THE deluge in Pakistan has devastated Sindh, Balochistan and parts of Punjab. The accounts that have been pouring in are overwhelming. It is beyond my imagination to even visualise the magnitude of the tragedy.
I wonder what must be the situation for the people experiencing it. I feel the anguish in Naween Mangi’s and Sadiqa Salahuddin’s emails describing the scale of the destruction. It dashed to the ground what they had toiled to build over the years. It seemed it was back to square one again, and thousands of us, who shared with them their dreams, feel dejected.
The foreign media have been quick to report the catastrophe in words and images capturing the beauty of the colours of the waters that played havoc with the lives of humankind.
The flood is described as being the worst of this century with one-third of Pakistan under water, 33 million people displaced from their homes to become internally displaced persons (IDPs) and over 1,300 dead. It is said the livestock in Sindh was washed away and thus ended the livelihood of thousands of women. Some places were worse hit than others. In Kheiro Dero, (Naween’s village) 60 per cent of the homes were destroyed or severely damaged.
The impact of the deluge has been compounded by man-made factors.
Next came the relief stage and this brought out the best and the worst in human nature. As Pakistanis are world-famous for their philanthropy, they opened up their purse strings and donations began to flow in to fund the relief operations organised by the NGOs who mobilised their staff to help the affected population. National giants such as the ever-present Edhi Foundation were joined by the newly budded JDC led by Zafar Abbas. This time many international and Islamic NGOs were missing. Had they been eased out to comply with FATF-imposed regulations?
Various officials have responded with great zeal but their past performance has robbed them of credibility. They always work with an eye on the camera. Here is something straight from the horse’s mouth. At an IDP camp set up on the outskirts of Karachi there was suddenly a big stir as a truck loaded with quilts and small packets of biscuits arrived on the scene trailing a cavalcade of cars carrying dignitaries. There followed a brief ceremony as some of the goods were unloaded and the worthy officials posed for photos. The cameras clicked non-stop. With the ceremony over, the quilts were loaded back on the truck and the entourage moved on. Mercifully, the biscuits were not snatched back from the children.
Small wonder that private organisations rejected the government’s offer to distribute their goods. There were reports of violence at some distribution spots and firearms were used.
However, very welcome have been the members of the medical profession who offered their services willingly. Their presence has been extremely reassuring for the traumatised flood affected, which include hundreds of pregnant women. The doctors were welcomed heartily as the floods had left injuries and diseases in their wake which needed to be tended to immediately.
The army is said to have played an exemplary role by rescuing people from a watery grave and carrying them to safety. It is not clear why our security personnel were apparently not used for some other crucial assignments including traffic management on the clogged highways to facilitate the relief operation.
Floods are generally treated as natural disasters. In Pakistan, their disastrous impact is compounded by man-made factors. In Sindh for instance, the road network has basic structural defects that can be attributed to poor planning and a tendency to cut corners in construction. There are no drains on the roadsides or bridges where they are needed. This ensures the accumulation of water in traps formed by poorly planned elevated roads. There is no provision for dewatering the various enclosed low-lying areas that dot the province.
Even in this time of crisis, the inequality in our society is stark. The big landholders have the resources to pump out water, often disposing of it in a poorer neighbour’s property. The roots of corruption and oppression run deep. Is justice dead? People are angry and one doesn’t know when the cup of patience will be full and hold no more. What they will not lose is their dignity because it has already been lost in their normal life that itself is no less than a natural disaster.
Ayesha Siddiqa, the author of Military Inc., says that Pakistan’s contribution towards climate change — one cause of the floods — is miniscule. The West’s role in creating this phenomenon has been stupendous. Yet it has donated no more than peanuts for flood relief. She is right. But charity begins at home. Has not our government denied its people their basic rights and justice? We can make a start right away by addressing the issue of social justice at home.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2022