Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Starting tomorrow, members of the Pakistan bureau — including myself, two cameramen and a photographer — will travel down the Indus River valley to document the scope and scale of Pakistan’s devastating floods, approximately one month after they began.
More than 1,600 people have been killed and at least six million made homeless. But the numbers don’t tell the story in themselves, and that’s part of what we’re going to attempt to do. With a disaster so great in scale, no single area can convey what has happened, or what will happen next.
We’ll be blogging from the road, uploading pictures and video and generally trying to provide you with a fresh look at a story that at times seems too big to put in a news article (or even several, for that matter.)
The floods have changed many things in Pakistan. They have destroyed lives and livelihoods, stripped away infrastructure and shaken up the political establishment. Militants and the military seem equally dazed by the catastrophe. It is not an understatement to say things in Pakistan will never be the same.
Pakistan is running out of water so fast that the shortage will strangulate all water-based economic activity by 2015, a Pakistani thinktank says. And that pretty much covers 70 percent of the population who are involved in farming.
This is not a new warning. In recent months, as this blog itself has noted, experts have painted an increasingly bleak scenario of Pakistan’s rivers drying up, the ground water polluted and over-exploited and the whole water infrastructure in a shambles.
If Pakistan is to dig itself out of its current crisis it needs two things to happen. It needs strong economic growth to tackle poverty and undercut the appeal of hardline Islamists; and it needs peace with India if it is to permanently cut its ties with militants it has traditionally seen as a reserve force to be used against its much bigger neighbour. Or so goes the prevailing view.
This week’s United Nations report on pollution in Asia — and the melting of glaciers which feed the rivers of India and Pakistan — suggest there are serious risks to that scenario of an ultimately prosperous Pakistan at peace with its neighbours. In other words, can it achieve the economic growth it needs without worsening pollution further? And can it make peace with India if the two countries end up at loggerheads over dwindling supplies of water?
Defence analysts in South Asia have been saying for so long that India and Pakistan might solve their problems over Kashmir only to end up at war over water that I had almost become inured to the issue. That was until I read the following comment on an earlier blog about Gulf investors buying up farmland in Pakistan to offset food shortages at home:
“Tough challenges await the investors in this sector due to serious water and energy shortages that the country suffers from at the moment,” it reads. “For effective investment in the agriculture sector, the government must clear these impediments first.”