Saturday, August 31, 2019

Karachi: City of Flies

More people live in the Pakistani city of Karachi than live in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin combined. I would not care to reside in a place with so many people and so little space or privacy. 

I would like it even less if through poverty and poor decision making I lived in a place with poor sewage systems and the resulting infestation of flies and disease. I am amazed that Pakistan has allowed the conditions in its largest city to become this horrible. It was evidently more important to the powers that be in Pakistan to have nuclear weapons and flex muscles at their arch rival and neighbor, India, than to build clean safe cities for their citizens. And one could say the same about conditions in some Indian cities. 

That's a shame. One of the most important responsibilities of a state, society and culture is to provide clean drinking water, safe food, protections from disease and vermin and a sense of cleanliness. Without that you don't have anything as far as I am concerned.

KARACHI, Pakistan — First came the floods, as weeks of monsoon rains deluged neighborhoods across Karachi, sending sewage and trash through Pakistan’s largest city. Then came the long power outages, in some cases for 60 hours and counting.

And then it got worse: Karachi is now plagued by swarms of flies. The bugs seem to be everywhere in every neighborhood, bazaar and shop, sparing no one. They’re a bullying force on sidewalks, flying in and out of stores and cars and homes, and settling onto every available surface, from vegetables to people.

Flies and flooding can often go together, and Karachi is no stranger to either. 

But Dr. Seemin Jamali, the executive director for the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, one of Karachi’s largest public hospitals, said this was the worst infestation of flies she had ever witnessed.

“There are huge swarms of flies and mosquitoes,” she said. “It’s not just affecting the life of the common man — they’re so scary, they’re hounding people. You can’t walk straight on the road, there are so many flies everywhere.”

The city started a fumigation drive, but the flies remain, and frustrations are growing. It’s all drawing new attention, and anger, to the city’s longstanding problems with garbage and drainage — an issue that feuding political factions have wielded against each other for years, but that hasn’t gotten any better.

Experts say this infestation was probably brought on by the combination of stagnant rainwater, which stood in the city for days, with garbage on the streets and waste left behind from animals slaughtered during the recent Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

Noman Ahmed, an expert on the city’s water issues and dean of the NED University of Engineering and Technology’s architecture and management sciences faculty, said the recent rainfall wasn’t really extraordinary. But what the rains revealed, he said, was Karachi’s compounding troubles with urban development, sewage, solid waste management and water contamination, including how the city’s natural drains are used as a dumping ground for solid waste.

Dr. Jamali said a litany of medical ailments and diseases were on the rise as a result of the unsanitary conditions: malaria, gastroenteritis, typhoid, dengue fever, the chikungunya virus, respiratory disorders and Congo fever.

“As a community, we also need to blame ourselves,” she said, noting how people dumped sacrificial animals’ offal onto the streets. “We have collected these heaps of garbage.”

This is not just a situation where someone who lives in the US with (usually) clean drinking water, safe sewage systems, and relatively safe food supply can wag his finger at the Third World and move on with his day. 

Because of poor practices in waste management and water filtration in South Asia, doctors there tend to over prescribe anti-biotics. As a result the bacteria can develop immunities. So not only are South Asian-in this case Pakistani-children at a higher risk for diseases, poor growth, and malnutrition related problems, in a globalized word those altered bacteria don't just stay in South Asia. 

The entire planet runs increasing risk of super bacteria that are resistant or even immune to a host of medicines that used to kill them. We're all in this together on some level, whether we like it or not. As any entomologist (or anyone who has watched David Cronenberg's The Fly) will tell you, flies can't chew their food. They have to dissolve it. To do this they must ejaculate enzymes from their stomach onto something they're considering eating. In other words they vomit on it. Touch what a fly touched you're likely touching fly vomit. Would you like some hand sanitizer?

Additionally since flies eat things most humans don't, like feces, rotting animals, and moldy fruit, flies are often covered in those substances. Flies are also covered in all kinds of bacteria and viruses, which they helpfully leave behind on every substance they touch. So because of the fly infestation Karachi is covered in feces and Lord knows what else. 

Now it's good that as humans we have immune systems and fighting fool white blood cells eager to kill anything in our body that is not us. However, our immune systems do age and can occasionally get temporarily overwhelmed or even put down for the count by certain bacteria/viruses/substances. So if I were you I would probably cancel that vacation to Karachi.
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