National calamity demands unity

PESHAWAR: The floods that hit the country necessitate the need for national unity and moving from traditional concept of ‘democratically-elected government’ to ‘democratically-governed country’, meaning a people-centric governance where people decide at local level their needs for relief, rehabilitation and development.

The damage done by these floods is much beyond the capacity of systems we have in place for disaster management.

We need to assert national will in a very strong, coordinated and well-directed way to respond to this challenge.

It will take a very long time to recover from even a fraction of loss caused by this calamity. Bringing together political parties, civilian government departments, philanthropists, charities, voluntary organisations, youth, NGOs, media, academia, army and development assistance agencies, can forge national unity.

Main barrier in the way of this unity is high level of mistrust between key players. All these players have genuine concerns, suspicions and grievances against other partners.

We need to look very dispassionately at these concerns to find a way to bring together all partners.

First and foremost, we need to agree that common perceptions held about various players are important trust diminishing factors.

Engaging in public argument and bitter exchange of accusations cannot change these perceptions. Reasons for prevalence of these perceptions need to be understood.

Well-tested methods for changing these perceptions need to be identified and employed to build national unity. Let us state and analyse these perceptions one by one to find a way out of current chaos.

First there is a perception that political leaders are corrupt. Among politicians each party accuses the others of being callous and corrupt, and claims themselves to be kosher.

Public image of government departments is that they are incompetent and invisible. Politicians accuse that the media is biased, irresponsible and working on predetermined agendas.

There is an image in the outside world that the money sent to Pakistan may end up in the hands of ‘Jihadi’ organisations or be diverted for military buildup.

Politicians and government officials crib that NGOs are encroaching on their space and weakening the democratic disposition.

One thing needs to be made clear in the outset. Flood relief and recovery is a public activity. If financial management, service delivery and outreach are not carried out in an open and transparent way, it causes suspicion.

Even people who collect extremely modest amount of money for laying a sewerage line in a lane, purchase and use materials without public knowledge are accused of massive corruption.

This situation arises when transactions made in public space are recorded, kept and made accessible in a ‘private’ space.

That is the root cause of mistrust, abuse of authority and marginalisation of people. Democracy is about expanding the public space and letting people make intelligent judgment based on free flow of information.

It is not about coming to power by vote. It is about staying in power by vote on major political decisions. Demand for transparency should not be taken as encroachment in the space of political leaders.

It is re-appropriation of space by the people. It helps everybody. It builds trust and helps the flood victim.

Next comes the visibility and effectiveness of government departments. Government officials need to understand the value of people’s participation in planning and executing relief efforts.

People are intelligent, rational, fair and resourceful. If government officials were in the field to help people according to their capacity they would not be judged negatively. It is their absence, ‘confidential’ way of working which makes the punch bag.

Similarly, we need to clearly understand the role of the media. We cannot dispute or object to what comes on the screen through the eyes of camera.

It expands people’s knowledge, choices and freedom. People are wise enough to make intelligent judgment.

Opinions expressed by the media personalities can and should be challenged. That is what pluralism is all about. People in power need to do better homework instead of wishing away the role of the media.

Transparency and freedom of the media will also alleviate the concerns of outside world that relief money may end up in the hands of militants.

Lastly, let the powers that be rest assured that the scale of tragedy is so big that NGOs will only cover a tiny fraction of the landmass under the floodwater. NGOs will not take over their constituencies.

There is room for everyone. Our political leadership will have to swallow the bitter pill of moving from ‘democratically-elected government’ to ‘democratically-governed country’. There is no going back. – INFN

PRCS report 15,000 severe diarrhoea cases

Statesman Report

PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) medical teams has so far treated 60,000 flood affectees some 15,000 of them severe diarrhoea cases and providing free medicines and ambulance service to the patients of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases besides water purification tablets.

31 health teams in collaboration with International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies and International Committee of Red Cross are working round-the-clock in different worst-affected areas of Southern Punjab, Sindh and KP.

This was stated by PRCS Chairperson Senator Neelofar Bakhtiar while talking to journalists in a statement on Sunday.

Neelofar said that the PRCS are stepping up efforts to provide drinking water and sanitation facilities to tens of thousands of flood-displaced people camped out by the side of the roads and in improvised settlements around the worst affected parts of the country.

She said specialist PRCS “Watsan” (water and sanitation) teams are reactivating equipment from former Spanish Red Cross Watsan Emergency Response Units, first shipped to Pakistan as part of the international response to the 2007 floods, and more has been flown in from Spain.

“There’s no relief effort more vital after a flood than safe water and this is the most immediate necessity after a flood and we will be establishing at least four more units with a capacity of 2,00,000 litres per day with Spanish-made purification equipment over the next few days.”

The PRCS chairperson said that another PRCS team supported by delegates from the Austrian and Swedish Red Cross will be providing clean water for up to 40,000 affectees.

She said that PRCS was providing relief and medical cover to over 2.1 million people all over the country out of which 90,000 families (6,30,000 individuals) each in Punjab, Sindh and KP.

She further said that to expedite the relief work, the PRCS has set up zonal offices in the affected areas and teams of staff and volunteers including foreigners are trying their best to reach out to the affectees in the most hit areas.

To another question, she said that the disaster is of such a big magnitude, that no one alone can cope with this and all organisations are trying their best but lack of resources and inaccessible areas are hindering the relief efforts.

She said that we have asked the International Committee of Red Cross for helicopters to airlift the relief items where there is no access.

CJAF distributes food items, cash among artistes, singers

Statesman Report

PESHAWAR: Cultural Journalists and Artistes Forum (CJAF) distributed food items and cash among flood affected artistes and singers here on Sunday at the press club.

Addressing the gathering CJAF president Ihtisham Turo said that artistes are our precious asset and ambassadors of our cultural identity adding that efforts were underway to rehabilitate them on permanent basis so that could contribute to a peaceful society.

He said in a short span of one month the CJAF was able to collect food items and some cash for the flood affected artistes and literati from various sources and aid agencies and distributed among.

Ihtisham said that CJAF was in close contact with the government departments and other relief, aid agencies and some affluent people are ready to extend their help and assistance to the affected artistes and singers mostly in Charsadda and Nowshera.

He said that the forum first priority was to rehabilitate the affected artistes and literati of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that were worst hit earlier by militancy and now by recent devastating flash floods maintaining that strong voice would be raised at every platform for their  rights.

Senior TV artiste Naeem Jan while speaking on the occasion said that different so called cultural organisations both official and private promised to extend financial support to the poor and needy artistes and writers but all in vain.

He said they were kept waiting for hours but goods were delivered to the people known to aid agencies while the deserving affected individuals were left unattended which was a great injustice.

Naeem said they are considered as peace ambassadors but unfortunately, in the present circumstances they had turned beggars due to sheer negligence of the government and apathy of general public towards them.

“There is no one to ask about our miserable condition, for the last few years I have been ailing crying for medicines and some financial help but the cultural department has turned deaf ears to listen to us, now natural calamity has befallen us, it’s the sole responsibility of the government to come to the rescue of the artistes and literati,” Naeem Jan added.

UNICEF chief to pay visit to Charsadda to see destruction

PESHAWAR: UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, arrives in the country today to tour flood-hit areas and see UNICEF operations to assist the millions of flood-affected people, especially the most vulnerable, the children and women.

Lake will travel to Charsadda district, one of the worst affected districts in the province.

He will visit schools being used as shelters by thousands of families where UNICEF is providing safe drinking water, family health and hygiene kits and repairing sanitation systems.

The agency is currently reaching some two million people with clean water everyday.

Through medical supplies and assistance in hygiene and sanitation, UNICEF is working to prevent outbreaks of water-borne diseases.

It is also providing nutritious food for thousands of children suffering from malnutrition.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.

It works with the government, NGOs and other partners to support child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.

It has provided vital relief and reconstruction support to help individuals rebuild their lives after emergencies, such as the October 2005 earthquake.

UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. – PPI

Tackling cancer among poor doesn’t have to cost dear

PESHAWAR: The growing burden of cancer in developing countries could be reduced without expensive drugs and equipment, scientists said on Sunday, but it requires a global effort similar to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

In a study in the Lancet, scientists from the United States, who have formed a Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries (GTF.CCC), said cancer is now a leading cause of death in poor nations but is often neglected in health authorities’ prevention and treatment plans.

While only about five per cent of global resources for cancer are spent in developing countries, the burden of the disease is far greater there than in rich nations, with up to 80 per cent of cancer deaths each year occurring in poorer nations.

“Cancer is no longer primarily the burden of high-income countries,” the scientists, led by Felicia Knaul of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative, wrote in the study.

“The time has come to challenge and disprove the widespread assumption that cancer will remain untreated in poor countries.”

They said many cancers that make up the greatest burden in low- and middle-income countries, such as breast cancer, could be treated with drugs that are off-patent and can be manufactured generically at affordable prices.

They cited the breast cancer drug tamoxifen as one example and said that in Malawi, Cameroon and Ghana the total cost of generic chemotherapy drugs with a 50 per cent cure rate for a type of cancer called Burkitt’s lymphoma could be as low as $50 per patient.

“These drugs should be a focus of cancer treatment programmes, rather than expensive on-patent drugs,” they wrote.

According to GTF.CCC, rates of cancer in low- and middle-income countries have increased dramatically from 1970, when they accounted for 15 per cent of newly reported cancers, to 2008 when that figure rose to 56 per cent. The proportion is expected to rise to 70 per cent in 2030.

More efforts against smoking, a major risk factor for many cancers which threatens to cause a surge in cancer deaths in Africa in the next decade, would be one relatively cheap way of making an impact, they said, as would increasing awareness about the importance of early cancer detection and screening.

Another intervention with huge potential, they said, would be vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV), to help prevent cervical cancer, and against hepatitis B virus (HBV), to help prevent liver cancer.

GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co make vaccines against HPV and many drug-makers have HBV vaccines but these are often too expensive to be included in the health programmes of low- and middle-income countries, the scientists said.

The group criticised what it described as “the public health community’s assumption” that cancer could not be treated in poor countries and compared it to “similarly unfounded arguments from more than a decade ago” about treatment for HIV and AIDS. – Reuters