PTH is starting a series of posts devoted to the Pakistan’s current crisis effects of which will be long term in nature. While millions of Pakistanis are in dire need of emergency help, our country’s political and economic instability will have ramifications for the region and the world. This is why it is extremely important to understand how several parts of Pakistan have lost decades of development and a state with weak capacities needs billions of dollars in the short term to start a major programme of rehabilitation. If Pakistani state is unable to intervene, the Taliban and other Al-Qaeda militants (and their allies in South Punjab) will find a golden opportunity to annihilate the Pakistani state, discredit constitutional governance and capture political space. Pakistanis cannot be silent victims and therefore we will speak. Pakistan has to be rescued and the international community cannot absolve itself of the responsibility towards its frontline state. Raza Rumi
AA Khalid, a regular at PTH, has written the first article for this series.
Pakistan Floods – Issues and Lessons
The weakness of the State in Pakistani politics has always been a concern but with the advent of the tragic floods it has been exemplified and magnified. In a recent Guardian article it has been observed that:
‘’Ever since Pakistan was created, the army has been the only institution capable of responding to natural disasters. One of the reasons that the military has been so politically dominant is that successive civilian governments have relied on the generals to help them deal with national crises.’’
This is not a problem contingent on which political party is in office, but rather is a comment on the inability of the State to take control and have a discernable sphere of influence and power.
Elsewhere it has been noted that the problem of the international response has been marred by perceptions of Pakistan that have been focused and limited to violence. In another Guardian article:
‘’ Compare and contrast: within days of the 2004 tsunami, £100m had poured into Oxfam, the Red Cross and other charities, and by February 2005 when the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) closed its appeal, the total stood at £300m. The Haiti earthquake appeal closed with donations of £101m. The DEC total for the Pakistan floods appeal has just reached £10m. .’’
The reasons for this are that the media coverage of Pakistan in the international process lacks any sort of depth, sensitivity and intellectual empathy. The reductionist approach to Pakistan has meant that Pakistanis are reduced to a fixed and narrow set of problems whilst totally ignoring the wider context. Pieces on Pakistan in the international press rarely focus on the other multitude of problems which affect the general population. Economics and real democratic discourse are ignored, and the phenomenon of puritan fundamentalism is hence seen in isolation from socio-economic affairs.
Prevention is always a better remedy. Any country would struggle to deal with the current disaster in Pakistan which has been greater in size and scope than the last few international disasters combined. The current disaster is by far the largest in the UN’s history. In the Telegraph:
‘’ Although the current 1,600 death toll in Pakistan represents a tiny fraction of the estimated 610,000 people killed in the three previous events, some two million more people – 13.8 million – have suffered losses requiring long or short-term help. Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: “This disaster is worse than the tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake.”Hence the question remains, that it is the existing infrastructure (and need for new infrastructure such as dams) and need for planning for disasters that is the main lesson that needs to be taken away from this disaster. The need for using science and understanding the our climate is greater now more than ever. With climate change now readily accepted as an actual phenomenon by leading scientific authorities we need to investigate and look at this event more seriously for our own future planning. A BBC article on the subject of understanding the Indus in relation to climate change theories:”Monsoon intensity is somewhat sensitive to the surface temperature of the Indian Ocean.
“During times of cooler climate, less moisture is picked up from the ocean, the monsoon weakens, and the Indus river flow is reduced.”So, will global warming have the reverse effect, returning the Indus to the monster river of 6,000 years ago?”That is the million-dollar question”, said Professor John Clague, from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, an expert on the Asian monsoon. “There is huge uncertainty… and this is a matter of heated debate amongst scientists at present.”
Climate change needs to be looked closely by authorities and planning according to what the scientific data tells us needs to be made.
As another article points out we need to take a more proactive stance on flooding and natural disasters, since any State would find it difficult to respond to the calamities of such epic disasters:
‘’ For preparation to face such disasters in future, the Pakistan government has to build adequate flood defences along the Indus River, where most of southern Pakistan’s population live, and improving flood-forecasting systems.’’
However, the construction of dams in Pakistan has always been a contentious issue, usually marred by provincialism and financial greed, in total disregard for the national interest:
‘’ The present destruction and calamity could have been prevented,” said Shams-ul Mulk, a former chief of Pakistan’s Water and Power Development Authority, who has championed the dam’s construction. “If the Kalabagh dam had been built, this flood could have been tamed in the reservoir.”
‘’ The Kalabagh project faces opposition from landowners south of Punjab province, who fear a large new dam could be used to withhold water in times of drought.’’
This provincialism and misguided self interest has been proven wrong in the advent of this flood. What the floods have told us is that our provincial and financial interest which we regard as rational is actually irrational. A nation needs to act with coherence and a sense of unified purpose. Those who argue on provincial and financial interest for the opposition for the construction of dams need to reconsider now; indeed it is their moral duty to fully support such dams. If this flood has taught us anything it is that prevention and planning are key, since the response to such disasters is always going to struggle, hence the debate on dam construction needs to be brought back on the table and pursued vigorously.