By Dr. Raja Muhammad Khan
The dictates of history prove that great nations have always been confronted with greater challenges thus facing those challenges in a becoming manner made them great. In its testimony of being a great nation, Pakistan has been confronted with greater challenges throughout its history; but by the grace of Almighty, it has always stood to the test of time.
In the recent past, Pakistan was hit by a natural calamity in the form of Earthquake-2005. This devastating earthquake took away over 73,000 lives in northern Pakistan. Besides, the natural calamity that left deep effects in the form of thousands of injured and disabled people, destruction of houses, hospitals, academic institutes, the soil corrosion and destruction of infrastructure caused internal displacement of millions of people. However, in a record time of two years, the nation was able to overcome the aftershocks of the earthquake by rehabilitating the
affected families. A unique peculiarity while dealing with the disaster was that international community that was forthcoming through its financial, material and technical support. This support remained active during all phases, starting from the rescue operations through relief and then rehabilitation, continuing in some parts of the affected areas even now.
The nation has once again confronted with a devastating natural calamity in the form of the monsoon floods. Unlike previous history of floods in Pakistan, this time the flood has affected all areas from extreme north in the Gilgit-Baltistan and Naleem Valley to the adjoining areas of the Arabian Sea. Fortunately, there have been less loss of lives (approximately 1600 so far), but, almost half of the country has been badly affected. Counting on the provinces and federally administered areas, the floods have affected all of them simultaneously. Overall over seventy districts of Pakistan have been hit; either fully or partially. Correct estimates are yet to be made, as the effects of the flood are still going on. However, it is assumed that so far 20-25 million people have been directly affected by the floods.
The common pattern of damages due to flood include; collapse of houses and civic facilities, flow-down of infrastructure, roads, bridges, railway track, damages to bunds and water storages, designed for irrigation purposes. There has been a colossal loss to the standing crops and the irrigation system, designed to control the canals and water distribution system down to the field level. According to Bekele Geleta, Secretary General to International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), “Crops are gone. Infrastructure is gone, including canals; community canals and irrigation canals. To bring that back is going to take a long time. It could end up being five years.” As per initial estimates of the World Bank, the losses to crops would be over a $1billion. However, the real losses to the crops would be much more than that.
Indeed everything has been swept away in the flood-affected areas. Currently, major operations are underway in various parts for the rescue and relief of the affected people. In the temporary camps, there are requirements of shelters, essential foodstuff, and the life-saving medicines. Owing to the damages to the hospitals in the affected areas, already there is an out-break of the water borne diseases. The problems would grow once the floodwater starts receding and the displaced people would move back to their places for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation of over 20 million people would require colossal efforts, especially once it would be done in an environment, where the people have nothing in their hands, since they have lost their all belongings including their shelters and households.
In spite of having a crisis management body in the form of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), formed after the 2005 earthquake, there have been many grey areas, observed in the handling of the rescue and relief activities. Because of its emaciated presence at the affected areas, and the magnitude of the calamity, the performance of this body was found more wanting during the current floods. Moreover, except Armed Forces, there has been no organised body, which could have rendered its services during these trying times of rescue and relief operation. It is worth mentioning that in-spite of its heavy commitment on both eastern and western fronts, Pak Army reached out everywhere in the flood affected areas to render its services in the very beginning of the disaster.
In some areas of the Swat, Nowshera, south Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan the flood- water entered the population areas
abruptly and un-precedently. Sudden breaching the bunds at time was in mystification or under selfishness, therefore, caused more damages to crops and the populated areas. The major impediment has been that timely logistical support could not be provided to the affected people mainly because the bridges were washed away and there have been frequent road blocks by landslides or damages to the roads. Yet another factor of the catastrophe is of an unparalleled scale. Millions of people have been affected and the area covered is immense. Local administration collapsed immediately and locally there was no immediate organised body that could have been moved to affected areas to save the people until the arrival of armed forces.
After having analysed the losses incurred due to floods, the Regional Director of the United Nation’s Children Fund (Unicef), Mr. Daniel Toole, has said that, Pakistan’s recent floods are the “the biggest emergency on the planet earth to this day.” Mr. Daniel Toole, appealed to the world community to make generous donations for the flood effected people in Pakistan. As per BBC, there would be a requirement of minimum $15 billion for the rehabilitation of the people in the days to come. Previously UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki- moon has paid a brief visit to Pakistan and after physically witnessing the flood losses, appealed to the international community for $460 million immediate financial assistance, which now seems a peanut.
Apart from the UN appeal and pledge, U.S has so far pledged $150 million humanitarian aid followed by Saudi Arabia,
which promised $100 million financial assistance. Some other countries have also made minor pledges and despatched some relief goods too. However, overall, there has been a slow response from the international community, especially the much talked-off Muslim Ummah. Indeed, this is such a crisis, which Pakistan alone cannot cope with. As per Mr. Bill Berger, the USAID’s principal regional adviser for South Asia, “Remember that this flood has built up over time, I just don’t think the world has realised the magnitude of this now, because this story has just been slowly increasing. It doesn’t have the drama of an earthquake that impacts a huge number of people all at once.” Perhaps, because of less number of deaths, the world community has taken the catastrophe as of less magnitude, thus, remained less responsive.
International aid agencies fear that there would be “a second wave of deaths” emanating from the water-borne diseases and food shortages until and unless the local and international aid could reach to the affected people. As per health officials, “diseases could spread quickly among the millions of displaced people and that 3.5 million children are at risk.” Already, there is a breakout of the waterborne diseases in some of the areas, causing deaths of over a dozen people. If local and international assistance is further delayed, it is visualized that people temporarily dumped in the relief camps would face even severer threat of water-borne diseases and malnutrition.
Otherwise financially rickety, Pakistan would not be able to manage the crises from its own budget, even if all developmental projects are suspended for the time being. If international community failed to provide timely support to the flood affected people, it is most likely that Pakistan would face the biggest crises of its history. Some analysts even view that failure to timely support may provide a chance to the religious extremist and terrorists to fill the vacuum. These militants normally get closer to the common peoples on such like occasions. The people under the calamity need financial, moral, and physical support at this time. Owing to the poor resources, Pakistan Government may not be able to support the rehabilitation process; therefore, in the absence of the international support, the radical forces may exploit the situation.
In the wording of Mr Bekele Geleta, the Secretary General of IFRC, “We are not yet sure if there is sufficient commitment from governments. Now, and a longer-term commitment. In addition, the global public will have to be made aware, to contribute, and to participate.” In fact, to contend with this situation, it is obligatory that international community as well as the people of Pakistan should rise to support the affected people, who really need their help. This would not be the first time. Indeed, Pakistani nation has been facing such like catastrophe and have always came successful. Let us hope that this time too, the nation is able to overcome the crises in an efficient manner and the affected people are rehabilitated after relief and rescue within a shortest possible time.
Dr Raja M Khan is PhD in International Affairs from Karachi University. Presently, he is Associate Professor with National Defence University, Islamabad. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.
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