Guest contribution:Reconstruction, the silver lining of Pakistan’s flood disaster
(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
Is the flood over in Pakistan? No. Most certainly not! Notwithstanding the massive relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction operations, the devastation from the worst natural disaster in recent times continues to claim lives in scores due to the outbreak of epidemics, lack of health facilities, and shortage of food, shelter and clothing.
How horrendous life has been after the deluge is unfortunately fading away from the focus of the media as Pakistan continues to cope with a natural calamity described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as a slow tsunami, six times bigger than any other catastrophe in the last fifty years. The flood which swept through northern tip of Pakistan to Sindh affected a land mass the size of England and uprooted more than 20 million people.
Reconstruction work is on full swing – thanks to domestic and international agencies. As a resilient nation Pakistanis are doing their best to get back on their feet. No doubt there are gigantic challenges ahead but these floods have opened new opportunities to everyone whether within Pakistan or abroad.
Although an assessment is still being made of infrastructure losses, there are estimates that nearly 2,433 miles of roads and 3,508 miles of railway lines, 45 bridges, nearly 10,000 schools and 1.7 million houses have been destroyed and are now waiting to be rebuilt. That certainly offers enormous scope for investment as well as an opportunity to gain the goodwill of the people. Pakistan’s hour of adversity can also play a positive role in rebuilding its economy and help it to fight terrorism more effectively. The construction of 1.7 million houses alone offers a big business opportunity.
The Government of Pakistan’s Flood Relief And Early Recovery Plan 2010 launched in collaboration with the United Nations to extend the relief phase to achieve a sustainable, meaningful and productive recovery of the flood affected areas is a way forward. The National Disaster Management Authority has so far approved 397 projects in the fields of agriculture, community restoration, coordination and support, education and food security with an estimate of $1.9 billion. For the approval and execution of projects the government has put in place effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
Construction and reconstruction always generate employment. “Dig a hole, fill a hole” was Roosevelt’s policy to combat unemployment during the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States. The construction sector has a multiplier impact that leads to employment and production opportunities generate multifaceted economic openings.
Pakistan today is open for reconstruction. There are immense opportunities for investing in the construction of housing colonies, schools and hospitals as well as building roads and bridges.
Innovative methods are being adopted in many countries to take full advantage of the advance in technologies in construction. Pakistan offers a chance to share these experiences more than ever before. It is easy to introduce resource efficient methods in agriculture, livestock and dairy farming – once thriving businesses, but completely washed away in by the floods – as these activities begin to gain momentum again.
Climate change and environmental factors are other areas where more cooperation in conducting research can be carried out. A recent report by the American-run Refugees International estimates that as many as 200 million people will be displaced by natural disasters and climate change around the world by 2050, affecting the world’s poorest and most crisis-prone countries. The report advises that countries around the world must recognise the threat represented by the flood that hit Pakistan.
According to Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International, “the massive flooding in Pakistan is a wake-up call that starkly highlights the real threats we face from climate-related disasters.” The study describes it as an opportunity for planning for protection against future disasters. A lot has been said on the mismanagement of the irrigation system in Pakistan. This is yet another area that needs urgent attention where many countries could come forward with scientific and technical cooperation.
The opportunities Pakistan offers today are immense but time is of the essence. We have to start attracting investment now. Once people go back to the rut and start living in quick-fix shanties again without adopting the necessary improvements in quality, the chance to bring about a revolutionary change in living will be lost for ever.
The writer is High Commissioner for Pakistan to the UK