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Negligence, the biggest disaster in Pakistan

As if the ongoing political crisis was not enough, we are in the middle of a natural disaster, once again. As before, the state appears to be woefully unprepared. More than 23 districts in Punjab, 10 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and five in Gilgit-Baltistan have been affected by the September rains killing more than 270 and affecting 2.4 million people. The federal government says that nearly 45,000 houses have been damaged and 1,544,653 acres of irrigated lands have been inundated thereby impacting livelihoods.

Taken by surprise, the federal and provincial governments are running around undertaking rescue work with plenty of photo-op sessions. The Pakistan Army remains the most resourceful arm of the government and has rescued thousands of stranded people. Once again, the detractors of democratic governance — many of whom are assembled on the streets of Islamabad — view this calamity as another sign of failed ‘fake democracy’.

If media reports are true then the current government, despite briefings, did not accord disaster risk reduction the priority it needed. If anything, the disturbing scenes of a submerged Lahore made a mockery of the Metro Bus glory that was achieved only a year ago. Without a local government, proper drainage and early warning systems, Lahore’s development meant nothing for all those who suffered in the rains. […]

Disasters, dengue and local government

By Raza Rumi:

In the past few weeks, the intractable crisis of governance has once again exposed the dysfunctional nature of the Pakistani state, and its inability to grapple with basic issues of citizenship. After all, the guaranteeing of people’s rights and entitlements is the responsibility of the state, which it simply cannot abdicate. In Sindh, 5.3 million people have been affected by flash floods, out of which 250,000 are now homeless. The floods had been predicted earlier but the provincial and federal authorities were shamefully ill-prepared like last year. In Punjab, over 5,000 people are battling against the dengue epidemic and there are indications that it may spread to other parts of the country.

The killings in Karachi have momentarily halted but as hundreds of citizens were butchered for no fault of their own, the politicians indulged in a macabre game of accusing each other of breaking up Pakistan. Pity that the discourse on Karachi came down to Zulfiqar Mirza versus the MQM and seldom did anyone debate the fundamental causes of ethnic conflict, social breakdown and the governance vacuum. The killings have been followed by the inundation of the megalopolis by heavy rains. The civic failures of Karachi and Lahore on drainage and public health have exposed how cities cannot function without effective, accountable local governments. […]

Pakistan Floods: Making the same mistakes?

Rarely have countries been so incapable of responding to challenges, as is the case with Pakistan. Last year, the worst flood in our historyhit millions of poor Pakistanis, wiping away their livelihoods and depriving them of their dwellings and, in many cases, land entitlement. It was due to the resilience of the Pakistani people thatsome post-flood rehabilitation took place. Like much else in the country, people took their lives into their own hands and the state, at best, was a secondary player. Media focus remained on the politicisation of the response to the natural disaster and making heroes out of army battalions which, at least on paper, are subordinate to the elected executive.

What has happened since then? I was intrigued to note an advert a month ago in the national newspapers wherein a multilateral agency was hiring a programme manager for ‘early recovery’ after floods! Multilaterals reflect the speed and bureaucratic labyrinths of the government and, therefore, this little notice seemed farcical at best. Forget early recovery, we are now back in the monsoon season. And the federal and provincial governments appear to be as ill-equippedas before.

I was part of a team that undertook post-flood assessment and had a chance to interact with key stakeholders last year. The attitudes of some high level public officials are a subject of a satirical book rather than this short piece. In summary, their assumption was that the poor were resilient and knew how to deal with disasters and that life goes on. Several of the recommendations that we offered remain unimplemented, chiefly those relating to local governments. […]

July 9th, 2011|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune|2 Comments

Post-floods: Pakistan must embrace a comprehensive reform agenda

Pakistan’s governance is a nightmare for its citizenry. More importantly, it is also an international issue now. The multi-dimensional disaster in Pakistan could lead to unrest and instability in a country where the state writ has eroded and non-state actors operate with impunity. Add to this environmental and planning failure[s]; and the script is set for a major upheaval that on one can afford. It is time that our policy makers realize the gravity of the challenge ahead and focus on reconstructing Pakistan

September 4th, 2010|development, governance, Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times|4 Comments

Rescuing the Pakistani state

Pakistani, and by extension the global media, are regurgitating tiresome cliches about corruption without talking about reforming state institutions. For instance, not a single commentator has said that we have a new accounting system in the form of the Project to Improve Financial Reporting and Auditing (Pifra) in place. But it has not been put into place effectively at the provincial and district levels. This is the way we will ensure transparency and good tracking of money received and spent.

August 26th, 2010|Published in the Express Tribune|8 Comments

Generous and timely: US Response to Pakistan’s Disaster

Ironic that the United States has been perhaps the most pro-active and generous country in helping us with flood relief. Pakistanis, especially those were stranded for days are grateful for such a timely help. Contrary to the propaganda unleashed by several vested interests about how great friends China and the Muslim countries are, the US has proved to be our friend when we needed it the most

August 23rd, 2010|Pakistan|6 Comments

Pakistan: flood politics at its worst

there appears to be a deliberate construction of a dangerous discourse and a sham argument for the ascendancy of the armed forces. The military is part of the state and legally an agency working in support of the government. The civilian administration is struggling to keep up with the scale of the calamity.

August 21st, 2010|governance, Published in the Express Tribune|4 Comments