Death toll rises as floods sweep Pakistan
By Syed Fazl-e-Haider
KARACHI - The death toll from monsoon rains in Pakistan has risen to more than 80 in the last five days, as much of the country has been inundated, flooding many cities and towns from north to south. The National Disaster Management Authority warned on Monday that more rain than usual was expected this and next month.
"At least 58 people have died, more than 30 others were injured and 66,000 were affected by rain and flooding in Pakistan since July 31," AFP reported Brigadier Mirza Kamran Zia, operations
chief of the NDMA as saying. Other reports put the figure at more than 80.
Flooding has emerged as a new challenge for the new government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which already faces a flagging economy, extremism, power crisis and militancy. Sharif has asked three of his cabinet colleagues to immediately visit flood-hit areas and suggest the measures needed to bring the situation under control.
Flood water wreaked havoc in several areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh province, destroying crops on thousands of hectares of land, killing livestock and washing away hundreds of houses. Many areas are cut-off after road links and suspension bridges were washed away. The armed forces are heavily involved in rescue and relief activities. Chief Minister of Sindh province Syed Qaim Ali Shah has declared a state of emergency across the province.
In Karachi, the country's commercial capital, at least 20 people were killed and city life was paralyzed after markets, residence buildings and roads flooded. Traffic was blocked for hours in many places and the army has helped move at least 600 people affected by the rains.
At least 19 people have so far died in rain-related incidents in southwestern Balochistan province were Jhal Magsi is the worst-hit district. Heavy rains also played havoc in Peshawar, Chitral, Charsadda and Nowshera and other areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where homes, road links and bridges were washed away.
In southern areas of Punjab province, standing crops of rice, cotton, maize and wheat were destroyed across 32,000 hectares of farmland.
The flooding adds to the troubles for the poor, who have yet to fully recover from the devastation of flooding in 2011, which destroyed 74% of the cotton crop, 26% of the rice crop and a third of the sugarcane crop. That was in the wake of the 2010 floods, in which almost 1,800 people were killed and 21 million affected.
Critics say the government lacks the resources to mitigate such natural disasters. Submerged in corruption, state institutions lack the capacity to deliver in calamity-hit areas, leading the government to beg from foreign countries.
After the unprecedented flooding of 2010, which caused US$10 billion worth of damage, international donors were reluctant to step forward to help due to the lack of trust in national and local authorities and demanded assurances on how and where their money would be spent. Then president Asif Ali Zardari also came in for bitter criticism at the time by continuing a tour of the UK and France even as the floods swept his country. A year later, the country was no better prepared.
The Express Tribune this week commented,
Given that heavy flooding in the country has become, unfortunately, a regular, almost yearly occurrence, one would like to see some evidence of lessons learnt from the previous years. Evidence of preparedness in terms of ensuring that the negative effects of floods are minimised would go a long way. Indeed, there have been instances of the same family having their houses destroyed and livelihoods affected in two consecutive years due to floods; forced to cope with the same disaster repeatedly even as they had barely recovered from its effects of the previous year. Such a situation should not be allowed. And if indeed, this year, too, mistakes of the past are being seen repeated, serious inquiry must be made into the matter. The same, of course, holds true for relief and rehabilitation efforts. While it is good that the disaster management authorities are already responding with relief efforts, one hopes that the duplicity and disorganization seen at times in the past is not repeated and funds and aid directed where it is most needed."
Local analysts believe that it is harder for a cash-strapped and hugely indebted country to cope with the devastating flooding for the third time after two year at a time when it requested for a fresh bailout of $5 billion from International Monetary Fund. The analysts fear that food inflation is likely to go up due to the destruction of standing cash crops especially cotton, sugarcane, and vegetables in Sindh.
Floods that also destroyed livestock, the main component of the rural economy and major source of livelihood of thousands of families, could raise the poverty level in rural Sindh and Balochistan where 50 percent of the population already live below poverty line. The potential loss in the country's agriculture output could cause a decline in gross domestic product growth rate.
Daily Times in its editorial said,
What, you may ask, have the authorities been doing? At the provincial level first, none of the governments of the worst affected provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan appear to have a clue what to do.
Local administrations in the affected areas have struggled to cope, but clearly lack the resources and expertise to deal with an ongoing, and likely to become worse, situation. In Punjab, villages and cities have also "drowned", and the authorities have yet to gear up to match the exigencies of an emerging emergency. At the federal level, yesterday Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took notice of the impending crisis and ordered three federal ministers to tour the affected areas and report. In all this belated flurry, where, one may ask, are the National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities? Clearly, because of their incompetence, lack of planning or preparation, in the shadow world of "disasters" themselves. Hardly a squeak has been heard out of them, and even fewer steps on the ground are in evidence. What price such white elephants? The traditional recourse to the army to provide the manpower and resources for relief has yet to be mobilized, apart from some small scale deployment in select areas at the request of the local authorities. ...
... In the cities, the time-honoured recourse to pumping water out from low lying urban areas is now beset with the constraint imposed by the energy crisis. This is a good example of how a crisis in one field can impact on, and add to, crises in other areas. Governments at the Centre and in the provinces, with help from the military, have to gear up quickly to provide relief and succour to the present and potential victims of this annual affliction. But beyond that, the national and urban drainage issues have to be taken up seriously to improve the infrastructure, mitigate the sufferings to the extent possible, and ensure the victims do not once again disappear through the cracks in the edifice of our wholly inadequate disaster management.
Syed Fazl-e-Haider (http://www.syedfazlehaider.com) is a development analyst in Pakistan. He is the author of many books, including The Economic Development of Balochistan (2004). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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