A token visit by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to the rain-ravaged districts of Sindh fell short of their expectations as he only had assurances to offer.
“I will direct the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to do rescue and relief work,” he told a selected group of rain-displaced people at the Army Model School relief camp in Shaheed Fazal Rahu tehsil. According to the people there, it did not even have medicines. Actually, it had been set up one day before Gilani’s arrival.
Badin has been hit hard by the monsoon rains - 475 millimeters have been recorded. Also affected are Tando Muhammad Khan, followed by parts of Mirpurkhas and Tando Allahyar districts. Thousands of people waded into the hot, knee-deep waters to seek shelter, leaving behind inundated crops.
For the affected farmers, Gilani offered just a ray of hope. “I will ask the finance ministry to consider waiving loans,” he said. The Zarai Taraqiati Bank had also been asked to provide loans to the farming community. “I will also want the agriculture development banks to provide soft loans to the farmers.” He pledged a survey so that compensation can be offered later on. The National Database and Registration Authority will register the people for the Watan Card and they will also receive support from the Benazir Income Support Programme. Losses to property and crops will also be surveyed. According to Sindh Works and Services Minister Zulfiqar Mirza, who accompanied the PM and is from Badin, more than 80% of standing crops have been destroyed in the area.
A desperate Badin DCO, Kazim Hussain Jatoi, while briefing the prime minister, demanded Rs100 million in financial support, 200 suction pumps, 2,000 tents, 50 boats, 100,000 ration bags and helicopters. In return, the PM only nodded to the air force support for rescue.
On an emotional note, the PM said he felt sad to see the plight of the people of Badin who had become victims of another natural disaster in less than a year’s time. However, he sidestepped dredging up the irrigation and drainage problems, which contributed to the misery brought on by the natural disasters. One of the problems is that a breach developed in the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD), which is the biggest saline nullah of Asia. The gap is 200 feet wide and inundated more than 100 villages on Monday.
“Badin is flooded by the LBOD and the irrigation system,” said National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza, who accompanied the PM. She complained that no meaningful work had been done to reinforce the irrigation system in the last three to four decades. “I hope the PM will announce some urgent efforts in this regard,” she added. Indeed, the question was, did no one predict or warn the rains and could the government not have prepared the district’s people for the disaster? Were no lessons learnt from last year?
The PM and his team were taken up for an aerial view from Tando Muhammad Khan to Badin, including the Sindhri area of Mirpurkhas. “I cannot even say if one area is destroyed more than the other,” said Fehmida Mirza. According to estimates, 100,000 families have been displaced. The army has moved about 200 families to safety.
Gilani was also accompanied Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah and ministers Syed Naveed Qamar, Khurshid Shah and Zulfiqar Mirza. He advised Federal Minister Syed Naveed Qamar to prepare a plan with a permanent solution so that Tando Muhammad Khan district is protected in the future. Qamar said that the people of Tando Muhammad Khan had never seen such rain and the losses were estimated at Rs5 billion.
Pakistan Baitul Maal’s Zamurrad Khan and MNA Nawab Yousuf Talpur, who were also with him, expressed shock over the devastation.
Many of the people from Badin have fled to Mithi where the district administration has set up 122 relief camps. Tharparkar DCO Shakeel-uz Zaman said that more than 16,000 people have been affected by the rain in Thar.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2011.