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EDITORIAL: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is right in warning that the situation in flood-hit areas is going to get worse. Even as big parts of the country still “look like a sea”, in the prime minister’s words, the second-round effect in the form of waterborne diseases is already threatening to snowball. To its credit, the WHO has set up 4,500 medical camps with help from its partners and distributed more than 230,000 rapid test kits for acute watery diarrhoea, malaria, dengue fever, hepatitis and chikungunya virus.

That this is happening while the government is still struggling to relocate hundreds of thousands of people makes the overall situation much worse. There have already been horrifying instances of pregnant women and malnourished children suffering to no end because of lack of necessary relief goods in the middle of a logistical nightmare.

Sadly, since the government is as fiscally cramped as it’s ever been, the best bet to deal with all the damage is to get as much aid in as little time as possible. A few countries like Japan, Qatar and most of Pakistan’s traditional friends have stepped forward and helped a great deal, but most western countries, especially in mainland Europe, have not nearly done enough. And when you consider that it is because of their carbon emissions that countries like Pakistan are at the forefront of this disaster, a lot more than just funds and rations are expected of them.

Since this disaster is playing out in front of their eyes, and getting worse by the day, they must begin with a purposeful, targeted engagement with such countries. Then they must also help them cope with some of the damage. And for that, they will have to make meaningful contributions, like settling a large part of the bill or, even better, helping them by writing off some of their debt. As things stand, this disaster has hit us at the economy’s most fragile moment to date, so it is sure to lead to a lot more debt. And that, in turn, will only inflate the debt repayment part of the budget; at the cost of the development budget, no doubt. And we’ll keep going round in circles.

Authorities must make sure, as they look around for more help, that medical problems do not spread too far and wide. Right now a lot of displaced people are lucky to have a roof over their heads, and access to hospitals is not easy. Also, as after most such disasters in this country, medicines are already in short supply, which means their prices will also fluctuate to the chagrin of buyers. There’s also a lack of doctors in faraway places, further increasing the risk of diseases spreading at very fast speed. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who was here recently, had taken the stock of situation personally. Hopefully, his good offices will help in taking Pakistan’s message to countries that have the muscle to lend the right kind of help. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto is also due in New York later this month, for the UN General Assembly, and then in Washington for talks with US officials. There’s no doubt he’ll put up a strong case for more engagement and aid.

Right now restoring normalcy is the first priority. But, once things begin to settle down, relevant authorities must also identify areas where we do not need any aid or funds to make things better; like illegal construction on river banks and in some cases even on river beds that caused so many needless deaths. All this effort will be for nothing if we are unable to correct our own bad habits and punish those responsible for the corruption that contributed in no small part to this monumental tragedy. Either way, the situation will get much worse before it gets any better.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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