Coping with the climate induced calamity – 31 Aug 2022

There couldn’t have been a more apt description that Pakistan is presently facing a catastrophe of ‘biblical proportions’, as described by Becky Anderson, the CNN Managing Director, based in the UAE. It is a crisis that has devastated the lives of millions as the country is literary flooded by torrential rains with no end in sight. Pakistan has faced many a crisis since its inception. The massacre and the influx of millions of refugees at the time of the partition, the two major wars with India and several major natural disasters, especially the 2010 floods, but this one has been exceptionally overwhelming.

Its adverse consequences would be felt over a generation if not more. And for a country as poor and a struggling economy it throws even a greater challenge. In this bleak scenario, one expects that the country would stand united, and leadership at all levels, especially political, would set aside their differences to be taken up later and focus on rehabilitating the people and doing their utmost to reduce their pain and suffering. Regrettably, this is not happening and presenting a sad spectacle of mutual antagonism as the blame game continues. PTI’s primary focus is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and supporting the efforts of the Punjab government and the PM’s call for a united national effort is largely being ignored. And going by what Imran Khan’s recent statement that his mass rallies and campaign against the government would also continue would be an unnecessary diversion during the national calamity.

This aspect needs to be highlighted and pressure should be built on the major parties to rise to the challenge, be more tolerant and set aside their petty politics at least for a while. It is expected that all those who can afford must contribute generously in flood relief to reputed charity houses while keeping in mind that prices of food and basic necessities have shot up in some cases exponentially due to excessive demand and limited supply. Medics have warned of disease outbreak if preventive measures are not taken. Availability of medicines could be affected if manufacturers remain short of foreign exchange. The floods have laid bare the inadequacies and fragility of the country’s physical infrastructure and above all brought in full focus the rampart poverty of the people.

This is also a reflection and a cruel reminder of how successive governments and the landed aristocracy have neglected the development and well-being of those living in rural areas. They have taken advantage of the patience and resilience of our people. With the global weather pattern changing and showing a highly aggressive trend, the current crisis should be a wake-up call for all of us but more so for the power elite. Business as usual will not work. The immediate and foremost challenge for the government and aid agencies is to save lives and provide the basic necessities. The military personnel as in the past have been in the forefront for rescue and relief. And credit goes to those NGOs and individuals who have been engaged in relief activities, risking their lives against great odds. They are truly an inspirational lot that gives hope and lifts our morale.

The international response has been moderate although the recent deluge may draw attention and shake their conscience provided CNN, BBC and other international channels project the extent of damage, death and destruction forcefully and widely. Nearly half a million people have found refuge in camps and many thousands are still without shelter and waiting for aid to arrive. Although, the rains have stopped, or not that intense for the last two days, but in many areas the after-effects of the torrential rains and flooding still persist and it would take quite a while for people to return to normal life. Our climate minister, Sherry Rehman has warned that Pakistan is on the front line of climate crisis.

This warning needs to be taken seriously. More so as we are least equipped and prepared for this contingency. The rehabilitation of the people will pose a major challenge for the government. Organised community effort and foreign assistance would be necessary. Qatar is providing $2 billion and the UAE $1 billion. It is likely that the Saudi government would also extend assistance to shore up our foreign reserves. But the government would need far more funds and resources to rebuild the devastated infrastructure and the lives of the millions of displaced persons. In the near term there will be shortage of raw materials for textile and other industries and some mills may even lay off their workers. The great challenge would be to revive the economy both in the agricultural and industrial sectors and provide assistance to displaced persons until they are able to fend for themselves.

It is important how the government plans and executes to rebuild the devastated countryside. Economic rehabilitation has to be the foremost priority. Emergence of an economic crisis and existing political dissonance would strengthen TTP and create a favourable environment for terrorist organisations. We are already witnessing that in North and South Waziristan and in Swat the TTP and other militant groups are gaining influence. And what is worse they enjoy the tacit umbrella of the Afghan Taliban Clearly, it would take at least a year or two to counter the fallout of the present crisis.

As brought out earlier Pakistan was already facing an economic crisis and the present climateinduced crisis makes governance even more difficult. On the top of this if the hostility bordering on enmity between the top leadership of the political parties does not yield to sanity and placing interests of the country and its people above their egos, the consequences could be serious. It is possible if people lose confidence in the leadership, democracy and economy would suffer badly. One hopes sanity would prevail and Pakistan’s leadership address the woes of the flood-stricken people and set aside their differences for the greater good of the country and its people.

Read more