M Omar Iftikhar
CRISIS can strike at any instant. Planning for the worse, therefore, saves lives. Karachi has seen many occurrences where crisis took precious lives and damaged millions of Rupees of property because of the concerned authorities not managing the situation properly. Two recent back-to-back incidents in Karachi and Islamabad should be an eye opener for the government. It is observed repeatedly that people along with families visit Karachi’s seaside, especially Hawkesbay. Normally a weekend or a Sunday is preferred to plan such outings. However, much planning is not seen by lifeguards present at these sites.
After the police officers strictly asked everyone present at Hawkesbay not to walk into deep waters, the picnickers after noticing the patrolling units have left decided to take a dip in the sea. According to initial reports, a whirlpool caught a child. When others acted to save the child, they too could not fight with the current of water and were swept away. Despite a ban on swimming by the Home Department of the provincial government, picnickers ignored all calls for such prohibitions and persisted on swimming. Following the incident, the police officer stationed at the beach was suspended for his negligence. The authority body under which the lifeguards fall into, must prepare a plan of action must to be implemented with immediate effect.
They must train physically robust lifeguards in handling all worse case scenarios picnickers face while enjoying at the beach. However, training will not create a safe environment across and around the beaches of Karachi. The government must ensure that all lifeguards have the proper equipment in perfect shape, ready to be used at any moment. What is observed is that lifeguards are present at the beaches; however, they too are unaware of how to react if a calamity falls. The lifeguards should have with them at all times first aid kits, resuscitators, defibrillators, spinal immobilization boards, whistles, two-way radios, megaphones, signal flares, lifebuoys, rescue boats and ambulances.
These equipment and vehicles, however, must be present at the emergency response units that must be established at all picnic points at the seaside. However, despite a ban on swimming because of monsoon tides hitting Karachi’s beach, lack of awareness by the people have, in the past as well as now, resulted in loss of lives. Even for Karachiites, visiting the sea seems to be an action carved out of an obsession rather than a leisurely activity. Sitting at the beach and enjoying the waves, wind, and nature while keeping oneself safe is a rather decent and an appropriate decision rather than putting lives at risk by swimming. Where education not only means having a degree, it also refers to knowing your surroundings and taking correct decisions at the right time. It is this lack of awareness and taking senseless decisions that puts life in jeopardy.
While people do lose their lives at the sea, their lives are also at stake on dry ground in the metropolis. The fire that broke out on Sunday, September 10, 2017, in a building in Islamabad, presents a grave picture of our ignorance towards crisis management. Despite being the capital, and the building situated in Red Zone, the same locality which houses the buildings of Pakistan’s Parliament, Supreme Court, Diplomatic Enclave, Embassies, the Aiwan-e-Sadr and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, did not have proper equipment that could come in handy during such a crisis. An amateur video shows a man jumping off the building to save his life when he saw two security guards on the ground holding a piece of cloth. However, the fall was enough to take his life, as the makeshift safety net did not have the same strength akin to its original design. However, what else could one do when resources are meager and stakes are high?
Every residential and office building in Pakistan, therefore, must have a functional fire safety mechanism. The security guards and residents of the building must be given training on how to use such equipment including fire extinguishers, oxygen masks, and first aid kits. Mock training drills must be conducted. Moreover, handheld equipment used by the fire brigade must be placed in the building. The provincial and the federal governments must work together to carve out a viable strategy for crisis management while recruiting and training personnel in its crisis management department to face all such challenges.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Karachi.
M Omar Iftikhar