THE general haplessness of the citizenry is often reflected in the tragedies that continue to occur every year as a result of climatic events. Currently, with the country in the grip of a severe cold wave, the weekend saw the deaths of over a dozen people, many injuries, and other crises emanating from record levels of snowfall, and heavy rain. The mountain region of Chitral found itself in the eye of the storm: incessant snowing — key roads are under four to five feet of snow — in recent days caused avalanches that swallowed up an entire village, Shershall, and a security check-post near Arandu. Meanwhile, at various locations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, there were a number of rain-related deaths, largely as a result of the collapse of dwellings. The response of the state has been patchy. Power remains suspended in many areas and the nazim of the Breshgram village in Chitral told the media that no government official had shown up. But on Sunday, 108 people in Balochistan were rescued (with the reported death of a child) from a remote area after a 17-hour operation; their convoy had lost its way in the extreme weather conditions and ended up stranded in marshland.
It is, of course, the state that must bear a large part of the responsibility; it has been very slow in its response, despite the existence of disaster management authorities. However, the knottiness of the issue is illustrated by the tragedy that befell Shershall village. It was home to 42 households, but the majority of the residents evacuated on Saturday when a local NGO working on natural disaster warned of an impending avalanche. Why some stayed behind is easily understood: who guards homes and belongings in a country where the trust deficit between the people and the state is so cavernous? This pattern is repeated over and over again, whether the looming disaster is a flood, a river breach, an earthquake, or something else. Some solution, perhaps a procedure, needs to be devised. Lives must not be lost so senselessly. Should people be forced to evacuate under such circumstances? It is possible to argue this when lives are at stake. But the state too must be immediately responsive in terms of providing transport, alternative housing, and imparting a sense of security to assuage the worries of those leaving home and hearth behind. As always, it is the trust deficit that needs to be addressed.