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Dawn Editorial 22 April 2020

Nature’s warning

This year’s theme is ‘climate action’, but unlike in the past, there will be no vibrant scenes of marches in the streets or large public gatherings.
There will be no packed speaking events inside auditoriums and stadiums.
And there will be no schoolchildren holding special events to celebrate the day, since most education institutes have been closed.
Covid-19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of ‘normal’ life, and while most other issues have understandably taken a backseat in the midst of the pandemic, perhaps it is time to question the conditions we had come to accept as ‘normal’ in recent decades, particularly when it came to our attitudes towards the environment.
When confronted with nature’s absolute power, human civilisation suddenly appears so fragile and helpless.
As a reminder, just before the novel coronavirus grabbed all international headlines, Australia was struggling to contain horrific wildfires that ravaged 13.6m acres of land over a period of eight months, only to be finally extinguished last month.
According to an estimate provided by the government, the bushfires may have released up to 830m tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exceeding the country’s annual greenhouse gas pollution.
In Iceland, mourners held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change.
Meanwhile, floods ravaged parts of Somalia, South Africa, Iran, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Italy, the UK and the US throughout the foregoing year.
Here at home, besides battling heavy monsoon rainfall and flooding, parts of Pakistan and India were enveloped in a blanket of smog, once again reminding us that (like viruses) climate change does not recognise human-created borders and hubris.
And despite producing only a fraction of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan sits in an uncomfortable fifth position in the Global Climate Risk Index 2020.
According to the report released by Germanwatch, between 1998 and 2018, nearly 10,000 people died due to extreme weather conditions, while the economy suffered losses of up to $3.8bn.
In recent months, however, something unusual is being witnessed in the world.
With large-scale lockdowns being enforced and much of the global economy coming to a halt, the skies are clearing up and pollution is lower than it has been in years.
But with the virus-related death count rising with each passing day, doctors and hospital staff being overwhelmed with the sheer volume of patients admitted for an illness that we cannot cure and do not even completely understand, mass layoffs and downsizing resulting in people losing their livelihoods, and the possibility of large-scale hunger looming in the distance, there is little reason to celebrate.
However, if greater wisdom prevails, there are lessons to be learnt, which must extend beyond the virus’s lifetime.
Unfortunately, our collective memory is fleeting, and it is not clear whether we will take a different path.


Oil price crash

IT was indeed a startling development, even if it was for a fleeting moment. For one day, the price of oil in one of the contracts, in a corner of the vast global oil market, was negative. This meant that those who held those contracts were willing to pay someone to actually take that oil off their hands. Of course, this doesn’t mean that global oil prices had crashed in negative territory. The development occurred only for future contracts for the May delivery, that were expiring within a day of when the price turned negative; and it only happened in the market known as West Texas Intermediate, or WTI, one of the many oil trading markets around the world. But all caveats aside, it was nevertheless a remarkable development, especially for those who remember the oil price spiral of a decade ago that saw some global prices rise to a record $147 per barrel. It was a sight to behold to see how the mighty have fallen.
The negative price aside, oil markets around the world are seeing collapsing prices. Pakistan, as a net importer of oil and gas (the price of which is indexed to oil) stands to reap some gains in its import bill as a result of this, but it would be patently premature to find too much comfort in this fact. Oil prices are decreasing because activity in the advanced industrial economies has fallen to a historic low, and demand has dried up almost completely, while storage space around the world is full. Without demand, and without further storage, there is nowhere for the price to go but down. But along with the oil price, what is also likely to be connected to this downward spiral is Pakistan’s exports and remittances, since the former come largely from the advanced industrial economies of the European Union and the US, and the latter from the oil-rich kingdoms of the Gulf region. The overall context of the oil price declines is one that does not favour Pakistan in any way. The steep declines of today, much like the spiral of a decade ago, point to something profoundly broken in the oil markets in this age. Such deep dysfunction is connected to the extreme troubles of the economies that this market serves. What Pakistan should now steel itself for is a season of severe recession that is fast coming our way.


Cops infected by virus

THE police are, quite literally, on the front line of the battle against the coronavirus. Now the risks inherent in that role are becoming evident. It emerged on Monday that at least 15 policemen in Karachi, mainly constables or head constables, have tested positive for Covid-19. Of them, only one case was detected in March while the rest have been confirmed within the last 20 days. Tests carried out on the infected cops’ family members and colleagues indicate onward local transmission. Among 22 relatives of one of these policemen, eight have tested positive. A colleague of another infected cop has also come down with the virus. Results of further tests are awaited even as all the affected policemen have been sent to isolation wards in various city hospitals.
Law-enforcement officials are in an extraordinarily vulnerable situation, especially in our more chaotic urban centres, as they try to implement lockdown orders. They deal with the public directly, a public with whom they often have an adversarial relationship. Many citizens are resentful about their restricted mobility and that, coupled with the traditional — unfortunately, often valid — lack of trust in the police, makes for some fraught encounters. Law-enforcement officials also have to maintain order during ration distribution operations where large numbers of restless recipients are gathered. They are deputed at quarantine centres as well to prevent suspected coronavirus patients from leaving these sites. Moreover, a recent report in this paper found that thousands of cops had been deployed on lockdown duties in Karachi without training or adequate personal protection equipment. In Punjab as well, the provincial government had by the first week of April provided only 5pc of the PPEs that the police had requested. Cops also run a heightened risk of infection because they work in teams, travel together and often share utensils, while weapons change hands every time a new shift begins. Unless protective measures are stringently observed, there are multiple avenues for the virus to spread between colleagues — and beyond.


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