THE heatwave that struck Karachi in June 2015 took a devastating toll on the city as around 1,300 lives were lost due to the extreme weather event.
As temperatures hovered in the mid-40s, victims succumbed to the effects of scorching heat and electricity breakdowns across the city’s vast sprawl.
Health facilities were overwhelmed and morgues began to overflow. Last year, the administration seemed to be caught unawares.
Yet, as summer starts to kick in, there are signs that this time around, the state may be preparing itself to deal with a similar emergency situation. Some experts have forecast another hot summer for the country.
On Thursday, the Pakistan Meteorological Department warned of a heatwave that would affect Karachi at least till Sunday, with the mercury hitting 40ºC. Indeed, in recent days, some parts of Sindh have seen even higher temperatures; for example, Dadu recorded 46ºC last week.
While such high temperatures do occur during the summer months in Pakistan, last year’s heatwave was particularly deadly for Karachi, as the highest number of fatalities occurred in the metropolis.
The city administration claims it is prepared for the heatwave, having set up numerous first response centres and other relief facilities. Indeed, having learnt from last year’s tragedy, the administration should not take any chances and ensure that functioning facilities are available in all major city neighbourhoods where heatwave victims can be taken for immediate help.
Moreover, a public information campaign should be launched to advise citizens on what to do in case of heatstroke, where to call for help and how to locate the nearest response centre.
Beyond Karachi, such centres should also be set up in towns across the province. If the state had been better prepared to deal with the event, many lives could have been saved during last year’s heatwave.
Controlling extreme weather events is beyond man’s ability, but mitigating the effects is certainly possible. Let us hope this time the government is better prepared.
THE asset declarations submitted by our political leadership can only be described as a joke. Consider the example of Nawaz Sharif. In the half decade between 2010 and 2015, his declared assets went from Rs166m to Rs2bn, representing more than a 10-fold increase.
At the same time, his taxes paid went from Rs2m to Rs2.6m in 2014, an increase of little more than one-third, which on a per-year basis is below inflation for these years.
There are very few countries in the world where an individual’s assets can multiply by a factor of 10 while his or her taxable income increases at a rate that is below inflation; and there are even fewer where this feat can be achieved by a public figure like the prime minister.
At face value, the asset declarations tell a tale of a tax system so riddled with holes that one can become a billionaire without paying any meaningful taxes. And if the figures are not taken at face value, we are left to surmise that the asset declarations reveal only a fraction of what the reality is.
Even the best-case scenario reveals a severely defective system, with the prime minister as the emblem of its dysfunction.
But he is not alone on that perch. Imran Khan’s assets also went from Rs33.3m in tax year 2014 to Rs1.31bn the next year, accounted for largely by a spike in the declared values of his twin residences at Bani Gala and Zaman Park, which he has valued at Rs750m and Rs220m respectively this year.
Meanwhile, his taxes paid went from Rs194,000 in tax year 2013 to Rs218,000 in 2014, revealing the absence of any clearly known sources of income. Yet Mr Khan can still enjoy the assets and lifestyle of a billionaire. The fact that this is even theoretically possible while staying within the law is a big problem.
And an even bigger problem is when you consider the incomes and assets that have not been revealed in such declarations, since the lifestyles of those on the list point to far larger sources of income, suggesting far bigger assets beneath the surface.
The list is a long one, and one is left wondering why we even bother going through this exercise year after year if both the tax authorities and the Election Commission are powerless to take any action.
IT had all the potential of a public relations coup. A day after army chief Gen Raheel Sharif waded into the anti-corruption debate by calling for across-the-board accountability, he provided a compelling example of his commitment to the cause when it emerged that he had unprecedentedly dismissed from military service a three-star and a two-star general, three brigadiers and a colonel.
News of the dismissals was sure to dominate the political discourse — and it did. But there appeared to be a breakdown, perhaps deliberately so, when it came to the communications of the otherwise superbly well-oiled ISPR machine.
Rather than official comment, the media was given inaccurate early information by a clutch of unnamed military officials.
Even after clarification was offered about the number of officers acted against — earlier reports had suggested a larger number of officers had been found guilty of corruption — there were no details shared regarding the charges that the officers faced or the findings of the court.
Nevertheless, it is a beginning — the guilty being found guilty by their own institution suggests a new willingness to focus on professionalism and probity.
Consider that the officers involved were serving in a province where the military has insisted that a range of unprecedented threats — state and non-state, internal and external — are undermining the security and stability of the country itself.
With the vast security responsibilities that the military has arrogated to itself in Balochistan and the life-and-death policy and operational decisions that senior officers routinely make, the quality of officers serving in the province ought to be second to none and their reputations impeccable.
Perhaps GHQ ought to conduct a more wide-ranging probe about the various streams of corruption, both along the border and when dealing with local populations, that are widely rumoured in the province.
To fight external enemies and win over disaffected local populations, surely the military’s reputation must be above reproach in every respect.
Inevitably, however, there are lessons here for the political leadership of the country. The military dominates the civil-military relationship for many reasons, historical and institutional.
But perhaps one of the greatest assets of the military is its understanding of the public mood — and willingness to align with it and exploit it. For weeks now, the fallout of the Panama Papers has dominated the political discourse in the country — and yet absolutely nothing whatsoever has been done to prove that the civilians are serious about combating corruption.
Meanwhile, an internal military investigation that appears to stretch back at least a year has suddenly been unveiled and offered as the centrepiece of the military’s own efforts to cleanse itself.
The political class needs to understand that legitimacy does not just flow from elections — it also flows from the quality of democracy and governance that the politicians deliver.
Sadly, it is the military that time and again has demonstrated a more sophisticated understanding of politics than the politicians themselves.