Guest contribution-Pakistan’s response to the floods

August 19, 2010

chopper floods(The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK)

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

The international media has been asking why there has been a lukewarm response to the massive floods in Pakistan. Various explanations have been offered ranging from a ‘trust deficit’ to a ‘negative perception’ about Pakistan. Such commentaries are not only alarmist but portray Pakistan in bad light.

There is a need to put the record straight that there is no lukewarm response to appeals made domestically or internationally. It is natural that in a calamity of monumental proportions damage assessment takes some time before a comprehensive response is made. The Government of Pakistan has taken measures in accordance with the challenges posed by the floods. Simultaneously, the international response has been quick and robust and it is gathering pace. The panic button on a slow response pushed by some international NGOs was understandable as they must have been overwhelmed by the enormity of the crisis.

Let us look at how the flood situation unfolded in Pakistan. The massive rains which inundated Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province had such a ferocious intensity that it took a while for the government and NGOs to realise how big was the challenge. Subsequently, the remaining parts of the country received abnormal rains which swelled the rivers to dangerous levels. The images on TV screens have not only been scary but have shaken everyone to gear up for action.

Naturally, the immediate concern was to save lives. This was effectively done by the government which is why the casualty rate has been minimal (approximately 1,600) if compared to the Asian Tsunami of 2004 when 230,000 people died while in the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar 146,000 people lost their lives. UN officials have admitted that the floods in Pakistan have been worse than the Asian Tsunami. Having learnt lessons in the 2005 earthquake, the armed forces and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) immediately moved to save lives for which the government should be given credit.

The international media is rightly pointing out that the magnitude of Pakistan’s current tragedy is almost more than the mind can take in. As for the damages, a fifth of the country (135000 Sq km) is flooded by torrential monsoon rains; 20 million people have been driven from their homes or otherwise affected; six million children need emergency assistance, such as food and clean water; millions of acres of the country’s best cropland are underwater; thousands of livestock have drowned; medical clinics have been destroyed while cholera and other water-borne diseases are threatening the survivors. These are the immediate challenges which the government has to grapple with. The United Nations has launched an appeal for $460 million for immediate relief.

Looming ahead is the enormous challenge of rebuilding the country’s shattered bridges, roads, structures and agricultural and economic base. The government is determined to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure through its own resources as well as international assistance. Already efforts are afoot to negotiate international assistance through friendly countries and international financial institutions.

As a government we are determined to rebuild the shattered lives of our people come what may. The propaganda against the government regarding a lack of transparency or trust deficit is an attempt to defame democracy and the country’s politicians. Such propaganda is not only misleading but dangerous for the country. Despite being overwhelmed due to the enormity of the situation, the civil and military institutions of the country are busy in providing succour to the affected people.

It is possible that some people may have been deprived of timely assistance, but such deficiencies can always be made up with improved performance. However, given the magnitude of the crisis, the government should be given credit for rising to the challenge. And surely the plight of the people would be addressed once waters recede and a real damage assessment is made. But those elements trying to cast doubts about the efficient use of assistance would be doing a great disservice to a noble cause, especially when foolproof mechanisms are in place for the distribution of aid to the needy. One such example is the Benazir Bhutto Support Programme which reaches out to 3 million poorest of the poor.

Amazingly, doubts about the credibility of the government are cast by those elements in the country that do not represent the people. And internationally, by those who do not want a stable and democratic Pakistan in the region. But this is not the first time we would be grappling with such a crisis as a nation. However, one thing is certain that we will prove the doomsayers wrong and defeat the forces of obscurantism with determination.

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