Based on a road trek of flood-hit areas across Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and on a fundraising trip to New York and Houston financed by the Pakistan League of America, I have some recommendations for the government. Even though the last set of recommendations sent to the prime minister were not acted upon, I am still suggesting some more in the hope that this time he will
1. To expect people to evacuate on their own is not going to work. The government needs to take charge. Affectees are not listening to government evacuation instructions because of bad conditions in the relief camps. The aid that will come in should be used to improve these relief camps. 2) Communication strategy has to be improved for damage assessment to be credible. SOS help lines need to be manned round-the-clock. The media, district governments, parliamentarians and civil society all need to be diverted to these hotlines so responses can be better executed. Once the damage assessment data is credible and better coordinated, international funds will be better spent. A sound information gathering system is a prerequisite to disaster management. It is chaotic right now. 3) Law and order is a disaster. Police and Rangers need to be posted in the kachcha areas of Sindh since they are infested with dacoits. Those who are robbing or selling relief goods during transportation need to be dealt with a heavy hand.
4) There is very little coordination between the government and international NGOs despite announcements of coordination committees. Pakistani Americans will donate if given personal guarantees. However, they would rather not give to the government directly because they fear their donations will be siphoned off. This is also the case with international NGOs who are insisting on direct interventions and keeping away from government distribution mechanisms. Thus an immediate transparent means of auditing of funds as they are being spent, with an online database of where they are being spent, needs to be put in place. Only then will international donations increase. 5) Distribution of international aid across all provinces needs to be equitable as per damage and not as per political preferences which is being currently alleged by many quarters. The focus of the media on various areas should be according to devastation. Right now far flung areas are being ignored.
6) Food shortages which we had predicted are now accelerating. What is urgently required is an agriculture damage assessment and a plan to manage the shortages without putting the poor under more food stress. Price control committees, especially prior to Ramazan, need to be made effective. The government cannot leave hoarders to take full advantage of this crisis. 7) Infrastructural damage assessment will be key to better management in the future. It must not be delayed. International assistance over and above relief can be started. If this process is delayed, the cost of the first phase will be extended since people will continue living in inhumane conditions in non-existent camps and will not be able to return to rehabilitated homes. We should have better rehabilitation and relief systems based on our earthquake system. It doesn’t seem like we have learnt anything from 2005 and institutions built then seem ineffective. Also, funds spent on ‘bunds’ have not been properly utilised and they will need to be audited to check for corruption.
In the midst of all this, the attack on media freedom is insane. So is flood politics. Better coordination between the government and the opposition is required to be able to respond smoothly. That is far from the case right now. A special parliamentary committee needs to oversee these efforts to be able to play an effective monitoring role. MNAs should stay in their constituencies, coordinating information gathering, relief and rehabilitation.
We are facing a grave crisis and we need to organise ourselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2010.
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