Our moment of truth

As the furious floods swell, the inability to measure the scale of disaster is worrisome.


Arshad Shamsi August 10, 2010

KARACHI: As the furious floods swell, rage and foam - threatening to wipe out the existence an infinite number of villages, the inability to measure the scale of disaster is worrisome as is the attending confusion.

One day, we hear a government functionary saying the worst is behind us. The next day we are told to brace for the unpredictable. The trail of misery left by raging torrents is exacerbated by the slow and inadequate response to the tragedy.

Public anger at our president’s ill-timed visit to the UK was summed up by the Birmingham episode because people thought he should have stayed back in this moment of crisis. Not that he has a magic wand by the flourishing of which the nation’s troubles would have been wished away.

But as the head of state, his presence might have served as a kind of symbolic solace to the people who are in the middle of suffering a tsunami of sorts.

As if to repair the damage, our ever-smiling president has called a meeting of all four provinces on August 12 to brainstorm just how to get to grips with the disaster.

But while Asif Zardari will take time to settle back into saddle, the prime minister has pitched camp in Multan to coordinate relief efforts. It was there that he pronounced some weighty words: “We needed a homeland in 1947. Today we need a nation”. In this pronouncement, discerning minds can find allusion to politicians of diverse hues, quibbling over whose job it is to handle the crisis.

The quibbling is so intense that our genial premier needs to issue calls for forgetting the differences and uniting for the greater cause. In his assessment, the nation is capable of facing every challenge through unity.

But while the PM is amiable and his remarks often strike the right chord, his lieutenants are not so. One doesn’t know if this is by design. For instance, his law minister upped the ante the other day by saying that the Punjab government is busy playing ‘flood politics’.

It was beyond him why the Punjab government was demanding Rs25 billion from the federal government when it had unveiled a Rs480 billion annual budget for the province. “Where has that money gone?” he queried. The very next day, the PM applied the balm to the “wounded” Punjab administration, saying the federal government will try to compensate it for the losses.

While Sindh is right now in the eye of the storm, and therefore in the glare of publicity, the pain and suffering of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa appear to have been forgotten, as a report in this paper on Nowshera points out. Small wonder, the province’s most vocal minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain makes it a point every day that his province is not pushed out of sight or out of mind.

On Monday, he asked not only the federal government but also other provinces to provide help on an emergency basis. According to the update provided by him, over 4.2 million people have been affected by floods in K-P. And in the last two days, 50 more people have died in rain-related incidents. He minced no words in saying that the provincial government is unable to rebuild flood-hit areas.

As things stand, the nation (and this includes our ever-sparring politicians) must heed the PM’s call for unity and attempt to find a way out of the calamity.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2010.

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