A few days ago I watched an “Unreported World” programme on BBC 4. It was about Karachi – Pakistan’s richest city. I was shocked.
The problem was water. In recent years the lack of customary rain, linked to an appallingly bad water distribution system, has created a nightmare for the ordinary population. Actually it’s not a nightmare because many long nights are spent waiting by the water outlet – hoping first that it will come (it often doesn’t), that it will be enough and then hoping that it won’t be too brackish or salty to drink. Otherwise, the best chance is an illegal borehole or water tanker – who will serve you but only for a price you are in no position to pay.
We saw the difficulties of a number of families. Worst of all was one with a mentally disabled child who was doubly incontinent. Just imagine how you would cope with that in the lengthy intervals before the next water arrives. Not every citizen was affected. The bourgeois citizens of Karachi, with their fine houses, are able to pay handsomely for the tankers – internal swimming pools and all.
The appalling state of the infrastructure in the city appears to have been brought about by incompetence and corruption. It was not denied that individuals working for the water board were running their own little money raising water schemes. You do not get improvements from authorities who benefit from keeping things as they are.
But the water board can hardly be blamed for the agricultural countryside. The lack of rains has turned it into a near desert, and the customary wells run dry. In Bangladesh you do not waste time thinking about climate change as a future possibility; it is a present experience. As I have written in the past, the emigration to temperate countries that we experience today is as nothing to what we can expect in the future. The living quality and the prosperity of countries will be closely related to their distance from the Equator.
Of course we all know about the poor – as Pope Francis reminds us so frequently. And occasionally we find ourselves wondering how God allows such terrible things to happen. But, even stranger to me, is why I should be so fortunate – I have running taps in my house, the central heating ensures comfort, Tesco is down the road and, every so often, downloads in my kitchen enough provender to supply a street in Karachi. My family is not far away – and some of my children have chosen to live nearby so that they can give us golden oldies support.
I contrast that with young Shuna, who lives in Uganda. She has two siblings but no parents – they died from HIV AIDS. I was privileged to contribute to her fees to become a qualified nurse so that she could support her family. But I learned last week that, halfway through her course, she has developed a serious heart condition. The facility for the necessary open-heart surgery does not exist in Uganda. The small grant she gets from the Ugandan health ministry will pay for less than a fifth of the cost of an operation in South Africa. Why did this happen?
So this week I am not posing any intellectual theological questions, nor am I concerned with what the Church does or doesn’t do. I just ask you to reflect on God’s mysterious ways with man, as I have been doing.
If you heard the 30 minute programme you may already have had the same thoughts as me. But you’ll find ‘The city with no water’ on Channel 4 catch-up at http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/episode-guide You may have to register, but that’s not difficult.