POLITICIANS have a penchant for large-scale projects as they associate these with an impressiveness they believe will earn them political capital. But very often, what voters actually need are smaller, more humdrum interventions that are, in fact, of crucial importance. Nowhere is this more visible these days than in the plight of those affected by the floods in parts of Balochistan and Sindh. For the third year in a row, the state waited until the floods were in full swing before taking action. Each time, the rains are preceded by reminders that canals need to be de-silted, natural storm-water channels cleared, embankments shored up and vulnerable populations prepared in case evacuations are needed. And each time, the administration refuses to recognise the danger. It is only when newspaper headlines start raising concerns about the millions of people affected and television screens show shots of forlorn rooftops in a sea of floodwater that the state lumbers to its feet and starts casting about for avenues of relief and rehabilitation.
After the deluge, national leaders give statements about their concern for those whose homes and livelihoods have been lost — as though it were never up to them to ensure that pre-emptive damage-control measures are in place. In the current floods, Balochistan’s Naseerabad and Jaffarabad districts have been the worst-affected; on a visit to survey the damage, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf said on Sunday that orders had been issued to release funds to complete all development projects in the province. He also announced that Rs2.6bn had been earmarked for the rehabilitation of people and repair of infrastructure. Given the prime minister’s instructions, we can presume that the funds must be available with the government. In that case, could at least part of the money not have been spent earlier on work aimed at reducing the scale of flooding? Could projects meant to mitigate rain-related havoc not have been completed on a war-footing?
The measures that need to be taken to save this area, which has for three years running been the worst-affected by the floods, are well-known. The Jaffarabad and Naseerabad districts are particularly at risk. They suffer equally as a result of flash floods in Balochistan and when canals are accidentally or by intention breached in Sindh. The measures elaborated here, as well as the creation of small reservoirs to accommodate excess water, could go a long way in making a difference. The question is, will such necessary though not headline-grabbing measures ever make their way to the list of the government’s priorities?