*** Sorry for the long post, just really passionate about and interested in this issue ***
People lined up to receive water relief aids in Pakistan.
When Kai touched on the time people in Vancouver were urged to boil water today, I immediately thought of Pakistan - my parent’s home country. As a child and now, whenever my family would meet someone who had just returned from visiting Pakistan, the topic of boiling water was always brought up. But why and how do the people of Pakistan boil water?
A close relative of mine lives in Tennessee, but has property in Pakistan. I remember her mentioning once that when she visits Pakistan she would have her house staff (the norm in Pakistan) take enormous pots, fill them with water, boil the water and then transfer it into jugs and individual bottles that are stored in the fridge for daily use. I always wondered why people in Pakistan would put themselves in such trouble just for water (I was a child and did not know about the sanitation problems back then).
Well it all boils down to poor water sanitation. Poor water sanitation exists all over Pakistan. You would think that perhaps it’s just a problem faced by rural communities, but it’s widespread. Water in Pakistan is filled with pollutants including fecal matter, microbes, toxins, harmful drugs and factorial and household waste (a lot of factory waste!!). There are several reasons for this water crisis, with the most predominant being changes in yearly rainfall due to climate change, poor development of water structures and political structures. According to an article written in 2020, almost three million people suffer from water-borne diseases in Pakistan with the most predominant being Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Cholera. This same article also states that nearly 250,000 children in Pakistan die of waterborne illnesses
Personally, based on discussions I’ve had with family and friends living in Pakistan, I believe that the biggest initiator of the water crisis is the Pakistani government. I’m resisting the urge to go into detail about the corrupt government and prime minister of Pakistan! Essentially, the Pakistani’s government’s vision does not at all consider the most vulnerable members of the population - families living in poverty, specifically mothers and children living in poverty. The healthcare system in Pakistan is mostly private and public health resources are scarce. For instance, if a mother is trying to seek care for her sick child, hospitals and clinics will not start a file or even admit the child until a large sum of money is paid. Let’s say a child is admitted and the doctors diagnose the child with cancer and recommend chemotherapy. Even if the child is in a severe state, they will not start the chemotherapy until they receive a large, sometimes unjust amount of money. To me, that’s just inhumane!
Regardless of the intensity of the crisis, I still envision a Pakistan where there is equality and inclusion in the healthcare system. In this context, it means that when a poverty-stricken family visits a clinic, they are given the same care and respect as someone who belongs to a higher social class. I also envision a Pakistan where not only the residents, but the government take action on climate change and address the water crisis. For this to happen, the health and well-being of Pakistani people needs to be prioritized and put first above all other matters.
A possible intervention for Pakistan and any other country that is in a similar position would be to make structural changes in the federal government. Under the current Prime Minister (Shehbaz Sharif), there are 43 Ministers with only 10 belonging to the social-democratic and center-left party. With reform, Pakistan can form a diverse government that illustrates the inclusion of ethnic minorities and individuals that come from various backgrounds. This way we could perhaps have someone who grew up in poverty represent important values in public policy development and work towards action.