Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pakistan - #Bahawalpurtankerfire - Shall we ever learn?

By S Tariq
It was one of the most horrific man made calamities in the history of the nation that not only cast a pall of gloom on Eid festivities, but demonstrated the ‘dark’ side of our national character – greed, avarice and stupidity. A petrol tanker overturned on the highway near Ahmedpur Sharqia, spilling its highly inflammable contents on the road and nearby fields. Men, women and children from villages flocked to the site on foot and motorbikes with containers of every description, generating an ‘orgy of looting’, ignoring the danger they were putting themselves in. The naïve amongst us, would have perhaps attributed the activity to abject poverty, but no – many of these looters arrived on motorbikes and even passing motorists stopped to scoop up the precious fluid. Thirty five minutes later, an explosion and resulting ‘fire ball’ instantaneously snuffed out more than 150 lives, leaving one hundred critically burned victims, of whom many may not survive. The ‘fire ball’ and the resultant superheated blast was so instantaneous that many bodies were discovered in grotesque postures – some even sitting on motor cycles.
The tragedy raised the vital question whether there was a law laying down safety codes for transportation of inflammable liquids and if one existed, was it being stringently enforced? The incident also exposed the inability of our police to ruthlessly enforce law, in the interest of public safety and the total inadequacy of our hospitals to deal with large scale emergencies of this nature. Above all, the incident proved once and for all, the regrettable fact that we are a nation with an insatiable hunger for ‘free loading’ and ‘stupidity’, bred by greed. So, while I grieve on the tragic loss of life, the sentiment is overridden by anger at what we have become.
As news of the accident began breaking on television, one began to wonder as to what could have triggered the fire more than half an hour after the ‘spill’. Was it a spark from the electrical system of the overturned tanker or was it a callously thrown cigarette by someone with a brain as small as a peanut. For a fleeting moment, I contemplated the notion that the fuel may having been deliberately ignited by enemies of the State, but then discarded it. It was two days ago that I happened to see a video on media, the final frames of which, showed an individual tossing a cigarette on the oil soaked ground. If this was indeed the cause of the conflagration, then my opinion regarding what we had become stood vindicated.
The civilised world has laid down a stringent system of ensuring that hazardous materials are taken from one place to the other in a manner that poses no danger or in the worst case scenario, minimal danger to the public and the environment. In the case of inflammable liquids, safety codes have been put in place, which dictate that all tankers must have inbuilt compartments. This is to ensure that in case of an accident and rupture, surviving segments of the main structure do not spill their contents. Oil tankers also undergo stringent inspections before leaving their depots and carry a certificate of fitness to the effect. An enquiry should reveal if this was done and more importantly a probe should look at the video and track the source of the blaze.
Two days after this tragedy, my countrymen decided to provide more unquestionable proof of their stupidity and lack of character, when they converged on a parked tanker that was leaking petrol somewhere in Bhakkar. This time the police resorted to brute force in order to disperse them.
Whether it’s a petrol spill or a free meal, citizens from the ‘Land of the Pure’ shed every last vestige of propriety and civilised behaviour, unmindful of the fact that the world may be laughing at us. We often witness this ugly side of our national character, when workers create mayhem at food stands after political gatherings or whenever relief goods are distributed during a natural disaster, forcing one to wonder if we shall ever learn and be ranked as a civilised nation.

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