Politics and impact of flood compensation packages

The so-called comprehensive compensation packages carry everything that is worst and miss everything that is good

Sarwar Bari December 13, 2022
The writer is National Coordinator of Pattan Development Organisation and has served as head of FAFEN

In the first part of this article, I had discussed how flood compensation package of each province is likely to deepen pre-flood inequalities and vulnerabilities. In other words, we have lost an opportunity to build resilience of vulnerable people. This part further explores public policy failure on disaster risk reduction. As stated before, compensation package of each province not only disregards constitutional guarantees, public policy guidelines, international commitments under SDGs and Sendai Framework for DRR, but also ignores best practices of the past.

For instance, in the aftermath of 2005 earthquake and 2010 super floods, every family whose house was destroyed fully or damaged partially – whether kucha or pukka – received equal amount of money for reconstruction. Though the policy didn’t eliminate disparities, it helped establish housing equality – worth generous appreciation. Though house reconstruction was owner-driven, arrangements were made to improve capacities of masons and households to build better houses in quake-hit areas. Within a couple of years, more than 50% affected families had rebuilt their houses according to quake-resilient designs. Resultantly, public policy helped build resilience. No wonder international actors appreciated Pakistan’s effort. In the case of 2010 flood, financial package for the house reconstruction was uniform, and no technical assistance was provided to people to build better houses. People ended up rebuilding poor-quality houses – and that too in flood-prone areas. Resultantly, a lethal combination of risk and vulnerability was reinvented.

And now in the aftermath of the 2022 mega floods, the so-called comprehensive compensation packages carry everything that is worst and miss everything that is good. Today, after four months of the disaster, no one is sure how much money each of the flood victims is entitled to receive from the government. Even websites of relevant departments have not displayed relevant information on their homepages. Knowledge is power. So, keep the people ignorant and let those who (officials) have the details befool the already marginalised people and add to their woes – something that goes against the stated official policy and constitutes a serious violation of the social contract.

Consider the following three guiding principles prepared by the Ministry of Planning and Development with the support of UN bodies, EU, WB and ADB for the support of affected people: 1) Ensure that recovery and reconstruction efforts take a consistent approach including participatory, inclusive and green recovery for long-term resilience. 2) Be pro-poor, pro-vulnerable and gender-sensitive, targeting the most affected. 3) Ensure coordination among the various government tiers through centralised policy and planning; and conflict-sensitive implementation.

The three principles reflect the spirit of the Constitution of Pakistan, the National Disaster Management Policy, SDGs, etc. For instance, Article 38(d) of the Constitution clearly obligates the state to provide food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief to those affected by disasters permanently or temporarily. Therefore, providing support to the affected people can’t be treated as compensation – rather entitlement. But decision-makers in 2022 appear treating the victims discriminately in violation of the Constitution. For instance, if Mr A had a mud house before a disaster, he deserves less amount of money than Mr B who owned a pukka house. With this mindset, all the ruling parties and bureaucracies appear to have prepared the compensation packages. The architects of the compensation packages also ignored clause (e) of Article 38 of the Constitution which obligates the state to “reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals” and Article 14 which guarantees inviolability of dignity of person.

I believe the term ‘compensation’ shouldn’t be used for the flood victims as it means award in recognition of loss that takes place at work. Very often it is used to compensate workers in case they are injured or killed while on duty. More than 4,000 years back, Chinese, Greeks and Romans had elaborate compensation system for workers. Even world’s most cruel pirates of the 16th century had outlined requirements for compensating for injuries to specific body parts of their crew members. For instance, payment for thumb injury was worth half of a finger and reward for loss of right hand was higher than the left one. The workers’ compensation systems being used today in many countries appear to have evolved from ancient practices. Fast forward to 2022. Under the flood response compensation package, the government has fixed Rs100,000 for critical injury and Rs40,000 for minor injury. Applying that concept of differentiated awards for different body parts therefore seems inhumane, as it doesn’t consider human body as one.

One wonders what factors had influenced the decision-makers. As general elections are likely to be announced anytime, politicians tend to find ways to build and consolidate their vote bank. There can’t be more opportune time to achieve this political objective. No wonder, the current compensation packages are more complex and elaborate – hence, easy to manipulate. For instance, huge number of people could be compensated for minor injuries, loss of cattle and damage to crops because it is easy to hide the actual amount of loss and difficult to cross-check. The larger the scale of distribution, the deeper the dependency and marginalisation.

Moreover, a large number of affected families in rural areas cultivate lands of big feudal lords and they pay fixed rent on an annual basis. Most of them also live on the farms. During my visit to the affected areas, some farmers expressed their concerns that their landlords were likely to confiscate major portion of the compensation money they would receive for loss of crops and cattle. Any minor defiance could lead to eviction and loss of house too.

It is reasonable to conclude that in the aftermath of the flood disaster, most likely landed elite would become more entrenched and richer and millions of poor people have already become more vulnerable and more marginalised. At the same time, I have never ever seen so much anger against feudal lords. For instance, the number of protest demos, especially in Sindh, is unprecedented. Water will evaporate one day but the anger may explode at some stage.

Tail piece: on 17th November our organisation sent letters to the Chairman NDMA, and all the heads of PDMAs, conveying our critique of the compensation packages and recommendations for improvement. As this piece is being written, we have not even received an acknowledgment from anyone.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 13th, 2022.

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