Scientific and technological advances bring improvement to the human condition. So it is with great interest that those of us who use another craft — words to paint pictures — examine sci-tech innovations to formulate solution-based governance. One such opportunity to conceptualise was procured from a tragedy that unfolded on the northbound side of the George W Bush Turnpike. A casino bus with elderly citizens hit the rubber barricades on the east side of the road. It then crossed two lanes and crashed into the cement barriers that divide the turnpike. The bronco ride ended when the bus flipped upside down onto the grassy median. My first inkling of the accident occurred when my cell showed a call from my hospital facility. We were placed on a ‘Code Yellow’ to receive the injured.
The evening newscast spoke of the deaths and injuries and gave updates on the condition and disposition of survivors. It was mentioned that injuries were lessened due to the impact attenuator barricades on the eastbound side of the turnpike. Having not a clue, I quickly pulled up a search engine to educate myself. Aha! This had the look of policy!
Impact attenuators are ‘smart plastic’ high-density and high molecular weight cylinders that are staged in work zone areas where there is an increased statistical probability for automobile crashes. These barriers are erected not only to absorb the impact of a crash. They are also designed to regain both their shape and capacity minus a need to reset the system.
Emerging democracies have a tremendous need for malleable policy initiatives that function like impact attenuators. These attenuators are capable of absorbing the energy from regional political ‘crashes’ and resetting the system to original form. They should also provide for work zone cushions that protect government workers and allow them to continue to perform their duties. What are a few practical applications for impact attenuators within the field of governance? Regarding Pakistan, there are three primary areas that require impact attenuator policies.
The first area in need of impact attenuators is that of regional instability that ensues in the immediate aftermath of sectarian attacks on ethnic minorities. Government resources must be rapidly deployed through the administrative hands of a task force trained to respond to the human energy that is released. Such impact attenuators require professional staff, facilities to stage shelf-to-operation commodities to relieve human distress and a transportation fleet capable of ferrying supplies to the area of need. Be it shrouds for burial, temporary housing, stop-gap financial assistance or basic food supplies, a task force designed as an impact attenuator will do much good.
Abject poverty is the second area that requires creative deployment of multiple impact attenuators. It must be noted that there is a vast difference between the presence of the poor within a nation and the abuse and exploitation of the poor. Within my own nation, there is a tremendous array of programmes that decrease the impact of poverty. These programmes range from assuring that children will not go hungry all the way to providing educational opportunities for the poor. But in many nations, exploitation of the poor is treated with the same callous regard that the Byzantines offered to their mistreated serfs.
A well-respected jurist addressed issues of poverty when writing about the administration of Zakah. He noted a primary difference between two of the eight categories for Zakah. Jurist Abu Hanifah categorized the miskin (indigent) in a position of greater need than the faqir (poor) by acknowledging that the indigent is immobilised by a lack in every area of their life. According to Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mawardi, such individuals are to be brought “....out of their state of poverty or indigence to the lowest state of wealth — and this is relative to their situation...” This Qadi had a compassionate heart. He understood that the poorest of the poor have no means to lift themselves out of their misery. It is God’s will and His plan that the wealth-cleansing tax be an avenue of blessing for the miskin and the faqir.
A third area of tremendous need is for impact attenuator policies regarding maternal health. Paradise may lie at the feet of a mother. But if the breast milk has dried up there is little hope for vulnerable and clinging life. The government needs to take a drastic look at research that denotes a correlation between early childhood malnourishment and intellectual development. A sufficient and rich supply of breast milk is the beginning point for childhood health. New mothers in Pakistan must have access to sufficient caloric intake to support the neonate and growing baby’s own nutritional needs. These children represent the future workforce of Pakistan. If you have never seen a baby suckling a dry breast, never looked straight in the eyes of such a mother, then please do so. Get out of your comfortable car. Allow your shoes to step into the mud. Walk along paths that you have never trod. After you have seen the world through new eyes, plant a seed of compassion within your heart.
Pakistan continues to lack a robust middle class. The goal must be to broaden a middle class tax base by growth and development policies, which elevate the poor up out of the dust heap. There can be cycles of both poverty and wealth within individual family trees. Such things can reflect individual failures, lack of education and poor planning. But poverty that has generational permanence is a distinct failure of the state. When poverty extends to multiple generations and economic destitution cannot be overcome, the government holds full accountability. Leadership must step down or merely await the inevitable: a burgeoning social movement that removes leadership by force.
Impact attenuator policies are a form of soft power. They demonstrate in public manner a governmental concern for the citizenry. Policies begin with expert professional word craft. But policies are more akin to the world of horticulture. They must carefully be tended by capable ‘gardeners’ who understand how to take a seed and make it grow.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org