People of Balochistan depend on two sources for their survival: the God and the Government. There are no social, industrial or corporate sector in the province. The economic activities are not indigenous, though the province outmatches any other federating unit in terms of economic potential. Life is wholly rural except in Quetta, due to long droughts, volatile law and order situation and huge internal migration and settlement of people from different parts of the province.
When such people are hit by COVID-19, the outcomes will certainly be disastrous. The Provincial Government on its own will never be able to manage the crisis, if timely and immediate Federal influx of assistance is not provided.
Balochistan: Health crisis in the making
The corona trajectory is the trickiest thing besides its epidemiological complexity. Having a low number of confirmed cases does never mean one is safe. It rather signals more towards being unsafe. You could only know how many people are affected by the virus until you test. This means the lesser you test, the fewer are the patient counts, which increases the doubt zone of what is the total number of patients.
The total number of tests so far conducted in Balochistan is just 2800 of which a staggering 220 are confirmed cases, setting a COVID-19 positivity rate at 7.29%. This means we are looking at 87000 confirmed corona cases inside Balochistan in the near future. This demands contingency plans for nearly one lac. infected people.
The testing frequency is very low in Balochistan, which needs to be swiftly increased. This will require more testing kits which are not available at the moment. Not a single population settlement could be left untested, however challenging the natural or logistic environment be. Reportedly there are 26000 settlements in the province with only 600 having health facilities.
The Balochistan government on Sunday decided to provide roti to daily wage earners and deserving families in the provincial capital from Tuesday with the help of a non-governmental organisation, Baitul Islam.https://t.co/LZ3mOcDfNz#coronavirus pic.twitter.com/q6hA4H3Mq7— Dawn.com (@dawn_com) April 13, 2020
The Quarantine facilities so far established will cater to only 14000 people. Where these facilities will be located, is a tough one for the government to decide. The dire need for establishing more quarantine centers could only be fulfilled, if the Federal Govt provides support and assistance on a war footing basis. The medical supplies necessary to fight the pandemic such as safety gadgets for medical practitioners, testing kits, and equipment such as ventilators should be provided. We must arm our front light warriors: Doctors, who are risking their lives, fighting the pandemic.
Holding bold expectations from the healthcare system of Balochistan, will be a fatal mistake. The scarcity of resources never allowed for enhanced investment in this sector. The prime issue has always been connectivity, due to which major portion of provincial development funds was spent on building roads. The health infrastructure in Quetta- the most developed city of the province, is only capable of conducting general OPD assignments. And tackling COVID-19 is out of question.
Way forward for Balochistan
The only way to prevent COVID-19 is through isolation, social distancing and lockdown. They have similar adverse socio-economic effects. Simultaneously, the Provincial Government has to ensure the measures of social distancing and lockdown are taken up seriously and people adhere to them. Amid lockdown, the government should ensure that food supply chains do not get affected. In the case of Balochistan, lockdown would be effective if enforced in April and May. This won’t invite huge socio-economic problems.
At this stage, selection between people and economy has to be made. The government has to provide economic support for small businesses and the labourers. This should be done to prevent them from committing suicides or taking law in their hands. Social distress accompanying lockdown could be overcome through generous government support in terms of monthly subsistence allowances, and provision of helping hand to the small scale businesses.
The food stockpiling of wheat, flour, rice, edible oil, and pulses for at least 6 months, has to be done on a war footing basis by the government. The total number of families in Balochistan is 0.6 million. The average family consumption per month needs to be worked out carefully and then such stockpiling should be done by the District Administration. They should ensure that the stockpiles are duly managed and taken care of, and when required could be transparently distributed. Towards this cause, special assistance from the Federal Government will ensure more success.
Balochistan is a province of huge Chinese interests. Hence, exclusive Chinese assistance to Balochistan in the aforementioned sectors would be of phenomenal value. Balochistan could be the worst-hit province by the COVID-19, if timely and generous Federal Government support does not pour in. For Balochistan it is either now, or never.
Muhammad Jahangir Kakar is a civil servant and socio-political analyst based in Quetta works for the government of Baluchistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.