City slickers

Whichever bright spark came up with the idea of relocating flood affected people to Karachi should be hanged.

Zahrah Nasir August 20, 2010

Whichever bright spark came up with the idea of relocating flood affected people to Karachi should be hanged, drawn and quartered without delay. The logistics of this blatantly stupid fiasco – costing untold millions of rupees that could have been far better utilised elsewhere – are one thing, the psychological and physiological consequences something else altogether.

The vast majority of these IDPs are borderline subsistence agricultural workers to whom city life, let alone overcrowded camp life, is total anathema. Used to life in the wide open spaces, they have seen their entire world swallowed by the Indus in one mighty gulp, most of them losing their simple dwellings, livestock, belongings and crops in the process and the last thing their fragile psyches need right now is to be, forcibly in some cases, marched off to what amount to prison camps. Well-intentioned prison camps but prison camps nonetheless.

Some of the men will, no doubt, gravitate towards city ‘attractions’ and some women, presumably with babes in arms, will be encouraged to stuff any remaining shreds of pride in their tattered pockets and head out to beg, being exploited by all manner of nefarious creatures in the process. Children, unless watched like hawks, have a terrible habit of simply vanishing into the unknown in such circumstances and some of them probably will, bringing even more grief upon their already suffering parents’ heads.

The crazy idea behind this organised exodus is, presumably, to provide ‘safe havens’ where all the necessities of life can be distributed in a ‘controlled’ and ‘transparent’ atmosphere but this is unlikely to be the case as, when push comes to shove, which it already has, the strong trample on the weak and exploiters move in. Herding the people into massive camps is supposed to make it easier for the authorities to assist. It also makes it easier for disease to spread, for unrest to generate and be stoked into action.

Removing the flood victims from their cultural and ancestral roots is a dangerously disruptive course of action from which they stand to lose even more, if this is possible, than they already have. In the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, people were also moved into camps, often at quite a distance from their destroyed homes, and it is largely from amongst these people that those who have not yet managed to restart their lives come. Those who, despite the odds, refused to move to camps, staying right where they were despite horrendous conditions, are the ones who picked up the pieces first and are now, on the whole, living productive lives once more. Surely lessons should have been learnt from this.

There is also another, extremely nasty side to moving people, no matter how temporarily, away from their precious land. As flood waters recede and land becomes visible once more, possibly with altered contours, ownership and tenancy issues will come to the fore with, yet again, the strong forcing off the weak. This despicable scenario was evident after the earthquake too with some landlords taking the opportunity to evict sitting tenants plus claim their share of cash allocated for reconstruction. There is no reason to believe it will be any different this time around.

It would have been far more sensible to establish camps as close to peoples' drowned homes as possible as this would have made it simpler for them to start over as soon as they possibly can. Transporting them to a distant city, a far from peaceful city at that, will only exacerbate problems all round.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st , 2010.


Dr Qaisar Rashid | 11 years ago | Reply I am convinced now that the IDPs should not move to Karachi. Can they move to Hyderabad?
rehan | 11 years ago | Reply I agree with you that the move to Karachi was/is a bad idea.
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