Still waiting

Nearly a year after the devastating floods, the misery of countless continues

Muhammad Hamid Zaman June 06, 2023
The writer is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor of Biomedical Engineering, International Health and Medicine at Boston University. He tweets @mhzaman


Some have been waiting for another press conference, full of weak allegiances and unreliable promises of quitting politics. Others — in the same country — have been waiting for the promise of basic food and rudimentary shelter to be fulfilled. Some are hungry for a juicy story, others are just hungry.

Nearly a year after the devastating floods, the misery of countless continues. In the last several weeks, I spoke to three different experts about the condition of those who were affected by floods. The three do not know each other and do not even live in the same city. One of them is an infectious disease physician in Karachi who has worked in the makeshift camps. The second is a water policy expert based in Lahore. And the third is a member of an international relief group residing outside the country. All three of them were depressed and angry at our failure and our collective apathy. All three of them worked in different parts of Sindh and told different (but very similar) stories of human suffering, misery and exploitation. None of them believe that a better solution is not possible.

For starters, if we scan the news in print, electronic and social media, there is barely any mention of the affectees anymore. Yet, a trip to interior Sindh paints a very different story where the pain and misery continues without an end in sight. Every now and then, there is a new photo op or a press release about the generosity of an individual or mobilisation of international resources, but the reality on the ground is different. Those who were weak to begin with are suffering from poor diet, disease and state apathy. Those who thought they had lost everything are likely to lose their last possession — a tiny ray of hope. As one of the three people I spoke to told me quite bluntly — as a state, we have no desire to help them, we are simply interested in cashing in on their misery.

In defence of the collective neglect, two arguments are often made. The first is that this was a freak event, driven by climate change, and hence no one could be adequately prepared. On the face of it, the argument may have some merit — but in reality it is quite hollow. A trip to the makeshift camps tells the story of people who have been neglected for years — perhaps decades. Their health, mental and physical well-being, lack of education and poverty is not due to climate change. It is because of our own neglect, bad policies and widespread corruption.

The second argument often floated is rooted in deflection. This argument says that it is squarely, and exclusively, the responsibility of the local and provincial government. This argument is partially true. Yet, we all know full well in our hearts that when we do want to care about something, or someone, we do that regardless of the 18th amendment. We speak up for those who are dear to us, we stand up for what matters to us, and we generate pressure and find resources to help. The local government cannot be absolved of their neglect, but can we honestly say that we care? Do the media houses or the opinion makers really believe that this is an issue that is high on their radar? Can those who have recently professed their true love for the national institution and its symbols (after spending a week or so in Adiala) truly say that the plight of the flood victims is really bothering them? Can the expat community that has recently discovered the beautiful virtues of justice, honesty and concern for the fellow citizens say that they care for everyone — including the flood victims, and that they have always raised their voices for the voiceless?

It is easy to criticise our leaders who only care about themselves and whose entire world revolves around their own greatness and their accomplishments in and outside the country, with little regard for others — even those who are close to them. But deep down, aren’t we all guilty of the same thing?

Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2023.

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