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The Express Tribune Editorial 18 February 2020

Mysterious gas leak


Even after the passage of many hours, the cause of the gas leak in Keamari, a neighbourhood near the Karachi Port, remains a mystery. The yet-unexplained incident started to show its deadly effects from Sunday night. So far eight persons have died after inhaling the toxic gas. Besides, a total of 132 persons have been affected, according to the police. The government has ruled out sabotage. Authorities were alerted when people in Keamari area started rushing to nearby hospitals with severe breathing trouble on Sunday night.
The exact causes of the deaths had not been ascertained because the bodies were not brought to any government hospital, according to the police surgeon. Authorities say they are unsure of the source of the leak or the type of gas. A high-ranking police official told the media that the police were investigating the incident and a team — comprising officials of the Karachi Port Trust, the Pakistan Navy, the West Deputy Commissioner’s office and the health department — was being sent to the area to help ascertain the cause of the mysterious gas leak. A spokesman for the KPT said the Navy’s Biological and Chemical Damage Control Team would also investigate the incident.
Mercifully, the gas leak — which had begun to remind the horrors of the Bhopal gas tragedy of December 1984 — has not spread beyond the Keamari neighbourhood. Unconfirmed reports are circulating as to the source of the leak and the type of gas. One such report says the gas emitted from a container carrying chemicals used to preserve peas. Such reports have been dismissed as mere rumour. Thankfully, the victims have only experienced problems in breathing and irritation in the throat.
Since the mysterious gas leak has affected so many people, it needs to be investigated thoroughly to prevent such tragedies in future. Considering the laid-back attitude of the authorities with regard to the enforcement of the rule of law, the tragedy ought to awaken those at the helm from their comfortable slumber. Celebratory firing has become a normal thing and no one seems to be aware of this. What you allow is what will continue.


UN chief’s visit


United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for restraint from both India and Pakistan and a return to diplomacy and dialogue to settle disputes. The UN chief is in Islamabad to attend a UNHCR conference on Afghan refugees. The head of the UN stressed the need for the two countries to “de-escalate, both militarily and verbally”. ‘Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spent most of the joint press conference highlighting Pakistan’s concerns regarding Occupied Kashmir and “unilateral” move by New Delhi to strip the region of its special status. Qureshi also noted the increase in ceasefire violations along the Line of Control since India revoked Kashmir’s special status last August. Guterres expressed “deep concern” over the increasing ceasefire violations while stressing “the importance of exercising maximum restraint”. He also reiterated his “offer to exercise my good offices should both sides ask.” India, unfortunately, has seemingly lost interest in peace, having rebuffed similar offers from President Trump as well.
The UN chief also praised “Pakistan’s commitment to peace” by singling out the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor, along with appreciating the efforts of Pakistani troops participating in UN peacekeeping missions and hosting millions of Afghan refugees. He also noted Pakistan’s climate change mitigation efforts. On the security front, he acknowledged that Islamabad looking like a “military camp” due to the domestic militant threat to once again being designated a ‘family station’ for UN staff. All in all, it was a positive start to a four-day tour, and despite Guterres having also called for Pakistan to show restraint, his broader comments will help silence naysayers. Also, in his later meetings with Pakistan’s top political leaders, maybe the popular ex-PM of Portugal can explain a thing or two about successful budget management and privatisation — two issues that the incumbent government could undoubtedly use advice on.


Facilitating freelancers


A rapidly growing part of Pakistan’s economy is freelance work. In fact, Pakistan ranks fourth in the world, behind only the US, the UK and Brazil, in terms of fastest-growing earnings for freelancers, also known as ‘gig’ employees. According to a digital payment company report, the number of freelancers under the age of 35 in Pakistan is well above the global average of 70 per cent. Rather than work on a regular basis for one employer, freelancers are self-employed and usually work for multiple clients at a time. Popular fields for freelance work include writing, design, marketing, and social media.
It must be said here that the main reason our youth opt for freelance work is an ailing economy which has been unable to generate sufficient full-time job opportunities, with a recent report revealing that 16.2 per cent of Pakistan’s bachelor’s degree holders are currently unemployed. It is, therefore, essential that we focus our efforts on providing full-time employment opportunities for our citizens. It is also important, however, to take steps to assist the large number of the country’s freelancers, many of whom earn a good living working in a convenient, self-paced environment and also contribute substantially to the country’s economy. The federal Ministry of Information Technology’s Digital Skills (DigiSkills) Training Programme, which aims to teach one million people specialised skills, is a positive step for freelancers.
In addition, considering gig workers do not have access to benefits provided to companies’ permanent employees, the government must enact legislation to provide long-term freelancers rights to a minimum wage and benefits. Furthermore, the government must consider a public-private partnership arrangement to boost employment prospects for freelancers. A major hurdle gig workers currently face is finding suitable employers. The IT Ministry, therefore, must play its role in locating and helping match employers with freelancers for maximum productivity.
February 18, 2020
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