I recently had an opportunity to drive through Wah Cantonment on my way to a long overdue weekend in Abbottabad, with an old friend. I was pleasantly surprised to see the standard of cleanliness and maintenance as regards roads, verges, islands, parks and houses. This set me thinking on the lines that if these standards could be maintained in places such as cantonments, why couldn’t they be enforced in urban areas under civil administration? I put this question to an old civil service acquaintance of mine, who shook his head and said that my question was irrelevant as I already knew the answer.

If one was to draw a true to reality picture of conditions in our congested urban localities and rural towns, it would show streams of sewage flowing either in an open drain or meandering down the middle of the narrow streets. There are places in Karachi, where sewage has been spewing out of gutters for months making it almost impossible for residents to go about their daily business, without polluting themselves with the stinking grey liquid. There are places in the suburban areas of the Federal Capital that present a similar picture. Take Simly Dam Road for example – a leaking pipeline that provides water from the reservoir to Islamabad, coupled with choked overflowing sewage, has destroyed parts of the road making travel undesirable. The continuous flow of stinking murky water in front of shops and eateries has not only polluted the environment, but is a source of disease and disease carrying flies. It is indeed regretful that the PML-N MNA from this constituency has done nothing to alleviate the situation in spite of the fact that this is his second back-to-back tenure as a people’s representative. On the contrary, a PPP luminary, who has a house in the area managed to have a new bridge constructed over Korang River, much to the relief of residents on both sides of the stream.

Our urban landscape is dotted with trash heaps and overflowing trash containers. This phenomenon becomes a nightmare when people add sacrificial offal to the stinking pile of rotting stuff. Such spots can be seen (and smelled) on busy roads and in commercial areas adding to the risk of disease. Both the citizens and the government must share the blame for what is happening as lack of frequent and regular trash pickup by the local administration and dumping of open trash by residents creates this situation.

Public toilets in Pakistan are nonexistent in small towns and rural communities, while those in big cities are filthy beyond imagination. Here again, the reason is lack of maintenance, hygienic neglect and a callous public that has yet to learn the civilized way of using a toilet seat and keeping the premises dry.

Having been born and bred in Lahore, I love what the City of Gardens has to offer in terms of traditional street food. It is thus that I ventured into the two ‘Katlamma’ shops next to the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, on a visit to the city of my birth. The sight that met my eyes was enough to switch off any craving I had for my spicy red favorite. The pile of fried ‘Katlammas’ was not only covered with flies, but also with dust raised by passing vehicles and ‘tongas’. I quickly withdrew myself from the scene confident that one day I would find a ‘Katlamma’ shop sans the flies and dust mixed with horse dung.

In a country plagued by adverse law and order, a teetering economy, corruption and poor governance, much in this week’s piece is caused by monetary mismanagement and a callous couldn’t care less citizenry who are in no hurry to display standards of civic responsibility visible elsewhere. This combination is nothing short of a social disaster, which can only be rectified through drastic measures, many of which will, in all probability be painful for a public used to ignoring the fact that a clean and hygienic lifestyle is the hall mark of successful societies.