THE poverty, lack of resources and vulnerability of the residents of Balochistan have received renewed attention ever since the ongoing monsoons started playing havoc in the province. More than 150 people have died in rain-related accidents, including flash floods, collapse of houses and drowning. Thousands of homes have been completely or partially destroyed.
Over 600 kilometres of roads have been washed away. Critical infrastructure, such as the main bridge connecting Sindh and Balochistan, has been destroyed. Rescue and relief works have been hindered by limited road access. Supply of emergency relief material to the most affected regions can only be done through airdrops, and on a limited scale. More than 200,000 acres of farmland remains immersed in rainwater and orchards have been damaged.
There is a drastic shortage of food supplies, limited availability of safe drinking water and partial breakdown of communication infrastructure. Spread of diseases and widespread trauma from the devastation are major challenges that shall haunt the provincial authorities for some time.
Being the least developed province, Balochistan needs a comprehensive rehabilitation and redevelopment programme. But to render such a programme effective, there are prerequisites to ensure.
A joint effort is needed for rehabilitation.
There is ongoing unrest in the province. Invisible groups and their handlers have made ordinary lives miserable and unsafe. The use of sophisticated devices and weapons and the recurrence of deadly incidents suggest that the province faces more than just a conventional law and order crisis. The outcome of the turmoil reflects in the province’s dismal social and developmental indicators. More than half its population lives in poverty, with the number rising to 70 per cent in rural areas. The complex link between political turmoil and the well-being of Baloch communities and the role of the local power structure requires urgent attention.
The settlements in Balochistan are widely dispersed and thinly populated. Population density is 35 persons per square kilometre, compared to the national average of 236. This is one reason why it is difficult to reach people for rescue and relief purposes. It is also a barrier for development as the infrastructural cost for connecting settlements becomes higher. A dispersed population requires higher spending to provide healthcare, education, social welfare, employment, electricity and other utilities. Balochistan, then, needs a proper regional planning and redevelopment strategy to deal with the challenges of remoteness and poor accessibility.
The circumstances call for urgent remedies. A climate conducive to undertaking immediate rescue, relief, rehabilitation and development work must be created. The first step should be to use the ongoing crisis to build up a broad-based political consensus on a few core matters.
Studies and analytical reports have outlined several reasons behind the simmering unrest and resistance offered by various factions of the nationalists. Ongoing expropriation of land and resources by other communities and state agencies; sidelining of common Baloch folk from mega development projects and dominance of governance affairs by the security establishment are some key concerns. Conversations with ordinary citizens reveal that they have lost hope in the system. They complain about the frequent use of brute force by various authorities without reason.
Extending effective autonomy for decision-making and resource utilisation and distribution to the provincial government as well as reaching out to insurgent factions and negotiating an agenda of common interest, such as relief and rehabilitation, can be a starting point. It is obvious that the complex geopolitics of this region is one cause of the continuing political discord and consequent estrangement. But one can take the present crisis as an exception and invite all to join the task of rebuilding the region.
The second step should be to identify the main shortcomings in local capacity to address tasks pertinent to relief and rehabilitation works. Balochistan does not possess experienced technocrats, development consultants and other relevant experts. A call for assistance can be made to the federal government and other provinces to help in this hour of need. A conscious effort must be made to build up the capacity of local professionals and institutions to deal with crisis situations.
The third step should be to replicate the successes of various development initiatives undertaken by local change agents. The works of Dr Qurat-ul-Ain Bakhteari and her Institute for Development Studies and Practice in Quetta have done wonders for rural poverty and service delivery to scattered populations in the province. The Balochistan Rural Support Programme and the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund are other institutions that can be invited to play an expanded role.
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi
Published in Dawn, August 14th, 2022