The quote “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions a statistic” is usually and wrongly attributed to Josef Stalin (1879-1953), the Russian dictator who did indeed oversee the death of millions. Whilst the scale of the disaster that has unfolded in Karachi and Sindh in the current heatwave in no way equates with the cynicism of Stalin’s supposed quote, the analogy is still apt — though probably lost on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who made a visit to Karachi on July 1. There are now over 1,200 deaths linked to the heatwave and there is to be an inquiry to determine who was responsible for allowing the situation to develop into the catastrophe that it quickly became.
The prime minister came to shed what many would term crocodile tears at the “grief and sorrow” over the loss of lives and said that the “whole country sympathised with the affected families in their hour of grief”. The rest of the country counts itself as lucky not to be living in Karachi and quickly moves on to the business of the day. There is not a lot of indication that the federal government cares much about what happens there.
No matter, there is politics to be done in the finest tradition of looking busy whilst doing nothing, and an inquiry is the stock response to everything from a surfeit of lampreys to a shortage of morgues. Fingers are being pointed at the Meteorological Department for failing to predict the conditions that led to the heatwave, and the power company K-electric that fell down on the job of supplying power. The only entity to come out with any sort of credit is the military, which moved with reasonable speed to set up relief centres — that the population quickly assumed to be basic health units and went to them to have their babies delivered and wounds dressed. There is no expectation that anything of substance will come from the promised committee of inquiry, with interagency coordination unlikely to improve. We are sadly moved to predict a shortage of bodybags by the time the next disaster befalls the City of Blights.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2015.
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