NEW DELHI: Food insecurity caused by devastating floods in Pakistan could eventually lead to social unrest similar to that seen in Tunisia, the head of the international Red Cross federation warned on Monday.
Increasing disasters and conflicts across the world and shrinking aid from traditional Western donors meant emerging economies like India, China and Brazil should play a greater role in humanitarian relief, Tadateru Konoe said.
Pakistan is still reeling from floods six months ago that have left 11 million people homeless and devastated hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops in the traditional food-basket regions of Sindh and Punjab.
Konoe, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said some agricultural areas were still submerged, and resulting price rises and growing food insecurity could be destabilising.
“If the crops may be lost for successive years, that may develop into some sort of social unrest and political turmoil. That is what the president was very much worried about,” Konoe told Reuters, referring to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.
“I don't how long they can stand this type of situation ...but it may be utilised by political opponents to criticise the government, so a minor thing may become a big thing like the situation in Tunisia,” he said in an interview.
Weeks of violent protests in Tunisia over poverty, repression and corruption forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali out on Jan. 14 after 23 years in power. The United Nations has said 117 people died during the unrest.
Pakistan is saddled with a long list of troubles including a Taliban insurgency, rampant poverty, corruption and power cuts.
Inflation is fast becoming one of the most potentially explosive problems for the unpopular government.
The floods have fuelled increases in the price of food such as vegetables, making it harder for ordinary people to survive.
Konoe said Zardari had expressed concern over the problem of food insecurity while the Red Cross head was on a visit to Pakistan in October last year.
“The president of Pakistan said 'we can manage for the time being, but if the situation continues like this, for some more time, we may enter into difficult times'.
He didn't specify how long they could manage,” said Konoe.
BRIC MUST AID The IFRC head said funding for disasters such as the floods in Pakistan was becoming increasingly difficult, adding that aid agencies had to find alternative sources to fund the rising number of humanitarian emergencies occurring around the world.
Konoe said emerging markets, or BRIC countries —Brazil, Russia, India and China —should become part of the traditional donor community and match their increasing global diplomatic and economic influence with aid.
Excluding the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, appeals by organisations like the United Nations and the IFRC remain under-funded because of a number of factors including the financial crisis and apprehension over corruption.
Aid workers say the lack of funds often means they have to scale down operations which could include cutting food rations, withdrawing health services or financial support to survivors.
Konoe said that despite the fact BRIC countries had populations who were living in poverty, they had the capability to give aid, citing the example of the Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008, where Beijing mobilised most of the financial aid itself.
“The BRICs are not yet coming forward in terms of providing humanitarian relief, but they should combine their economic cooperation with humanitarian aid to improve their image (as global powers),” said Konoe, a Japanese national.
“This is one thing I want to discuss with the Indian leadership when I meet them ... I have discussed this briefly with China and they were just nodding like that —as a sort of gesture.”