For obvious reasons, as the heaviest downpours of the 2011 monsoon season begin in both Punjab and Sindh, the rains bring with them a great deal of anxiety. The memories of the havoc caused in 2010 are still fresh in many minds. But what is worrying is the indication that inadequate measures are in place to save people from suffering. The Sindh chief minister said on August 16 that over a million people have been affected in Badin, Tando Muhammad Khan and Mirpur Khas. The National Disaster Management Authority, in its briefing to the prime minister, also stated that people had been marooned, with the navy staging rescues. The president has ordered an inquiry and the prime minister has distributed relief goods, but there is doubt as to whether these steps translate into any real relief for panic-stricken people, some of whom have not recovered from the devastation inflicted last year.
Some media reports have spoken of shortages of food and other vital items in the region, which has been declared ‘calamity-hit’ by the Sindh chief minister. In the absence of adequate relief camps, help to victims is mainly being provided by other locals people not as badly affected. This situation does not say much for management by the government. As several international agencies have warned, there appears to be a lack of disaster-readiness and no evidence that lessons have been learnt from last year. While it is not possible to anticipate every twist a natural disaster may take, the monsoon itself comes as no surprise. Plans to distribute food and vital supplies and issue early warnings should have been put in place well in advance. But such forward-thinking it seems is not the strong point of our administrators and the brunt of this weakness is borne by the people. Concern over the maintenance of dykes and drains by the irrigation department had been raised last year too. So too had a whole range of other issues. But it seems too little has been done to translate discussions at meetings into realities on the ground, and the results of this failure are visible today in Badin. The monsoon is far from over and one hopes that at least some prevention measures will be put in place to minimise further displacement and losses.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2011.
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