Floods – political point scoring?


VIEW: Floods: no time for political point scoring —Amjad Ayub Mirza

The rivers have not been serviced, existing dams have not been maintained and new ones not built. No water reservoirs have been dug to collect the downpour and avoid the destruction of fields that are replete with ripe crops

I cannot think of a previous time when the celebrations for Independence Day were cancelled. The scale of devastation caused by the ongoing floods is of such great magnitude that the decision by the president to focus on the rescue effort has won wide acclaim.

The fact that Peshawar, which normally receives on average five centimetres of rain in the whole month of August, received three-quarters of a metre of rain in just two days should suffice to shed light on the enormity of the calamity. So far, 1,600 people have been reported dead and around 20 million affected along with more than 100,000 cattle that perished in the worst floods our country has witnessed in 80 years. The devastation caused by this natural calamity demands that we look into the element of human negligence in the aftermath.

For the greater part of our political history, our country has been held hostage at gunpoint by power-seeking, selfish military dictators who have ruled our people with an iron hand and paid minimal attention to the wider needs of building a strong infrastructure for a demanding and under-developed country.

No attention was given towards establishing a central governing body to overlook the needs of the future and no heed given to the establishment of a centralised body to provide efficient management of the disasters that struck our blighted people. It took an apocalyptic earthquake in Kashmir (in 2005), which claimed more than 200,000 innocent lives, for the establishment of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Efforts to set up NDMA centres across the Punjab have been shamefully blocked by the Punjab government. How can one expect this under-funded institution of vital importance — with an annual budget of Rs 71 million and only 26 government officials — to be able to cater for a disaster of such size as the current flood?

The rivers have not been serviced (cleaning of silt, reinforcement of the riverbanks and development of new irrigation tributaries), existing dams have not been maintained and new ones not built. No water reservoirs have been dug to collect the downpour and avoid the destruction of fields that are replete with ripe crops.

In the absence of a centralised, well-funded and well-equipped organisation to deal with such situations, for the army to step in and do the rescue job is both understandable and dangerous. As an institution, it is not the first time that the army of a country has been asked to step in to assist the government in a rescue effort. In countries like the People’s Republic of China, India, and even in Europe there are examples that, on more than one occasion, the army has been asked to provide its logistics and human resource to fight natural disasters. But, in China and Britain, the army does its job and then goes back to the barracks. In Pakistan, the relationship of the army with the state has been contested. Some are referring to the army as taking over the role of the national government and parliament. Such subtle undertones are being made by those who have always resorted to seeking the support of ambitious generals to help them ascend to the echelons of power. Even the media — a non-state actor with its highly influential role in manipulating public opinion — is playing an extremely dangerous and deceitful role in reporting and hosting discussions regarding the aftermath of the flood and the limitations of the cabinet to deal with the magnitude of the terrible events unfolding right in front of everyone’s eyes.

The accusations made by the Punjab government of the PML-N of not being provided with enough funds to enable it to help the flood victims is, at best, disingenuous. On July 1, the Punjab government received Rs 95 billion from the federal government. What have they done with that money? Why is Shahbaz Sharif trying to create a misunderstanding, and at worst a rift, between the centre and the province at a time when total national coherence is required?

The role of the Sharif brothers has been appalling and full of spite for our president who flew to the UK on a pre-scheduled tour that had suddenly gained even more significance after the irresponsible remarks that the British prime minister made on Indian soil regarding Pakistan ‘exporting terrorism’. But the demand for foreign aid that is desperately needed to correct the damage being done by the floods made it even more imperative for Mr Zardari to travel to the UK, which also happens to be a generous donor in such circumstances. So far, thanks to the negotiating skills of Mr Zardari, the largest donations for the flood victims have come from Britain, in the form of £ 17 million.

We should now brace ourselves to combat the aftermath of the floods. The recent meeting between the prime minister and the opposition leader in which Mr Nawaz Sharif has pledged his support to the government is a healthy sign. Let us hope that the media will follow suit.

Dr Amjad Ayub Mirza is a freelancer based in London. He can be reached at dr_amjad_mirza@hotmail.com

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