Beyond the rescue

Published September 13, 2022
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

THE floods are wreaking havoc, as one-third of the country has been covered in water. The impact on the country, the economy cannot be emphasised enough. The media has also woken up from slumber and is covering the disaster in detail and yet… the sense of urgency is far less than it was during the pandemic.

Is it simply because some parts of the country have not been impacted? This could be one reason, for at the beginning of the pandemic the threat had seemed equal for us all, and it was so not just in Pakistan but the world over. Perhaps that is why the danger felt more imminent, and as a result so did the efforts to tackle it.

But another reason for this is also that this time around, politics has not come to a standstill. The rallies, the jalsas and the tough talk against political rivals continues; not just the PTI, but also the government seems to have more time for verbal showdowns than the floods.

Just consider: Khan has been holding jalsas to push his kahani ahead. He has also held telethons to raise money but it’s the jalsas that catch more attention.

We need serious and public conversations about how Pakistan will cope with climate change in the future.

At the same time, his court appearances have kept the media busy. What the judges said and what they remarked and what the lawyers argued too have kept the focus diverted from the floods. And then there is the ECP. As with the courts, the friction with the PTI and the resultant cases all make it seem as if it’s business as usual. It is worth considering why the ECP’s decision to postpone the by-elections was based on the floods but few bought the reasoning. For too many, this just appeared to be an excuse.

The government has to take its share of the blame also. There are still far too many media talks on PTI and Imran Khan and not enough on the floods. If ministers are taking time out during the day to hold forth on the Toshakhana and express their worries about Khan’s big, bad intentions about the armed forces, it might not be able to convey to the people that the destruction caused in the past two months should be — and is — the state and society’s biggest worry.

Parliament is yet to hold a special session to discuss the floods. And one can only assume the government will brief parliamentarians on the matter on the same day. According to newspaper reports, this is still under consideration and a final date is yet to be announced.

The prime minister has made numerous trips to the flood-affected areas but while that is highlighting the plight of the survivors, the visuals are not enough to explain the phenomenon of climate change. After all, what has happened this year cannot only be about rescue and relief operations. This is not to say that the rescue and relief operations aren’t and should not be the priority but there should be some indication that there is some brainstorming and working beyond this.

Read: Flood notes

Just consider that yesterday the government finally announced a digital dashboard to provide information, but apparently this is only to ensure transparency in the provision of relief. “It will provide direct information to the general public about the financial support and the relief goods being received and distributed among the flood-affected people across the country,” says a story from Dawn. It is hard to say if information about water, the rains and floods will also be provided here for an integrated, one-stop website for all things related. This too should be a priority.

But more than that, we need conversations about what this calamity means and what needs to be done. Conversations about the changing weather pattern: why were there excessive rains in Sindh and Balochistan and how was this different from 2010? Why did this happen and whether or not this will continue in the future? Should we expect a similar pattern next year? Will 2023 just mean a return to the old weather pattern or even less rain than usual? No one really knows, but it is a conversation that has to be had. So far, only a few climate change experts are speaking about it.

And at the same time, there has to be a very serious and public conversation about how Pakistan will cope in the future. While everyone welcomes international visitors — whose trips can and will bring some much needed aid for relief — we really must show resolve on how to address this in the long term. Even if by some miracle reparations come our way, what will we do with them? How will the water management system be improved? Does the building code need changes, and how, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? What can be done about the excessive rains in Sindh? Is it possible to make plans to drain the water if and when excessive rains take place? And before then, who will make the plans for evacuating people in the face of future calamities? Can this be planned and done without local governments?

Is the only answer really to build dams, as suggested by the chief of army staff? Dare one ask if this is a policy statement? Why are the politicians not highlighting the specific measures which need to be taken?

It is simply not enough to ask the international community for help and then bemoan the lacklustre response. (And lacklustre it is. In the face of simply the damage which according to government estimates is $10 billion, the pledges so far have been in the millions.) Perhaps, we should have specific mitigation and management plans which require funding. For once, the efforts put in after the immediate crisis is over must be even greater. The work for it should begin now: only then will the sense of urgency be communicated within the country and beyond.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, September 13th, 2022

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