By Air Commodore® Khalid Iqbal
Like the United States, Pakistan has a long history of looking towards the military for help in case of natural disasters and hazards. This interaction of armed forces with common public, during times of distress, earns a perennial good will for the armed forces. Due to their organic characteristic of responsiveness, the armed forces are generally the first agency to reach to the suffering lot and carry out rescue operations. Hence they make the first and lasting impression on the minds of public at large.
This time around also, it was no different. The three services sprang into action immediately and rescued hundreds and thousands during marginal weather; the effort goes on, involving over 60,000 personnel, encompassing all facets of search, rescue and relief.
Massive damage to rail-road networks and washing away of bridges has made aircraft as the only choice to reach out to the large chunks of stranded population. Transport fleet of Pakistan Air Force and air arms of our Army and Navy were the first flag bearers of hope for the stranded people. Naval commandos and their boats were the only mean of contact when unrelenting torrential rains kept the aircraft from flying.
Prompt provision of a large fleet of helicopters by the Unted States has made a significant contribution in speeding up of relief operations. These days, dual rotor Chinooks symbolise the good will of United States towards the people of Pakistan, during their times of distress. USAID and other American NGO’s already present in Pakistan quickly adapted to the situation and joined the relief effort. Interim halting of drone attacks has been well received in the public; hopefully this will lead to perennial moratorium, even though undeclared. To date, USA is the largest international donor in cash and kind. This wholesome enabling approach by the United States to combat the menace of floods is earning much desired and long awaited public good will towards America.
Simultaneously with the armed forces of Pakistan and the American Chinooks, another community to reach out to the flood affectees were numerous Religious and Social Charities of Pakistan. Due to their perennial participation in the social services field, these charities have the advantage of spontaneous reach to grass root level. Their highly motivated volunteers need no formal order and onset of a calamity is itself an order for them to react. Hence, when torrential monsoon rains flooded the country, sparking Pakistan’s worst-ever humanitarian crisis, religious and social charities moved fast, much faster than the governmental bureaucracy. These organisations are indeed our national pride. This also speaks volumes about our vibrant civil society, whose generous donations provide working capital for these charities.
Banned in Pakistan and on a UN terror list, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) is one of the numerous religious organisations which are active in providing relief to millions of survivors. This organization was instrumental in filling a void created by the inertia of the civilian government to mobilise. JuD’s newly set up welfare organisation ‘Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation’ is making invaluable contribution towards overall relief operations.
Unfounded fears are being aired that such charities are using soft power to propagate extremism in the state. It would be in the fitness of the things that social services and humanitarian activities of these charities be duly recognised instead of subjecting them to unnecessary stereotyping.
As regards required quantum of resources, the needs inevitably exceed the government’s response capacity, 14-16 million people are in urgent need of help. World community is already involved in relief work through international aid agencies, which are engaged in Pakistan in post-military operations scenario like Swat etc. Aid agencies have food stocks and other emergency supplies but they are facing problems as to how the aid should be transported to the affectees as basic infrastructure is no more there on the ground. Hopefully, arrival of 19 additional US Naval helicopters would significantly enhance the reach of aid workers.
Nevertheless, there is a dire need to restore the infrastructure, at a fast pace, to enable continued access to the affectees. American donation of a number of prefabricated steel bridges have boosted the national effort towards early restoration of access to the stranded people.
Natural calamities are a matter of routine in Pakistan. However, the ongoing spate of floods is of a rare category. Floods were expected this summer but their magnitude was not anticipated to be of such a scale. The monsoon floods that swept across the country have destroyed homes, farms, factories and means of livelihoods for millions of people, at a pretty fast pace. The national response was not geared up to the required level. Likewise, the international response took more than usual reaction time to start cranking.
Now a major international relief operation is in its full swing. More than 160,000 people have so far received UN’s emergency shelter and relief assistance in flood affected areas of Pakistan. This organization launched an initial US$ 41 million appeal to meet the needs of people affected by the disaster. Initial programme of the United Nations aimed at helping 80,000 families. However, realising that the people of Pakistan urgently need the support of the international community at a much larger scale, the UN has launched a flash appeal for additional US$ 460 in emergency aid.
UNHCR component in Pakistan spontaneously retooled it self to flood relief operations, it is focusing its flood relief efforts mainly in Khyber Paktunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, where it is already assisting Pakistani communities and internally displaced persons due to conflict. The agency has also started its relief operations in Sindh.
Aid agencies in Pakistan are warning that unless international assistance increases substantially and soon, many more lives would be at risk. The warning comes as flood waves continue to move further south. Tents, ready to eat meals and medicines for water borne diseases are the top priority requirement.
Pakistani’s are a resilient nation blessed with vibrant civil society. In due course, it will surely overcome the effects of floods. However, as we cope with the calamity, there is a need to put our house in order. Only a short while before the floods, the provinces were at each other’s throat on the issue of scarce water supply for irrigating the crops. And now proverbially, it is ‘water water all round, not a draught to drink’. Effects of this flood could have been mitigated to a large extent had we built adequate rain/flood water storage facilities.
It is time for the national political leadership to do an exercise in soul searching and rise to the occasion to formulate a ‘national water management policy’. It should be a bipartisan approach on the pattern of the ones adopted for the National Finance Commission Award and the landmark 18th constitutional amendment.
While living in the sophisticated 21st century, we can not leave millions of our people at the mercy of recurring natural calamities, for which preventive measures are within our reach and capacity. This event also calls for casting a fresh look at our disaster management strategy. We need to evolve a responsive and proactive disaster management organization, equipped and motivated to be the first agency to reach out to the suffering people.
Air Cdre Khalid is Masters in Political Science along with War and Strategic Studies. He has also done Air War Course, Fellow of Air War College. Instructor’s Course. Senior Command & Staff course. Combat Commander’s Course. He has been a Directing Staff at various institutions of Pakistan Air Force. Presently he is a visitng faculty at:
- PAF air War College (Staff Wing &War Wing).
- School of Army Air Defence.
- Naval War College, Lahore.
Quaid-i- Azam University (DSS Department).