Why Pakistan deserves generosity

August 25, 2010

Muhammad Atiq Ur Rehman Tariq is a Ph.D. student at Delft University of Technology and Dr Nick van de Giesen is Professor of Water Resources Management at Delft University of Technology. The opinions expressed are their own.

According to official reports of the Federal Flood Commission of Pakistan, at least 1,556 people have died and more than 568,000 homes have been badly damaged or totally destroyed as a result of the recent floods in Pakistan. Almost 6.5 million people have been affected by this flooding and 3650 sq km of Pakistan’s most fertile crop land have been destroyed.

The flooding hit 11,000 villages and cities. The situation is deteriorating in flooded areas, where waterborne diseases may increase the human death toll if measures are not taken in time.

The devastating flooding occurred at a moment at which Pakistan was still confronting the consequences of a severe drought. As such, the flood came as a complete surprise, especially in the province of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa where flash flooding occurred.

The country had suffered severe droughts from 1999 to 2001 and had not faced any major flooding since 1995. Historically, most occurrences of severe flooding had been caused by the Indus River, which were largely checked after the construction of the Terbela dam in 1974.

The present floods are atypical and their severity (the worst in at least 80 years) was not anticipated by the inhabitants of the floodplains.

The flooding has disrupted electricity supply through inundation of the Jinnah Hydro power plant and some other minor power plants. The flood has also damaged transmission lines, transformers, feeders and power houses in different flood-affected areas. People suffering the load-shedding of electricity outside the inundated area are protesting on the roads in different parts of the country.

Floods have damaged highways and railroads, causing disruption of transportation and communication. Relief operations are being rolled out at a slow pace, as many towns and villages are not accessible and communications have been disrupted.

The flood has destroyed much of the healthcare-infrastructure in the worst-affected areas. Outbreaks of diseases, such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and cholera due to lack of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation will pose a new risk to victims of flood. Survivors of flooding are already blocking highways to protest the lack of support being provided.

Lack of information on flooding in Pakistan exacerbates the impact.  The flood forecasting division of the Pakistan Meteorological Department has uploaded some GIS maps showing the area to be evacuated on their official website. In fact, these maps are not based on the present flood.

Instead, they were developed for simulated floods occurring with return periods of 5 and 50 years, whereas present flooding is much more severe and is caused by different mechanisms than historical floods. These flood maps may not reveal the actual information on the ground right now and can thus be extremely counter-productive.

Aid coming from the international community is also not sufficient. Possible reasons for this lack of support include the low regard that the Pakistani government is held in by local and international communities. Instead, most support is being channeled through NGOs and other institutions.

However, this can only be a partial explanation as the cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in 2008 did trigger a large international response, while Myanmar’s government was internationally extremely unpopular and media coverage was scant at best.

While the national government has been slow to respond, banned militant groups and extremist organisations, such as the Taliban, are active with relief activities. This could have unwelcome implications in the medium to long-term.

The flood will also divert Pakistani military forces from fighting the militants to help in the relief efforts.  Clearly, this will allow militants to regroup and also help them secure more public support.

The flooding requires swift help and aid from national and international donors, otherwise it may produce large scale and lasting damage at national and international levels. The Taliban understand the strategy of “minds and hearts” very well.

This is the moment for the international community to show genuine compassion. In the process, it stands to win many hearts for generations to come.

Picture Credit: A boy sits in front of houses destroyed by floodwater in  Muzaffargarh district of Punjab province August 25, 2010. REUTERS/Asim Tanveer


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