Apathy or death of generosity?

VIEW: Apathy or death of generosity? —Mohammad Jamil

Standing crops worth billions of rupees have been destroyed, and many warehouses where cotton and wheat were stored have been inundated and destroyed in the floods. The result will be acute food shortages as well as raw material shortages

It is indeed a colossal catastrophe that has befallen the nation. The people’s grief is real, and — in the words of William Wordsworth — “a sorrow that lies too deep for tears”. Yet the world community is lukewarm to our people’s painful predicament. In this age of science and technology, the weather prophets presage weeks, if not months, in advance that a calamity is in the offing. At least a plan should have been put in place for rescue operations. By the end of July when flooding started in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the civil administration had still not come out of its stupor. Our own political eminences continued playing politics with the floods and, despite being filthy rich, they did not contribute at all to alleviate the misery of the people. Barring a few honourable exceptions, foreign governments are slow in their response. Ironically, one would not have seen the international community’s disinterest in a people in distress as has happened in the case of Pakistan. On the other hand, our ‘leading lights’ in print and the electronic media were looking for the causes behind the tardy response of the world, and a section of the media continued to lambast President Zardari for his absence from the country.

Instead of entertaining a discourse on how to meet the challenge of rescue, relief and rehabilitation of the people, they bandied together about non-issues. Some blamed the federal as well as the provincial governments, and raised doubts about their credibility. Surely, the country’s ruling leadership has an image problem, and if it is because of the trust deficit that donors are not coming forward, the world community could have funnelled their aid through international relief agencies. But it has not. The UN has appealed for $ 460 million for immediate relief. Not even one quarter has come in so far. Leave alone world altruism, our leadership has failed to stir even local philanthropists. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that the scale of destruction from monsoon flooding surpassed the devastation from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 northern Pakistan earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. In the August 16th issue of Newsweek, Joshua Kurlantzick, in his article titled ‘The death of generosity’, referred to the G-8 summit held in June 2010 in which the world’s leading nations agreed to work hard on the laudable causes of peace and global warming.

The author also stated that in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010, the international community pledged $ 5.3 billion but only $ 505 million have been received so far by the Haiti government. As regards foreign aid, Joshua Kurlantzick wrote: “The issue that had dominated the summit just five years ago, foreign aid, got little mention. Perhaps, it is not surprising, given how many rich nations are busy bailing themselves out of the debt crisis, but is emblematic of a wider malaise: the death of generosity itself.” That point besides, it is basically the civil administration that leads, guides and assists relief activities in such calamitous emergency conditions as the ones confronting the nation presently, and destructively the KP residents, most of all. This arm of administration is controlled exclusively by a provincial government and works solely under its direction. And this civil administration was nowhere in sight in the province engaged in relief work. The little bit that the ANP ruling clan is doing for their relief is being handled by its party legislators, leading to a widespread outcry that they are distributing relief goods to their own supporters, not to the really needy amongst the flood-affected.

But, to some extent, similar complaining voices are coming out from other provinces too. Their distribution intrinsically is dishonest and unfair. KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain has offered foreign donors to directly pay in cash and kind to the affected in the province. If foreign donors could undertake the task in collaboration with civil servants and the army, their distribution definitely would be fairer. It has to be realised that the catastrophe is too colossal to be fiddled with. The people in the areas devastated by the flooding have been ruined and will take years to rebuild. The political eminences must get real and serious to face up to all upcoming challenges. Their failure carries consequences they cannot even imagine. It is true that the civil administration has neither the capacity nor was it geared up to meet the challenge of the floods or earthquake. The problem is that the government did not mobilise the machinery to cope with the challenge on a war footing. Like in the past, it was found wanting in vision and the will to grapple with the situation this time round also.

It is true that, by definition, ‘disaster’ due to fire, floods, cyclones and earthquakes, etc, is a sudden and extremely unfortunate event that affects many people. However, the current flooding has exposed how unprepared is the civil administration for coping with emergencies, especially when there is a national calamity of this magnitude. This underscores the need for a meticulously worked out standing operational plan for the civil administration to face such emergencies. Maybe Pakistan’s puny industrial base does not help generate enough revenues to be spent on even rescue operations, not to speak of relief and rehabilitation. However, the army had immediately rushed to send rescue and medical teams to areas affected by the devastating floods, and is busy in saving the lives of the affected and moving them to safer places. Though belatedly, the political leadership also got into the job actively, and relief camps are being set up for the affected by the federal as well as provincial governments.

It is hoped that friendly countries will generously help Pakistan in this hour of need, and the world’s capitals will react quickly, as they did in the wake of the October 2005 earthquake. Friends of Pakistan and Muslim countries should come forward and should not waste time in convening conferences, as no relief and rehabilitation operations can be successful without funds. It has to be mentioned that standing crops worth billions of rupees have been destroyed, and many warehouses where cotton and wheat were stored have been inundated and destroyed in the floods. The result will be acute food shortages as well as raw material shortages, especially cotton for the textile industry. This is the time that all political parties, including ruling and opposition parties, should forget about their power games and should focus on meeting the present challenge faced by the nation.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at mjamil1938@hotmail.com

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