Floods Exacerbate Pakistan’s Woes

Trapped in decade long Taliban and Bloch insurgencies and economic and energy crisis Pakistan is facing another natural disaster caused by monsoon floods which so far has killed 434 people, destroyed or damaged 1.5 million homes and affected 8.9 million people in Southern provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan. And, 4.2 million acres of agricultural land have been inundated, ruining the crops, mainly cotton which is key contributor of 60 per cent exports of the country. Asian Development Bank estimates that the country has lost $10 billion in property and agriculture.

Cash-strapped Pakistani government, which faces sharp criticism by the victims for woeful response, has set aside $57 million for rehabilitation. Unpredictable huge financial needs for relief and rehabilitation process will rigorously endanger regular developmental infrastructure of the country, which heavily relays on foreign aid and $11 billion from the IMF credit to keep the economy afloat.

Pakistan is already struggling to cope with the colossal losses of last year’s floods, which killed about 2,000 people, made 11 million homeless and caused $12 billion burden on country’s shrinking economy. Taliban insurgency is another nuisance, which caused losses up to $67.93 billion since 2001 due to Pakistan’s role in the ‘war against terror’. Besides cultivating unfathomable socio-economic and political disparities among the regions and citizens primarily originated from the loss of 35,000 citizens and 3,500 security personal, the war has also declined the GDP ratio from 22.5 per cent in 2006-07 to 13.4 per cent in 2010-11.

Since last few decades’ country has faced many brutal natural and man-made upheavals but incompetence and incapability of the government functionaries have been major impediment in tackling such tragedies. From 2005 earthquake to internal migration of over two million people in 2009 Swat operation, last year’s catastrophic floods and regular fluxes of the IDPs in Northern region, Pakistani regime has poorly failed in swift response in all adversities mainly because of the lack of professionalism, political will and deplorable isolation and widening gap between poor and the elite.

The government should have been well organized for the current monsoon by learning from previous mistakes; nonetheless it again remained unsuccessful to deliver in preparedness and rescue. As a result, anger and antipathy runs high among flood victims who need immediate help.

Unfortunately, with a long history of floods, Pakistan has made too little progress, or none, regarding effective disaster management and flood control mechanism. At the end of last month, when rains started and forecasters predicted more catastrophic spells of downpours, local rescuers rejected the need any international help claiming being completely ready to undertake the situation. Conversely, this was the time when three top office holders- President, Prime Minister and Speaker, were abroad for their private visits at a tragic time when millions of poor Pakistani citizens, submerged under water and diseases, were struggling for their survival. Same happened last year when, President Zardari continued his foreign visit when flash floods hit his homeland.

Repeating the same episode in the present floods when torrential rains, epidemics and poor administrative response execrated the situation, in an hurriedly called televised address , Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani disgracefully sought international help after weeks of rains which till that had killed 141 people and displaced more than 4 million in southern Sindh province, where these lives could have been saved if state functionaries behaved humanly.

The United Nations which equates the Pakistani situation with African famines has appealed for $365m (£231m) to shore up relief and rescue operations. However, international response is likely to be much lesser than the volume of the tragedy due to Islamabad’s poor track record of handling foreign aid and bad image. Quoting a diplomat that ‘Pakistan is a bad brand’, Joe Cropp, an official of the Red Cross movement (IFRC) admits that negative perceptions about Pakistan in international community are impacting humanitarian fund-raising efforts". Consequently, so far only $19 million has been received by the UN.

This ‘bad brand’ factor is amongst one of the few major factors which resulted in scant response from the world for rehabilitation of previous years floods. Only $1.3 billion has been released from total of $1.9 billion pledged aid for the survivors of the 2010 floods. Country has already misused $ 473 million international aid donated for earthquake victims.

Today corruption is rampant in Pakistan. Transparency International (TI) world corruption index gives 2.3 score to Pakistan, which parameters as defined by the TI places the country in highly corrupt regions. Two Pakistani ministers have been sacked in current government for corrupt practices; of late one of them was arrested for fiscal fraud. In spite of sub-standard cooperation from lawmakers and administration , Pakistani judiciary has managed to recover millions of dollars plundered by high ups. Mr Monis Ilahi, son of a the most senior minister of the country, is behind the bar for embezzlement charges in a land scam in which local investigators have also questioned Prime Minister’s sons. In this environment miseries of flood victims could be coupled if world community hesitates to donate required aid for flood survivors.

Pakistan is located in a disaster-prone South Asian region, which loses up to six percent of its GDP due to disasters annually. Climate change is aggravating the situation especially in the Pakistan, where repeated floods occur. But water management system is deficient.

Pakistani river management sector is adversely affected by abuse, corruption, and lack of modern practices and infrastructure. Country’s highest court has declared that one of the considerable reasons for profound human and structural loss in last year’s floods were widespread dishonesty and fraudulent practices in concerned departments where officials fail to launch preventive measures.

Moreover, Pakistan lacks decent public housing; consequently a large number of people lives in the banks of rivers and canals and suffer imperfectly in the monsoon rains. These poor communities need permanent settlement away from rivers, which can reduce human and financial loss.

Similarly floods warning system need to be accessible for the public. Launching a modern irrigation and river system and high standard and disaster prevention infrastructure can trim down country’s irrecoverable financial and human loss caused by frequent floods. Also, integration of climate change in the policy and planning can help to sustain local water resources.