The Devastation Is Just Too Much

The Devastation Is Just Too Much
Rain emergency have exposed moral, political and institutional faultlines. Torrential rains, subsequent floods and the breaching of over 40 dams have brought on a disaster of biblical proportions in urban areas and rural Pakistan in particular. Imagine the scale of death and destruction recently revealed by both national and international media outlets: 10 million people have displaced, the death toll from the floods have so far risen to around 1300, over 35% of these, which amounts to 453, are children. Over 200 bridges have collapsed and around 40 dams breached. The number of flood-hit people is as high as 33million.

Around 80 percent of standing crops are said to been have been destroyed. The scale of the destruction of infrastructure and human casualties could be much bigger as the actual damage bill and human loss can not be ascertained right now.

It is disappointing to note that some political characters claiming to be political messiahs were sowing the seeds of mistrust by calling on the population not to give donations to the government on customary charges of corruption and financial misappropriation. Such shameless characters were named and shamed by across sections of the society. After having received a robust reaction from the public over this apathetic behaviour, the shallow-hearted decided to host telethon to collect -donations for the rain victims.

Calling the present government of 'thieves and looters', an organised social media campaign was launched by some unscrupulous individuals asking all and sundry not to give funds to the government. In crises like the present, political leaders all over the world unite the nation. United we stand, divided we fall.

But, in our part of the world, petty political games undermine the noble cause of standing in solidarity with the public. This political pandemic called polarisation in times of catastrophic conditions unleashed by climate change is extremely upsetting. However, the damage was done. Once mistrust is cultivated, it is very difficult to wipe it out.

It beggars belief that under such turbulent times, exploiters opened their wings to fleece the public already experiencing troubled times. Heavy showers of rain on the one hand, destroyed mud-plastered homes and huts, and on the other caused cracks in the roofs made of backed bricks ultimately dripping. With roofs dripping, the poor needed to cover those roofs with plastic to save from the seepage.

Realising the demand for plastic, the shopkeepers hiked the price of the item in question- routinely it was being sold at Rs 40 per meter, after the surge in demand, it was sold at Rs 200 to 300 per meter. Under such circumstances, the price of plastic tarpaulin skyrocketed, too.

On the heels of humanitarian crises, the government decided to disburse BISP cash of Rs 2,500/- among the beneficiaries; in Sindh unscrupulous individuals distributing this cash, started deducting Rs 2-3,000. This financial fraud has hit headlines in provincial newspapers.

It tells a tale of the historical exploitation of the vulnerable sections and the failure of the state authorities to clip the wings of predators.

The prices of vegetables on the heels of torrential rains were hiked suggesting the usual hoarding and black marketing in times of natural calamity. Before rain emergency, the potatoes and onions were being sold at Rs 40 and 80 respectively, after rain emergency, the two items are being sold at Rs 80 and 200 to 300 respectively- not to mention tomato, which has become a luxury item in this situation.

This August inflation rose to staggering 27.26%, which was the second- highest figure recorded in the country’s history after 1973-74. The point to be noted is that the public were already facing tsunami of inflation following Russia –Ukraine war that had fuelled price of cooking oil and other edible items. Given the prices of food items that have spiked at breakneck speed, the International Monetary Fund( IMF) has warned of protests and instability in Pakistan.

According to the Development and Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal, more than half of the country's cotton crop has been washed away and vegetables, fruit, and rice fields have undergone significant damage. This will usher in food shortages ultimately compelling the incumbent government to give a go-ahead for the import of grains, vegetables and fruits, etc. It will increase our import bill and subsequently negatively impact the already fragile economy.

Federal Finance Miftah Ismail recently remarked that the government can consider importing vegetables, other edible items from India to facilitate people after the destruction of standing crops in Pakistan. Let us not forget that Sindh and Balochistan - which were already facing a food crisis, are the worst victims of recent rains and floods. The World Health Organization (WHO) has convincingly conveyed its concern saying that, “The current flood situation will highly likely increase the spread of disease, especially if and when response capacities are hindered.”

Medical experts declared that around 5 million are feared to be sick due to disease outbreak in next twelve weeks in flooded areas. They are likely to be infected with diarrhoea, cholera, gastroenteritis, typhoid, dengue and malaria; such an outbreak of so many diseases would require Rs1 billion in supplies.

To save the flood-hit people from viral infections calls for concrete efforts in terms of ensuring clean drinking water and hygienic living conditions. According to figures made available by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than half a million pregnant women are flood-hit and in dire need of medical supplements and dietary care.

WHO Pakistan pointed out that damages have occurred to over 1,640 health facilities and installations across the country of which 432 were fully damaged. This will hinder much needed medical relief.

The rain affected people have taken shelters in government schools and colleges. Consequently, this will negatively impact the current academic year of the learners. It is unlikely that those who have taken shelters in public sector schools and colleges will vacate until they are offered alternatives as accommodation.

Given the magnitude of displacement and scanty resources of the government, rehabilitation of those rain victims seems beyond the reach of the state. Worryingly, the displaced and those who migrated to urban areas will find it difficult to educate their children following financial constraints emanating from loss of livelihoods. The possibility of some children becoming breadwinners can not be ruled out. Some others might fall prey to professional beggar groups. Moral decay can be gauged from that a Hindu girl was recently gang-raped in Sindh’s District Sanghar after being promised relief goods.

The 2010 flood brought in the cruel activity of coaxing small children into begging by  criminals. It is to be kept in mind that such training resulted in severe setbacks for education for two years, and then came covid environment and subsequent closure of educational institutions. And, it has to be kept in mind that when students attend their classes throughout the year, their leaning outcomes have been deeply disappointing due to plethora of problems known to everyone.

The closure of educational institutions further compromises the already compromised standard of education. Save the Children, a UK based organisation in its recent report revealed that over 18,500 educational institutes have sustained partial damage or have been completely destroyed due to abnormal monsoon rainfall.

The organisation’s Country Director for Pakistan, Khuram Gondal said, “The scale of damage we are seeing will prevent thousands of children from going back to school any time soon. We have seen entire buildings completely washed away. Children already battling the shock and horror of what is happening around them, now also have to cope with loss of their classrooms and their safe place to learn.”

A political pattern cultivated over the years by the governments - both past and present and the clergy class - is blaming Nature’s fury, and sins committed culminating in catastrophe respectively. The present government has been feeding the population that climate change triggered heavy rains as a result of which the country saw a crisis of unimaginable proportions.

However, what will the federal and provincial governments say about their failure to minimise the damages by prioritising fool proof measures to warn the population and evacuate the same? What will the governments - federal and provincial say about their imprudent steps of allowing infrastructures that have blocked waterways and routes of flooding water? What will the governments say about poor- house planning? What will the governments say about encroachment upon banks of rivers and drain naulas? What will they say about choked drains? And last but not the least, what will the ruling elites say about their failure to devolve National Disaster Management Authority into (PDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) and District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA)?

The Met office had predicted torrential rains much earlier. Why were the dams not emptied when there was an acute shortage of water for agricultural purposes? What have the successive governments done to contain climate crises in the country? These questions demand answers.

And some religious leaders have attributed the death and destruction caused by natural calamity to sins committed by people. Who lost lives, homes, livestock, and livelihoods? It is the poor who have been hit hard. Are the poor the only sinners?

What will the religious leaders say about political sins, and managerial and institutional sins committed by successive ruling elites ultimately failing to undermine the fury of floods and ravages of rains? What the ruling and religious elites need to realise is that the world is using scientific methods to make it rain where it is needed. We are far behind when it comes to using technology and modern methods.

Flood relief fails reach remote areas. The reasons being both the state lacks mechanism and material resources to reach those areas. And the concentration of NGOs is limited to cities and towns. As a result, flood victimes in far flung areas are waiting for messiahs who could rescue them and offer shelter materials and food. Even those living in tents and relief camps have been complaining of inadequate food delivery. Blame must be put at the door of those who have successively prioritised a political structure that feeds and facilitates the minority leaving the vast majority to fend for themselves.

An obvious issue no one is talking about is our failure to adapt and poor housing planning, and to top it all, no lesson learning from previous disasters. This failure has exacerbated crises that we are presently grappling with. Nations in other parts of the world learn and move forward planning and implementing policies to mitigate calamities. Heart-rending images of people stranded have appeared on social media networking sites.

Climate change and development expert, Ali Shaikh is of the opinion that what we see today is just a trailer of what is in store for us-poverty, hunger, malnutrition and disease if we don’t pay heed to climate change. Climate refuges are coping with crises –hopelessness, hunger diseases, and psychological trauma triggered by the terrible monsoon rainfall.

To move forward, Pakistan needs climate resilience - pre- disaster planning rather than post-disaster management. Because, the country lacks mechanism, capacity, and capital needed to navigate the populace from jaws of floods unleashed by monsoon. The present ‘monsoon on steroids’ have left us hardly with dry land to pump water out. If early warnings of climate change fell on deaf ears, the next one could be crueller.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He may reached at Nazeer tweets at @nazeerarijo.