On a minuscule scale though, Prime Minister Imran Khan has made good on his promise of ‘turning Pakistan into a welfare state’ by laying the foundation stone of the first shelter home in Lahore on November 10. But as the brick and mortar structure takes time to complete, instructions were issued for arranging makeshift shelters for the homeless. The Punjab government was quick in heeding the premier’s call, as it set up tents at three different locations in the capital city to accommodate travellers and people with no roofs over their heads.
As winter is upon us, the measure was taken at an opportune time. Poor people with little means to protect themselves against the elements are particularly vulnerable to unforgiving chilly weather when biting cold leaves everyone shivering. Even harder is the existence of the skimpily-clad homeless people who often have nowhere but an overhead bridge to sleep under. To come to terms with the situation, the PM tweeted: ‘I have asked CM Punjab to set up tents for people sleeping on footpaths and provide them food until the Panah Gahs (shelters) are built, as the weather is turning increasingly cold’. In rapid response, the CM ordered setting up of makeshift shelters at Data Darbar, Railway Station, Thokar Niaz Beg and Larry Adda and provision of quilts and food to the homeless. The PM was right in observing that those coming to the shelters represented the voiceless ‘who were not even voters’. A spokesperson for the Lahore district administration said passengers coming to the temporary shelters could spend the night and have food.
This measure should earn the government goodwill at a time when it is being subjected to criticism by its detractors over many of its gaffes and missteps. There is no denying the fact that it is the state’s responsibility to provide refuge to the homeless. The task assumes even more urgency given the sheer size of the problem. The PDP Foundation, an NGO, estimates that there are about 20 million homeless people in Pakistan. We must appreciate the government step to grapple with the humanitarian issue.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2018.