WASHINGTON DIARY: Reinventing Pakistan —Dr Manzur Ejaz
From terrorism to floods, Pakistan is suffering because of a lack of collective consciousness and indifference to the basic rules of self-preservation. The ruling elite must learn to establish good governance if Pakistan is to survive
When my family purchased an acre of land in Virginia, we thought we could build any size of home we liked. What we soon discovered was that the county’s residential codes did not allow tampering with certain water drainage areas and thus we had limited options about where to build. Besides the drainage area, we were not permitted to cut the trees that were older than 50 years. Consequently, the architect was given a specific size and location with which to design the house. The county supervisors physically checked the implementation of building codes at every step of the design and construction. Now, it may rain for weeks but the water flows freely through the drain.
In Pakistan, lack of governance has led to people grabbing public or state-owned land and blocking the natural flow of water. Therefore, the damage from the floods will be far more catastrophic than anyone’s expectations. However, the government can avail this opportunity and recover the old drains or natural outflow systems while reconstruction takes place.
During the 1960s, when I lived in my village, the rainwater would gather in the middle of the street making its way to reserved areas and through a road to fall into the old Beas bed. Now that people have grabbed the state-owned reserved area, the road has been elevated for paving. The rainwater has no outflow system and the whole village becomes a pond during the rains. As a matter of fact, sewerage water is mixed into drinking/irrigation watercourses resulting in most of the population suffering from Hepatitis B or C. My village is much like the rest of Pakistan, where the old natural drainage system has been destroyed, aggravating the impending long-term impact of floods.
Of course, an exceptionally high amount of rains have caused the floods but the blockage of the old outflow systems has made it worse. Not only have the floods hit with devastating impact, there will be longstanding problems with standing water in villages and cities. Besides making reconstruction much more difficult, the standing water is going to cause various fatal diseases.
Pakistan has suffered in many ways because of lack of governance in the last four decades. Unchecked grabbing of public lands coupled with unplanned economic growth have complicated living conditions everywhere in Pakistan. Due to my frequent visits and owning property in Pakistan, I was amazed to learn that it is easier to illegitimately appropriate state-owned lands than to conduct a legitimate transfer of property. The system has turned into a free-for-all with the government neglecting its enforcement responsibilities and the elite continuing to pillage the government for land and power. Pakistan probably has every law and building code in the book, like the US or other industrial countries, but none is implemented properly.
Narrow interests at the micro and macro levels have been dominating society. From a small village to the largest cities, no one has been looking after our collective interests. Ethnic and nationalistic disputes have not permitted successive governments to conceive or build large water reservoirs or plan about preserving the scarce water. Therefore, the country suffers because of scarcity of water during one season and gets drowned in another.
It is true that no country, specifically a poor country like Pakistan, can handle devastation of this magnitude by itself. The rich countries should help Pakistan in every way they can. However, in the long run no one can save Pakistan from itself. Presently, even Pakistan’s friends are cynical because of the indifference of the entire ruling class. President Zardari’s trip to London is just a symbolic expression of the indifference of the entire ruling elite. President Obama, or the head of any other democratic state, would have never left his country in such a situation.
In the long run, the Pakistani people have to rise above their petty personal interests and start looking for common societal goals. Lessons should be learnt from the disasters Pakistan has been facing for the last few decades. From terrorism to floods, Pakistan is suffering because of a lack of collective consciousness and indifference to the basic rules of self-preservation. The ruling elite must learn to establish good governance if Pakistan is to survive. Basically, Pakistan has to be reinvented. No one said it would be easy, but there is no other way.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org