By Zafar Iqbal
Trapped in decade-long Taliban and Bloch insurgencies and an economic and energy crisis, Pakistan is facing another natural disaster caused by monsoon floods which so far has killed 434 people, destroyed or damaged 1.5 million homes and affected 8.9 million people in the Southern provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan. 4.2 million acres of agricultural land have been inundated, ruining the crops, mainly cotton, which is key contributor of 60 per cent exports of the country. The Asian Development Bank estimates that the country has lost $10 billion in property and agriculture.
The cash-strapped Pakistani government, which faces sharp criticism by the victims for woeful response, has set aside $57 million for rehabilitation. Unpredictable huge financial needs for relief and rehabilitation process will rigorously endanger regular developmental infrastructure of the country, which heavily relies on foreign aid and $11 billion from the IMF credit to keep the economy afloat.
Pakistan is already struggling to cope with the colossal losses of last year’s floods, which killed about 2,000 people, made 11 million homeless and caused a $12 billion burden on the country’s shrinking economy.
The Taliban insurgency is another nuisance, which caused losses up to $67.93 billion since 2001 due to Pakistan’s role in the ‘war against terror’. Besides cultivating unfathomable socio-economic and political disparities among the regions and citizens primarily originated from the loss of 35,000 citizens and 3,500 security personal, the war is also behind the country’s GDP ratio declining from 22.5 per cent in 2006-07 to 13.4 per cent in 2010-11.
For the last few decades the country has faced many brutal natural and man-made upheavals but incompetence and the incapability of the government functionaries have been a major impediment in tackling such tragedies.
From the 2005 earthquake to internal migration of over two million people in 2009 Swat operation, last year’s catastrophic floods and regular fluxes of the IDPs in Northern region, the Pakistani regime has poorly failed in swift response against all adversities mainly because of the lack of professionalism, political will and deplorable isolation and the widening gap between poor and the elite.
The government should have been well organized for the current monsoon by learning from previous mistakes; nonetheless it again remained unsuccessful to deliver in preparedness and rescue. As a result, anger and antipathy runs high among flood victims who need immediate help.
Unfortunately, with a long history of floods, Pakistan has made too little progress, or none, regarding effective disaster management and flood control mechanism. At the end of last month, when rains started and forecasters predicted more catastrophic spells of downpours, local rescuers rejected the need for any international help, claiming to be completely ready to undertake the situation. Conversely, this was the time when three top office holders – President, Prime Minister and Speaker – were abroad on private visits at a tragic time when millions of poor Pakistani citizens, submerged under water and diseases, were struggling for to survive.
The same happened last year when, President Zardari continued his foreign visit when flash floods hit his homeland.
Repeating the same episode in the present floods when torrential rains, epidemics and poor administrative response also hurt the situation, in an hurriedly called televised address, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani disgracefully sought international help after weeks of rains which till then had killed 141 people and displaced more than 4 million in southern Sindh province, where these lives could have been saved if state functionaries behaved humanly.
The United Nations – which equates the Pakistani situation with African famines – has appealed for $365m (£231m) to shore up relief and rescue operations. However, international response is likely to be much lesser than the volume of the tragedy due to Islamabad’s poor track record of handling foreign aid and its bad image. Quoting a diplomat that ‘Pakistan is a bad brand’, Joe Cropp, an official of the Red Cross movement (IFRC) admits that negative perceptions about Pakistan in the international community are impacting humanitarian fund-raising efforts”.
Consequently, so far only $19 million has been received by the UN.
This ‘bad brand’ factor is amongst one of the few major factors which resulted in scant response from the world for rehabilitation of previous years floods. Only $1.3 billion has been released from total of $1.9 billion pledged aid for the survivors of the 2010 floods.
The country has already misused $473 million international aid donated for earthquake victims.
Today corruption is rampant in Pakistan. Transparency International (TI) world corruption index gives a 2.3 score to Pakistan, which parameters as defined by the TI places the country in highly corrupt regions. Two Pakistani ministers have been sacked in current government for corrupt practices; of late one of them was arrested for fiscal fraud. In spite of sub-standard cooperation from lawmakers and administration, the Pakistani judiciary has managed to recover millions of dollars plundered by high ups.
Mr. Monis Ilahi, son of a most senior minister of the country, is behind bars for embezzlement charges in a land scam in which local investigators have also questioned the Prime Minister’s sons. In this environment miseries of flood victims could be coupled if world community hesitates to donate required aid for flood survivors.
Pakistan is located in a disaster-prone South Asian region, which loses up to six percent of its GDP due to disasters annually. Climate change is aggravating the situation especially in the Pakistan, where repeated floods occur. Despite this, the water management system is deficient.
The Pakistani river management sector is adversely affected by abuse, corruption, and lack of modern practices and infrastructure. Pakistan’s highest court has declared that one of the considerable reasons for profound human and structural loss in last year’s floods was widespread dishonesty and fraudulent practices in concerned departments where officials fail to launch preventive measures.
Moreover, Pakistan lacks decent public housing; consequently a large number of people live on the banks of rivers and canals and suffer imperfectly in the monsoon rains. These poor communities need permanent settlement away from rivers, which can reduce human and financial loss.
Similarly floods warning systems need to be accessible for the public. Launching a modern irrigation and river system and high standard and disaster prevention infrastructure can trim down the country’s irrecoverable financial and human loss caused by frequent floods.Also, integration of climate change in the policy and planning can help to sustain local water resources.
(The writer is a freelance writer and Executive Director of Press for Peace (PFP). He can be reached at [email protected])