FLOODS IN PAKISTAN: WAS IT UNPREDICTED?
The recent floods are the worst natural calamity recorded in Pakistan. It has affected nearly 14 million people and destroyed thousands of hectares of cultivable land. According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the disaster is larger than 2004 Asian Tsunami, 2005 Pakistani Earthquake and the Haitian Earthquake combined. Destruction of millions of acres of crops in Punjab and Sindh and loss of 10,000 cows will produce food shortage in a country already plagued by inflation, unemployment, terrorism and absence of social security. The receding floodwaters in the coming days are likely to cause widespread water borne illnesses in the undernourished population.
The floods in Pakistan come on the heels of an excruciating heat wave and wild fires in Russia and flash floods in China. These natural disasters underscore the effects of “supercharged jet streams” caused by global warming. The U.N. body set up to monitor global warming, (IPCC), said the dramatic weather patterns are consistent with changes in the climate brought about by greenhouse gas pollution. The body had predicted in 2007 that there would be increased death, disease and destruction due to heat waves, floods, fire and droughts.
Another factor, which needs to be highlighted, is the effect of deforestation, increased sedimentation and deposition of silt in the riverbed around dams and barrages. The indifference shown by authorities towards maintaining the rivers and its canal systems has exaggerated the effects of the deluge. Taunsa barrage, which is situated at mid point of River Indus’s course, was reinforced 3 years ago with a $140 million World Bank “emergency loan”. Local civil organizations and water right activists vehemently appealed to the authorities to look into the high sediment deposition and its ecological effects. But their appeal fell on deaf ears. Consequently, the river breached its embankment and the false channel inundated large areas of land which were previously unaffected.
The international community has once again pledged aid to Pakistan to combat destruction from the floods. However, there is a perceived reluctance, both in international government agencies and private citizens to donate freely in the cause. This stems from both donor fatigue and reports of fund mismanagement by Pakistani authorities in the 2005 earthquake rehabilitation. In a recent report published in “The Daily Telegraph”, 300 million GBP were diverted from Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority to “other” causes. Pakistan received 3.5 billion GBP in aid when towns and infrastructures were destroyed in 2005 earthquake. It is also reported that residents of Balakot, whose 20% population perished in the earthquake, have been promised of building a “New Balakot”. Despite promises, neither a single road nor a building has been constructed.
Pakistan and its people do need help to salvage what is left after the destruction. Once again the generous people of the world will come to aid their fellow human beings. But perhaps Pakistan and the Third World need more than helicopters, food, tents and medicines. It needs our resolve to change social order. The priorities of the state should be to build schools to provide quality and free education, to build hospitals to care for its population who suffer even in good days from preventable diseases.
The affluent societies of the world have to realize that their insatiable appetites to consume world resources are causing deleterious effects on mankind. The burning of fossil fuel to produce and consume more is polluting the very air that we breathe. The extreme climate changes causing forest fires, droughts, floods and heat waves killing thousands and destroying crops and cattle will surely become a norm rather than rare occurrences.
Tanveer M. Imam