One-quarter of Pakistan’s land is inundated, affecting 20 million people who lost their dear ones, livelihoods, shelter, and life time savings (often in the form of livestock). Standing paddy crop in upper Sindh is completely washed away while the cotton crop in Punjab is partially damaged. Millions of tons of stored wheat in most of the flood affected areas is damaged. However, current losses by the floods are just the tip of the iceberg as people’s lives, the country’s economy, food security, and political stability may face even worse challenges in the coming weeks and months. Providing clean drinking water and food to the flood survivors is a daunting task, but an even greater challenge is controlling the spread of infectious diseases, especially cholera, diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, and skin diseases in the camps, caused mainly due to the lack of medicines, clean water and sanitation. People have lost most of their livestock and the remaining may die because of starvation and lack of veterinary care.
Upper Dir, Shangla, Malakand, Swat, D G Khan, Rajin Pur, Muzaffargarh, Kohlo, Kashmore, Jacobabad and Dadu are not only the worst flood-hit districts but are also the worst areas of food insecurity (read as poverty stricken) of their respective province as mentioned in “Sustainable Development Policy Institute-World Food Program-Swiss Agency for Development & Cooperation’s” joint report, Food Security in Pakistan 2009. Incidentally these districts are also marred by various forms of militancy and violence too. The links are quite clear, wrong policies lead to poverty and marginalisation, which in turn not only lead to militancy but also increased vulnerabilities to natural calamities.
Food insecurity would be a major issue not only in flood-affected areas but also in major cities especially in Karachi which is dependent on food supplies from upper Sindh, Punjab, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Right now Karachi’s food supply depends on food hoarded for the month of Ramazan. Once that stock depletes, Karachi may face severe food insecurity.
The loss of infrastructure, agriculture, and livelihood means reduced economic activities, production and exports, increased imbalance of payment, missed fall plantation of wheat and slow GDP growth. Absence of any fiscal cushion and lack of policy manoeuvring space due to IMF conditionalities would create economic rigmarole as well as political instability. The proposed plans to suspend Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) and use that money for relief and rehabilitation will result in suspension of all normal social and infrastructure development programs making people more vulnerable to external and internal shocks.
Rehabilitation of flood damage may take three to four years and most of the donors seem to wait for a rehabilitation plan based on independent damage assessment. Government image, reports of corruption in earthquake donations, and weak institutional arrangement for disaster management can also affect a donor’s response.
Leaving the task of demarcation of destroyed properties and inundated agricultural land to “patwaris” of revenue department will be a major blunder. Besides establishing an ‘overview commission’ at the federal level, it is also important to set up ‘district level commissions’ comprising local nobilities, representatives of media, civil society, and district officials. Such commissions would not only ensure accurate damage assessment but also transparent distribution of aid.
To address food insecurity issues and to control food inflation, import of essential items especially vegetables and pulses should start through the Wagah border. Likewise export of live animals must be banned with immediate effect.
Finally, climate change negotiation teams should prepare the case for Pakistan’s inclusion into the list of “the most vulnerable countries”. This would enable Pakistan’s access to climate change adaptation fund on preferential basis. The challenges that need to be met are immediate, medium and long-term but all of them require urgent actions and all of us have to play our part.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2010.