Over the last few years, the irreversible effects of climate change have become more visible. While apocalyptic events across the world have finally encouraged countries to sit together and make a plan for tackling climate change, more governments are now focused on health issues triggered by the changing climate. The Pakistan government has already been dealing with health challenges caused by the ever-changing weather patterns. In Punjab, the winter season always brings a set of health issues to the people. Health complications caused by smog often dominate the country’s news cycle, and now the extreme winter in the province has introduced authorities to yet another health scare: lethal pneumonia. In the first ten days of January, 36 children have died of pneumonia across the province, at least three children per day.
The issue has naturally grabbed the attention of the caretaker Punjab government, which has taken notice of the situation and introduced several preventive measures to keep children safe. The government has ordered the suspension of morning assembly in schools until January 31 to reduce children’s exposure to the harsh weather in the morning and has also extended winter vacations for children in kindergarten until January 19. Students have also been advised to wear masks and wash hands regularly to contain the spread of pneumonia. All these measures are commendable, but there is more the government needs to do. First, the gas problem needs to be resolved. Gas shortage has brought numerous challenges for people. Punjab is witnessing one of the coldest months in years, and there are many households that cannot eat warm food at home or keep gas-dependent heaters running for hours because of severe gas shortages. Second, there are many students at public schools whose parents cannot afford to buy warm clothes for them.
In the constant blame game that politicians play among each other, we often forget about the country’s poor and working class who are barely getting by. Policymakers are often quick to announce measures they think can resolve the problem. And while there are no doubts about their intent, it seems that the problem is not analyzed thoroughly. School closures or suspension of morning assemblies may save school-going children from the disease, but we also have to think about countless underprivileged children, who are unable to access basic necessities. Public utilities that were already a struggle for low-income families are now a luxury. A winter without gas can turn dangerous for children whose fragile bodies cannot bear extreme cold. There were also rumours about a shortage of pneumonia vaccines at pharmacies across Punjab. While the health authorities have refuted the claims, we still urge the government to keep a check on the sale of these vaccines (we have witnessed in the past how such emergency health situations are exploited by profiteers). Health challenges created by climate change are a reality, and the earlier we equip ourselves to deal with the challenge, the better it will be for our children.