachi into the 21st century. The neglect of this city has gone on for decades, and this sad fact was manifested most painfully last Thursday when Karachi’s entire infrastructure collapsed and was seemingly washed away by the monsoon deluge.
Monday also marked the day when the tenure of local governments ended in Sindh. Along with coming up with a workable master plan for Karachi with the centre, the Sindh government must take the provincial local bodies law back to the drawing board. The SLGA 2013 has been a miserable failure, especially in Karachi, as the third tier has been eviscerated by a provincial government that has usurped all civic powers.
If meaningful change is to come to Karachi, the Sindh administration must give back civic powers to an elected mayor, while maintaining checks and balances on the third tier.



Fast unto death

THE recent death of Turkish lawyer Ebru Timtik after a 238-day hunger strike, is yet another tragic event in a country whose human rights record is rapidly worsening. Timtik’s colleagues said she died in hospital; she had been transferred there from jail where she had been observing a protracted ‘death fast’. Timtik had been demanding a fair trial after she was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to 13 years in prison for being a member of the outlawed DHKP/C. The sentence was upheld last October by a Turkish appeals court. At the time of her passing, it emerged that Timtik weighed only 30 kg. Her end encapsulates the anger and frustration of many activists, journalists and independent thinkers in an atmosphere of censorship and flawed court trials. Her death follows the similar fate of two left-wing folk musicians in Turkey in April and May.
Timtik’s story is yet another indictment of a democracy in darkness. For the past four years, the Erdogan-led Turkish government has orchestrated an intensified crackdown against critics and the press. The suppression of free speech has been characterised by mass arrests, swift convictions, sweeping police powers, book bans and censorship, the blocking of social media sites and shutting down of websites critical of the government. Journalists and activists who managed to escape the climate of fear now live outside Turkey and campaign desperately for those facing the wrath of an authoritarian government. The ruling AKP’s clampdown on perceived opponents, which began after a failed military coup in 2016, extended to the courts which are now being criticised for favouring the government in its rulings. That Turkey — where freedom of expression is a constitutional right — has become a closed, stifling and dangerous place for dissenters even after shaking off the military’s interference, is a depressing reality. In a functional democracy, individuals must be able to live without fear of punishment for or censorship of their beliefs and their spoken or written words. Sadly in Turkey, that is far from the reality.


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