With the United Nations saying that the 2010 floods are the worst natural disaster the world has experienced in “recent history”, a city with a population of close to 200,000 has been evacuated and another — Sindh’s third largest, Sukkur — is under threat of flooding as well. The evacuation of the city of Muzaffargarh has highlighted the full horrors of the situation created by the worst floods in history. The announcement from mosques and by the administration for the hundreds of thousands of people of one of the largest urban centres in southern Punjab to move away created immense panic and misery which continues even now. A similar kind of panic has now spread to upper Sindh, particularly in Sukkur. In both cases, this has meant that people leave in a hurry and take whatever they can ? but with no clear instructions on where to go or how. The lack of transport meant tens of thousands were left with no option but to try and make it out on foot in scenes tragically reminiscent of the kind of mass exoduses seen at the time of Partition.
Sukkur Barrage has been taken over by the army and what does that indicate to us about the civilian administration and government? According to a detailed report in this newspaper, the operation of the barrage was taken over in response to a growing threat to the city. The impression that one gets is of squabbling politicians who simply cannot get their act together and get down to the business of providing relief and assistance to those who elected them to parliament. The result is a battered image of the elected government in particular and of democracy in particular, with a consequential lionising of the military. The impression created in people’s minds by this — and it is perhaps facilitated by some sections of the media — is that the military is the only institution in the country which is both capable and responsible enough to carry out the relief and rescue work. The result is that the military is being hailed for its work, though of course it is a force sustained at taxpayers’ expense and technically speaking at least, bound to follow government orders. Regrettably, in Pakistan it has often been seen that in times of a natural calamity the role of the military is lionised, while the civilian government is criticised no end, and this misses the point that all relief efforts are carried out under instructions from the civilian dispensation.
At last count, over 13 million people had been affected by the flood (this is according to the UN — the government is now saying 20 million have been affected). That is more than the population of some 150 countries (out of approximately 220 nations and territories worldwide) and should put the staggering scale of the devastation and the monumental task that lies before us in some perspective. However, since the monsoon is not yet over and with more rain expected to fall, in the next weeks if not in the next few days, the actual scale of the damage and assessment will not begin. That will only happen once the flood waters recede. At the very least, for now, the civilians need to get their act together and this means first and foremost ending the squabbling. This is important so that the millions affected by the flood and who voted to the elected representatives to public office receive some semblance of good governance. And this means that evacuations be carried out in a planned manner with those being asked to move provided with adequate shelter, food and clean water and medicines. Planning for the long-term relief effort should also commence including a transparent accounting mechanism for donations.
This is important also for individual donors because many may be reluctant since they don’t trust the government to use the fund properly. Other than the evacuation of threatened areas, and providing food and drinking water, this should be the government’s top priority.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2010.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ