As the flood tragedy unfolds, I feel frustrated and helpless as I see widespread chaos and lack of coordination between government agencies. In a massive tragedy like this, timing is of the essence. When you have over 20 million homeless, you cannot waste a single hour else people will die, epidemics will spread and the situation will go from bad to worse. The initial reaction to this catastrophe has quite abundantly shown that those displaced will, by and large, have to cope with the bitter reality on their own, without much government help. When a society grows into a social structure with a total lack of accountability and blatant disregard for equality before law, then there is not much one can expect from the rulers.
Recently, I visited flood-affected areas around Multan and I was appalled to see hundreds and thousands of fellow citizens living on road sides under trees or self-made shelters. The look on their faces was of total helplessness and desperation — they had no idea where their next meal would come from or whether they would get any medicines if they were to fall ill. We couldn’t reach Muzaffargarh since all roads that led to that town had been inundated or swept away. People could be seen wading through water to get some relief goods and then going back to their homes. One could see water for miles, and fields ripe for plucking, their crops rotting. Among the women, every third or so had a small child or baby in her lap but no hope of finding much-needed milk or food. It is estimated that among those displaced by the floods there are around half a million women who are expecting.
Many NGOs are desperately trying to plug the gap left by the incompetence of local administration. I support an NGO by the name of HOPE (Health Oriented Preventive Medicine) which has set up medical camps in Sukkur, Muzaffargarh and Nowshera. Over 5,000 patients have been treated thanks to donations by multinationals and philanthropists. The idea behind this article, primarily, is to suggest to the government that in order to streamline relief work, a reliable and effective communications network should be set up. This should be done so that the NGOs, as well as philanthropists, involved in the relief effort, know where the real need lies. Perhaps a slot should be fixed in all news channels in which a government official can be invited to give a live update, using a map, pointing out all places and areas where relief is most needed. The government must get its act together: if it cannot help with actual relief work due to lack of funds or infrastructure, it should help with communicating to the public where the real need is — and it should do this on a daily basis.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 3rd, 2010.
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