IN the midst of the high drama perennially offered by Pakistan’s political scene, with its plethora of headline-grabbing personalities, other important stories — featuring ‘ordinary’ people — sometimes slip off the news agenda altogether. One such story is that of the nearly five million people affected by this year’s floods, whose desperate plight has been highlighted in a series of recent reports in this newspaper. According to the National Disaster Management Authority, over 600,000 homes were ‘partially or fully damaged’ by floodwaters this year. In Sindh — the worst-hit province — nearly 142,000 people are still living in government-run relief camps. Hundreds of thousands more all over the country are either living in tents provided by NGOs or in makeshift shelters they have constructed on the wreckage of their homes and even along roadsides. Having waited in vain for sufficient compensation from the government, many are trying to rebuild their homes through their own resources, an undertaking that is pushing them further into debt as they have to take out loans to pay for the construction. Those whose livelihoods depended upon the land are now at the mercy of relief goods distributed by NGOs. Large areas remain submerged, and little or no effort has yet been made to drain out the water. In Jacobabad, the main rice-growing area of Sindh and the worst affected district in the province, the standing water may severely impact the next rice crop by delaying its sowing.
Aside from the immediate steps the government needs to take to ameliorate the lot of those affected — ensuring that compensation is paid quickly and basic needs are met, particularly given the approaching winter — it is imperative that long-term plans are put in place to minimise the fallout from what has now become a recurring natural disaster. And if, as some water experts believe, this requires some rethinking of irrigation infrastructure development, then those difficult decisions must be taken. Ad hoc measures are no longer excusable.
In some ways, however, the vast human tragedy unfolding in the hinterland was perhaps inevitable. After floods in three consecutive years, donor fatigue was always a possibility. The apathy of officialdom was also scarcely surprising, even more so with a cash-strapped government. Also, most floods tend to be a slowly developing catastrophe which does not sync with the short attention span of the media nor the public whose tastes it influences. It is nevertheless the media’s responsibility to ensure that the suffering of millions of our compatriots is not a case of out of sight, out of mind. Only in that lies hope that the issue will be comprehensively addressed.