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Prioritize what’s important

Huzaima Bukhari

Our life is the sum total of all the decisions we make every day, and those decisions are determined by our priorities”―Myles Munroe

In our routine life, we usually take things as they come or move with the flow or spend right and left without thinking about the future or become so miserly that we deprive ourselves and our loved ones with bits of happiness or take meticulous care to plan out every detail of an event only to see it turn topsy-turvy because of some unforeseen happening. All this occurs because we are each born with a different nature and characteristics and sometimes, these qualities, especially the negative ones, are so dominating that despite being aware of their adverse effects, one is unable to overcome them. There are of course some sensible minds that are quick to recognize their weaknesses and make sincere efforts to change themselves. In short, this worldly bunch of humans comes in a variety of genetic mix and individualistic traits, with some becoming a blessing and some, pain in the neck.

Managing an average family is a daunting task, more so when resources are limited. Many aspects have to be considered. Things like food, clothing and shelter are usually on the top of the list followed by education, health and social responsibilities. Those who have better incomes and some sensibility, save something for the rainy day. They make long term investments, are frugal when it comes to spending money, refrain from taking loans to prevent their families from debts, improve their earning capabilities to the best extent possible. Then there are others who may put a crunch on essentials only to invest in human resource by providing a good education to their children in the hope that their future would be better than their parents. These spartans are the ones who have learnt to prioritize their needs and to cater for them in a way that may be at the expense of some luxury or something that could be dispensed with at that point of time.

Just like a family, governing a country with a huge population is by itself a mammoth responsibility and a formidable challenge. It requires exceptional understanding of the human nature in addition to organizational and administrative skills coupled with foresight. Obviously, politics is one aspect of statecraft that must be practiced and the likes of Chanakya and Machiavelli show that it is a crafty game that must be played with both tact and diplomacy. Such capabilities do not come automatically with the assumption of power. They are acquired through education, training and experience along with a team that is prepared to serve with intelligence and alacrity. Last but not the least, prudence is a quality that can certainly not be ignored when steering the ship of a country, because economics and far-sightedness are crucial components of good governance. Prudence entails the ability to prioritize fulfillment of people’s needs which must be taken care of keeping limited resources in view. Indeed, this is one of the most difficult stages of decision making.

For example, depending upon the circumstances that have existed in our country on matters related to terrorism, security of the borders and citizens have taken priority over say, building infrastructure. Similarly, during periods of famine, supply of grain takes precedence over building schools and hospitals. These are special situations when unusual priorities have to be determined by the government of the day. However, under normal conditions, any political government in power would have the elasticity to chalk out priorities according to their promised agenda during elections and that is the time to think beyond a superficial target of winning the next elections. 

One such rational and practical cogitation relates to management of waste. A few million dollars expended for the purpose of converting waste into energy can save billions in providing health facilities. Who can deny the hazardous effects of rotting garbage and toxic industrial waste? These are detrimental for the health of all living beings as they are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria, responsible for wide-ranging diseases that can be contagious in nature leading to outbreak of epidemics. As these days we are experiencing the terrible impact of Covid-19 all around the globe, this picture cannot be exaggerated more. Every person on this earth is feeling the pinch of lockdowns and social distancing caused by the pandemic which boils down to the conclusion that health is a priority no government can and should ignore.

In our country when we talk about health, our focus is on doctors, hospitals, medicines, vaccinations, ambulances and emergency services which the citizen expects to be provided, preferably free of charge. No doubt, these are all extremely vital for treating the many ailments that can befall on anyone but no one seems to bother about the source of these diseases that can be combatted by installing incineration plants near the major cities of the country since maximum garbage and human waste is produced in the metropolises rather than rural areas.

Incineration plants operating successfully in northern Europe and nearby in Singapore are also known as waste-to-energy (WTE) plants. The heat from the combustion is used to generate super-heated steam in boilers which in turn drives turbo-generators to produce electricity simultaneously reducing the waste to ash, up to ten percent of its original volume. Establishment of WTEs could have led to resolving many problems arising out of untreated garbage strewed around neighbourhoods of the cities and towns. Over the last seven decades we have wasted billions of dollars in building things which were not urgently required, taken loans from international donors to meet our fiscal deficits instead of cutting our own expenses, gave precedence to luxury over austerity, eroded our educational base to produce ignorant and unskilled degree/diploma holders but we have never bothered once to convert our weaknesses into power.

An attempt was made by the Government of Punjab in 2016 to engage the services of a Turkish company to keep the city of Lahore clean but the result is a gigantic landfill at Lakhodair being claimed as the first ever scientific solid waste management facility over 52 hectares of land which, according to Samiullah Randhawa as reported in Daily Times on 17 February 2020, has reached its maximum capacity due to mismanagement. This speaks of the short-sightedness of our governing bodies that fail to perceive the future and love to appear champions of the people for momentary applaud and probably a promotion. This kind of superficiality has led this country down on not just one occasion but on a constant basis. These temporary solutions are as temporary as their exponents that get exposed within a matter of a few years. If only our brilliant engineers were provided the opportunity to learn how to build WTEs, we would have done far better in handling our waste, an unavoidable by-product of life, transforming it into much-needed energy while contributing to a cleaner environment and a healthy nation, immune to viral and bacterial attacks.

We have yet to learn a lot from Singapore that is rapidly on the path ‘Towards Zero Landfill’ and ‘Towards Zero Waste’, goals that they are working at with great diligence. Already it has seen monumental increase in the rate of recycling and has successfully curtailed waste growth. In retrospect, had we looked towards the East rather than the West for guidance, we would have definitely fared a lot better.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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