AAs the heartbreaking details of the tragedy that struck tourists in the snow-capped mountains of Murree come to light, the nation wonders who was responsible for the disaster. Some of the common themes in the discussion of the causes of the tragedy have been the incompetence of the civil administration, the greed of the “hotel mafia” and the indiscretion of tourists.
The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has in particular drawn public ire for failing to anticipate the fury of the elements. The armed forces have been criticized for failing to act while stationed in the safety of their barracks virtually yards from the scene of the tragedy.
The government has set up a committee to investigate the tragedy. The opposition warned that the committee lacked credibility and that a judicial commission should be set up in its place. Ironically, the leadership of the PTI, which had been vocal in demanding action against the sheriffs following the Model Town tragedy, appears to be dragging its feet on the request for a judicial commission.
Incidentally, the record of the creation of judicial commissions in the wake of national tragedies and major disasters and the extent to which the ends of justice have been served does not inspire confidence.
The Murree tragedy laid bare the wide gulf between the government’s claims to hold all human life sacrosanct and its actions. Our leaders too often bring up the hypothetical death of a dog on the banks of the Euphrates as part of holding those in executive power accountable. However, statistics rarely back up government claims.
Pakistan has one of the highest levels of under-five mortality. Disability-adjusted average life years (DALYs), a public health measure considered better than average longevity, are comparable to those in sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of lives lost in traffic accidents and preventable health problems, and millions of children and adults suffering from morbidity and malnutrition, show that life is not so sacred for the Pakistani authorities.
The Murree tragedy should not be viewed in isolation. If we are to ensure that such tragedies do not happen again, we must put in place an effective system that takes into account the particular dynamics and realities of Pakistani life and public attitudes.
Before embarking on a discussion of the outlines of a system that provides maximum safety for life and bodily integrity and promotes the tourism industry, we can make some assumptions about the important factors that shape health outcomes. public.
Reserving parking spaces at regular intervals near the tourist destination and using affordable and comfortable public transport in and around tourist destinations seems to be our only option.
First, road safety standards and public behavior on the roads reflect a deeply flawed social organization. A significant number of individuals appear overtly egocentric, encroaching on all available space, and are eager to exploit every situation to their advantage. Queuing, taking turns and being patient are not what Pakistanis are generally known for. Thus, the management of the tourism industry or other avenues of entertainment must focus on regulating traffic with a credible threat of force.
Reserving parking spaces at regular intervals near the tourist destination and using affordable and comfortable public transport in and around the tourist destinations seems to be our only option. Moving most traffic away from cities will ensure that roads are not congested and the quality of the environment is not compromised.
This model has been successfully implemented in many densely populated cities in the developed world. Once it has been tried around tourist destinations, it can be replicated in the downtown areas of major cities. For example, the business centers of Old Lahore, especially the walled city areas, should be declared off-limits to private vehicles and efficient public transport should be introduced.
Second, it is safe to say that corporations, or more broadly the “hotel mafia”, will always exhibit rent-seeking behavior that undermines the rights of tourists. Tourists regularly complain about inflated room charges and poor service. However, it is not easy to regulate activity in tourist destinations as they operate under serious constraints.
Hoteliers need to recoup their investment in a tight timeframe, typically starting in May and ending in September. Only a few places are open to tourism during the snow season. If the government forces landlords to set prices too low, it may force them to channel their investments into alternative businesses, further degrading the quality and quantity of facilities available.
Yet there is some room for maneuver within the framework of neoliberal economic policies. For example, the government can play a greater role in removing information asymmetries and ensuring effective coordination. If the government shares information on available space in tourist destinations in the form of travel advisories, this would reduce the difference between supply and demand, thereby minimizing security concerns.
Highway Patrol successfully issued emergency travel advisories, saving lives and valuable property. The government can start with the accurate estimation of the capacity of each tourist destination and share information with the public so that the public can make more informed decisions.
Third, the selection of people for senior management positions is generally not based on merit. The allocation of leadership positions is generally based on political expediency. The distribution of ministerial portfolios among the less capable as the price of forming political coalitions is the most telling example of this sordid saga. This structural problem not only perpetuates inefficiency, but also explains why most of Pakistan’s problems are so intractable.
Fourth, there is no strong tradition of holding people in the highest positions accountable for their failure to rise to the challenge. This requires a fundamental shift in the work ethic of public sector departments. The objectives of each ministry or department must be made public regularly and sanctions must be proposed in the event of failure to meet the objectives.
Financial sanctions, such as deductions from wages, should be considered in the event of non-achievement of the objectives set on time. The NDMA has drawn immense public outrage and consternation precisely because of its spectacular failure to foresee the fury of the elements. Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah said the NDMA’s incompetence may be the root cause of the tragedy.
Due to extreme weather conditions, only a few places attract tourists in large numbers as the infrastructure in these areas is relatively better developed. The government can try to expand tourism choices by expanding and developing infrastructure and providing alternative tourist destinations by promoting facilities.
Tourism to historic places can be taken seriously. Currently, the roads connecting the main thoroughfares to historic places, such as Katas Raj Temple and Harappa, are in ruins.
Finally, the propensity of a typical Pakistani to pollute the environment by looting and spreading rubbish must be at the center of public policy. If the tourism industry experiences even moderate growth in the coming years, it is almost certain that the quality of the environment in areas frequented by tourists will be massively degraded.
The government can, at the very least, regulate the plastic consumed and discarded at tourist destinations by banning the sale of shopping bags in designated areas.
The government’s seriousness in making the safety of human life a top priority will be judged by the concrete actions it takes now.
The author is Associate Professor in Department of Economics, COMSATS University Islamabad, Lahore Campus