Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on Wednesday called for putting politics aside and prioritising collective efforts to address the flood catastrophe that has befallen the country.
Without naming PTI chairman Imran Khan, the minister criticised the politicking in “the other half of the country” — referring to his preparations for a long march redux — and said there “cannot be two Pakistans where one part is submerged while the other has someone playing politics”.
Latest data and estimates show nearly 1,700 people have been killed in the floods and their aftermath caused by heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers. The floods have affected more than 33 million people — half of them children, the minister said.
Thousands more have been displaced and the United Nations has sounded the alarm on the rise of water-borne diseases in the country, particularly among the flood-hit population.
The government estimates the cost of the damage at $30 billion, and both the government and UN have blamed the catastrophe on climate change.
Addressing a press conference in Karachi, Bilawal said that water was still entering Sindh from the mountains of Balochistan.
He said that the country had come together in the aftermath of the 2010 floods and tackled the crisis collectively. “Politics will continue but this calamity has to be dealt with collectively.”
He also appealed to all political parties to “hit the pause button” and devote their time and energy to helping flood victims.
‘Reconstruction, rehabilitation next phase’
Talking about the relief work, the foreign minister said that the next phase was reconstruction and rehabilitation. “We are awaiting damage assessment” for that to start, he added.
He stated that Pakistan was demanding “justice” from the world and was not “begging”. He also highlighted the recent visit of UN chief Antonio Guterres, saying that Pakistan was thankful for his help.
“He (Guterres) admitted he had never before seen such devastation,” he said, adding that the UN chief urged other countries to come to Pakistan’s aid.
Bilawal said the government would invest in infrastructure as it rebuilt damaged homes.
“As far as damages to agricultural crops are concerned, we resolve that we will help our farmers. By the end of November, we will be in a state to plant new crops,” he vowed.
During his press conference, the minister stressed that climate change was a “reality”. “We have to change our development model […] we need to build homes at par with climate requirements.”
Bilawal said it was a “joke” if any political party called for holding elections during floods.
“I can ask my workers to contest [local government] elections but we have to help flood victims because they are the first priority,” he added.
Regarding by-elections, the PPP co-chairperson said nobody should expect the Sindh chief minister to transfer officers deputed in flood-hit areas to polling stations.
He, however, insisted that the PPP had not demanded a delay in the polls. “It will now be our demand that polls should be held on time instead of holding them early.”
Bilawal said the decision would help the provincial government and federal administration in undertaking flood relief activities effectively.
In response to a question, Bilawal dispelled the impression that some countries were unwilling to help Pakistan during the floods, saying: “We did not feel at any point that no one wants to help us. We are thankful that everyone is offering us assistance.”
He accused the PTI chief of telling “constant lies with an intent that at least people will start believing a fraction of it”. He urged citizens to step up, cast politics aside and assist flood victims.