LOCKDOWN- MAKING FOOD AVAILABLE FOR ALL
The COVID-19 compounds problems of marginalized, vulnerable segments of society
By Hafiz Abdul Majid
Corona pandemic has tremendously affected our lives; once abuzz markets and shopping malls are now silent. Traffic on highways is thin and far between. The wedding halls are closed, and the offices are giving a deserted look. With every passing day, the number of positive cases of Covid-19 is increasing. Experts are predicting an exponential increase in the cases in the coming days. Prime Minister, Imran Khan had also warned of increasing cases and burdon on hospitals by the end of this month during his visit to Quetta recently.
The pandemic has posed a multifaceted problem to the provincial governments. While they are short of human resources and expertise to conduct tests of suspects, at the same time they are finding it ever hard to provide necessary health care to the confirmed patients. Lack of testing kits in the laboratories and ventilators in the ICUs is unnerving both the governments and the relatives of the patients.
In the given circumstances, it is pretty much possible that the provinces might go for a complete lockdown. Two provinces -Punjab and Balochistan – have already requisitioned armed forces for assistance to control the unnecessary movement of the people and contain further spread of the virus. In such a scenario, it is important to ensure the availability of necessary food items to the masses.
What challenges might arise regarding food supply, in case of a complete lockdown and how the provincial governments should cope with these challenges, in this regard some suggestions are submitted here:
- To ensure the availability of food to the people; it is necessary that retailer stores, wholesalers, grocery shops, meat shops, bakeries, and milk shops remain open as usual.
- Due to a ban on interprovincial and inter-district public transport, transporters might face unnecessary delays at checkpoints. It is important that the law enforcement agencies are directed to make the clearance of such vehicles quick and hassle-free. This is very important for uninterrupted and smooth maintenance of the food supply line.
- A dedicated control room may be established at provincial headquarters to coordinate with other provinces to sort out any problems arising at provincial borders with regard to transport of food items.
- If need be, the provincial government may requisition the cold storage facilities of the private sector and store the perishable food items there.
- The eateries should remain open to the extent of serving take-away only.
- At least one month’s food supply should be available with the provinces in reserve to shore up the local market supplies in case of any interruption of inter-provincial supply chains. The reserves should include essential non-perishable food items such as – wheat, rice, sugar, tea, cooking oil, salt and pulses.
- In extreme cases, the provinces should also make their contingency plants for introduction of rationing of food to ensure supply of food to all.
- There is a strong possibility that profiteers might take advantage of the situation, and hoard food items to create a false shortage in the market. The provincial governments should remain highly vigilant and keep a close eye on such elements.
These are testing times for us as a nation. Nothing can give us more strength in our fight against Corona virus than our unity as a nation and resolve to defeat this pandemic. We can learn from the best practices of the nations that have successfully fought off this menace. China, Taiwan and Singapore stand out among the comity of nations who have successfully warded off the Corona virus – at least for now. We should study and adopt their strategies in our battle against the virus.
The author has served as secretary health government of Balochistan and currently performing his duties as secretary commerce and industries… The author can be contacted @MajidBuhair on Twitter