The dirty rich capitalism has failed to provide health security to its citizens. The senior citizens, once heroes of the great depression and World War II have been abandoned to the fury of the virus and fate. Despite a technological edge and an unchallenged superiority in chemical and biological warfare, these countries have so far failed to respond to the needs of the people. Despite all the media hype, CDC and NHS remained undecided till the fury took over and left question marks over management.
Medical staff working in hospitals is not being tested. Considering that multiple strains exist, affecting victims with insignificant to deadly symptoms, it is nigh possible that hospitals have become a source of infections. The anti-bodies tests are limited and no one knows how passive carriers spread it to others. Immunity is unresolved as the virus has already infected previously recovered patients in South Korea.
In countries where the ethical burden of conscience was stronger than individualism and capitalism, the situation is less bad. Given that families are larger, populations concentrated in shanty housing, high levels of poverty and difficulties in food logistics, the outbreak is controlled in limited hotspots. Countries like India and Pakistan; despite inferior medical infrastructures have so far been able to forestall a mass outbreak.
Due to unknown reasons, these countries could be lucky. But surely, in this part of the world, enforcement is satisfactory and the Samaritan purses are opening. Helping hands far outweigh the hands that pray or get lost in research papers.
Philanthropy is a strong element in South Asia and it is showing. In Pakistan, big businessmen and super rich are still stuttering, but the bulk of the middle and rich classes are already responsive. Charities are opening and communities are setting up their own relief systems to deliver rations, opening public kitchens, and distributing sanitation items. In South Asia, civil society knows how to fend for itself.
By early April, people had donated more than 3 billion in the Sindh Relief Fund. The donations during broadcast telethons on televised media have been positive. Though the exact amount is not known, donations to Prime Ministers Relief Fund will be far higher. According to BBC, “Pakistanis are bonding together to assist the less fortunate in a unique and inspiring way. Specifically, many are offering zakat, the traditional Muslim charity tax, for daily wage earners who have no paid leave, health insurance or financial safety net”. Beyond Zakat, people are sharing whatever they have. In Ramzan, communal sharing will reach its peak and naturally establish a supply chain mechanism easing pressures on government.
Pakistanis are known to contribute far more in Zakat through the banks and civil society. Officially, in normal times they contribute more than 1% of GDP. Zakat and charity through non-banking channels is much higher and plays a significant role in alleviating poverty. As the pandemic drags on, this figure is likely to rise exponentially in cash, kind and services.
Due to the inherent strength of Pakistani society, starvation is not likely to hit populations living in settled urban areas where communities will reach out to each other. Daily wagers are hit hard because there is no work. Some of these have already retreated to their villages where government intervention is traditionally limited. Labourers living in shanty housing with no civic facilities are the hardest hit. They and their dependents comprise more than 30 percent of the population. This is the area the governments need to concertedly target. The citizens will not be far behind.
The government of Pakistan has taken a calculated risk with lockdowns, essential services and industries. With little known about the behaviour of this virus, cost-benefit analysis could well be in our favour. If we assume the first case to be around February 20 and assume the time of European peaks of 60-70 days plus the presence of virus in Dutch sewage weeks before the first case, the pandemic could be peaking right now and continue into the first week of May. How it behaves has a lot to do with its characteristics and also the government policy of limited lockdowns, quarantining select areas and other ingenious control measures that could deliver. So far, these measures have kept the virus limited and could do in the next twenty days. All we can do is pray.
It seems that very soon the government will have to face twin challenges. First, treat patients in an overloaded health system and secondly, providing free food to over 30 million populations. As for treatment, even the most advanced and rich countries are failing to surmount challenges. Pakistan has so far done well in its containment and limitation policy. This could be the only hope for our limited health system. As for feeding the poor and unemployment, Pakistan is blessed with ingenious ways to handle the situation effectively.
The State has multiple prongs imbedded down to grassroots in all corners of the country.
The police and levies constitute a basic unit of a police station called Thana headed by an SHO. Each Thana has 4-5 police posts and patrols allocated to every locality. The Thana is also connected to the local Section 30 Magistrate and Tehsildar who works under the Deputy Commissioner. The DC has over 20 committees under his charge that can be increased. This forms one tier penetrating down to household. The Intelligence Bureau strengthens this system.
Every district also has a land revenue officer with Tehsildars and Gardawars under his command. This department has the record of every piece of land in jurisdiction and is connected right down to every village and slum. In rural areas, there is an irrigation revenue system right down to village level with irrigation and agriculture patwaris. The postal service, with the postman, knows every household by name. The old Telephone and Telegraph (now PTCL) has penetration in every village. There are also the courier companies and microfinance banks like Easypaisa, located all over Pakistan. They should also be co-opted into the system for disbursement and data collection. The Corona Relief Tigers are already taking shape. They have to be coo-opted into the system according to a well formulated plan and systems approach.
The Armed Forces and Civil Armed Forces have contingency planning for any type of foreseeable task directly synchronised with the deputy commissioner in every district of Pakistan. These plans are “In Aid to Civil Power”. They have an integral supply chain mechanism designed to operate all over Pakistan. This system strengthened with civil transport and labour can reach every corner of Pakistan.
Lump all of these under each Deputy Commissioner to enable a fail-safe mechanism for supply of foods, evacuation of casualties and ensuring welfare of people in each district.
Pakistan has an opportunity with over Rs500 billion in savings coming from the cut in interest rates. IMF has also advanced a rapid financing of $1.4 billion. Add the allocations already made by governments, donations from the Corona Fund and the philanthropic spirit of Pakistanis to forge a win-win situation; it is enough to ensure all Pakistanis are fed till the pandemic is controlled. The silver lining is that Pakistan is already blessed with a good harvest.
Synergy is the force multiplier governments need to provide at all levels. The finesse is not in having the right tools, but in being imaginative in using the best tools at disposal. This is what advancing the clock means; synergy.