Misplaced priorities

Published August 25, 2022

AS a natural calamity engulfs Pakistan, many members of the political class remain preoccupied with their power struggles. Almost the entire nation has been affected by record-breaking monsoon rainfall, flooding and the attendant human misery, with Balochistan, Sindh and southern Punjab the worst-hit. But the focus of the government, the opposition and parts of the media is on the ugly power games taking place in Islamabad and Lahore.

It is only now that the gravity of the situation seems to be sinking in, with the prime minister raising the alarm and highlighting the need for “hundreds of billions” of rupees for flood relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

On Tuesday, Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman indicated that Pakistan cannot cope with the situation on its own, and observed that the floods are “a humanitarian disaster of unprecedented proportions”.

Over 900 people, she tweeted the next day, had died due to flooding since June, while thousands had been rendered homeless. Whole villages have been washed away, while the floodwaters have destroyed crops and livestock. Independent observers say that the actual figures are likely to be higher than the official numbers. Considering the scale of the devastation, this is quite possible.

Read: Rain disaster: The tragedy is that leaders focus on settling political scores even as a human catastrophe unfolds

However, the reaction of the political class to the calamity has been disappointing.

Imran Khan, for example, cancelled visits to Karachi and Hyderabad recently due to the heavy rains, yet has continued his mass rallies in other parts of the country. It would have been much better if the former prime minister had visited the flood-hit communities to express his solidarity with them at this time of distress.

Other politicians are pretty much in the same boat, though Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari set a good example by cancelling his tour of Europe in order to oversee relief work.

The political class must suspend mud-slinging and focus on helping vulnerable communities at this time.

Tens of thousands are without proper shelter, food and medicine. While external donors should be tapped, all people of means in the country need to contribute to help alleviate the sufferings of their flood-hit fellow citizens. This can be done by donating to the state’s effort, or to reputable charities.

The media can also do a better job of highlighting the people’s problems instead of playing up political drama.

The political circus can wait for another day. The immediate focus should be on helping those living under an open sky.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2022

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