September 14, 2016 Leave a comment
As someone who started a logistics service provider in the 90’s and then sat on top of EFL, which had a remarkably huge supply chain, I should not have been surprised. But living real life reality in a silo, separated from my work silo, I was very surprised.
That Friday evening Benazir had been shot dead. We read the situation well, and immediately closed the offices and sent people home. Evenso, some fifteen of them could not make it and spent the night at the office. But the real surprise came 36 hours later. Sunday morning, I ventured out from my Shujaat home. A natural curiosity to see what was happening in the world outside. Partially also, it was a search and acquire mission, coming out of self preservation. We had enough provisions in the house, to last us a couple more days. But the fear that the troubles may last longer drove me outside.
It was a busy world. Right from the Clifton markets to the Badar Commercial market, the shelves of shops were empty. Like locusts had visited and devoured everything. At Ideal Bakery on 26th Street, I faced the irony of it. As I was turned away from the till, after an apology of “sorry, no bread” , the man behind me smiled and repeated Marie Antoinette’s words “if you go to X, there are some cakes available”.
I learned a lesson that day, some nine years ago. Never allow staple food provisions to decline below two weeks stock. In a survivalist world, it will save some lives. Big cities are not natural. Big cities are also ravenous. They gobble provisions quickly. They gobble provisions which are being freighted inwards from hundreds of miles away. In times of crisis, they gobble them at breakneck speed. This is what happened to Karachi that day. In a massive human crisis of failure and uncertainty, people took the provisions home. No bank can survive a determined cash run. Similarly, no city can survive a determined provisions run.
Luckily, the supply line to Karachi was restored quickly in the next days. Food came back on the shelves and so, nine years on, I write this footnote to history. But, what if it had not? What if someday, some mega city in the world faces a situation, where the supply lines have been disconnected, with no likelihood of restoration for a few months? Is it that unlikely? Well, I can promise you, in such a scenario, the consequences will be disastrous. We will discover that below that veneer of urban thinking, lies a human animal. Very basic, very selfish, very ruthless.
A small event, most likely totally unnoticed by 99.99 % of the population of this country, has occurred recently. Hanjin shipping lines, the 7th biggest shipping line in the world, has gone bankrupt. There is over capacity in shipping and on the back of the commodities recession, the shipping industry is facing a volume downturn worldwide and extremely low shipping rates. Hanjin’s ships are now stranded in ports and so is the cargo in them. Ports will not allow them to off-load, in the face of non-payment. A lot is going around, which is called feathers flapping in the wind, in the face of crisis – ie nothing. Hanjin’s goods will arrive months late, if ever.
Now what if the other lines are nearing a similar crisis? What if a couple more could go bankrupt, in the face of the global commodities and economic downturn. A significant portion of the worlds supplies will collapse. When they do, the related production will stop, which will have a further knock-on effect on commerce, creating a vicious downward spiral. Very quickly and like in weeks, we could have the worldwide structure collapsing like a house of cards. With such little events do major global events start.
My only advice to people is “keep a few weeks of provisions in your home.”.
*picture is from pakalerpress.com