By: Syed Ali Raza Abidi
The earthquake of 2005 was one big shock to Pakistan and within 3 to 4 days most of the damage was assessed and masses were self prompted into quick action. While these floods have been ravaging the country’s main source of survival for 2 weeks, continuing to cause the devastation and death with a new locality inundated every hour, we are unable to asses the actual damage caused. It is expected that by the end of September the actual evaluation of the damage would be possible. We still have not understood what we are heading for in the coming days.
There is a great difference in context of the earthquake of 2005 and floods of 2010. The government’s writ is a question today, economic indicators are already on decline, media projection is different and credibility is a big question mark. There is extreme lack of trust on the authorities and question remains even after weeks that will they actually be able to control these crises and distribute their donations honestly to the affected? All this has resulted in slow aid to Pakistan from the within and the outside world.
At the time of earthquake, the officially quoted casualties were around 80,000, which was reported within days, and the entire picture of damage was clear. The Government, Foreign Office, our Ambassadors, professionals, and almost every country of the world was in action, because we all knew Pakistan was progressing, quality of life was improving, and supply was meeting the demand with reciprocal advantage to the rest of the world, in terms of trade and security.
The most astonishing fact was that even Fidel Castro offered, and sent 3000 paramedical staff to Pakistan, in spite of the fact, Pakistan did not have diplomatic relations with the country, which were only established for the first time after 5 months of the earthquake. Thousands of Pakistani doctors stationed around the globe, came in to the country to help their countrymen for immediate relief and medical care.
As I write this thought, the grand total of the aid committed is US$ 229 million from various countries, and US$ 900m from the World Bank. This aid might increase in the days to come, but I doubt, it will touch the US$ 5.0 billion mark of 2005.
Although this catastrophe requires an amount many times more to rehabilitate and rebuild thousands of villages, infrastructure and houses as one fourth of the country has drowned, whereas the Kashmir earthquake was limited to a geographical region only.
These floods are not over yet, but the misery of the affected continues to grow. We really do not know what will be the actual death toll of this disaster. The figure of 1600 to 2000 is reported from various media sources, but there are fears of bodies possibly present in the inundated houses and on the river bed pressed down by debris. 4 million people out of the 20 million affected so far are experiencing lack of nutrition, water, and medical care, which may result in massive scale deaths in the coming days, due of various fatal diseases.
Most of the affected people are poor people living in rural areas, who had been depending on the feudals and landlords of their areas all their lives. Unfortunately, the very same feudal lords have not been able to help them at the time of crisis. They themselves have been badly affected at this time, by loosing thousands of acres of land and crop to the floods.
During the earthquake there was unity amongst the masses of Pakistan, and the will to serve, protect and rehabilitate the affected. At the moment, parliamentarians of the ruling party are causing breaches in flow of the rivers to divert water to ‘other’s’ fields to save their own, and selectively offering relief, only when the media is present.
The geo-political impact of this devastation will be evident within next 6 months. While we continue to collect and pledge for foreign aid, the people are being helped by the Government, philanthropists, businessmen, common man, Pakistan Army and US Marines. Where all these people are not able to reach, there are local organizations providing and sustaining the relief work. Definitely, we will see change of perception, ideals, and followings amongst a large section of the population once the relief work is completed, and rehabilitation starts.
The International media along with appeal for flood relief is also highlighting the lacking effectiveness of the government and the mistrust. This is what has kept the global community from acting now. We cannot blame them, because news from Pakistan recently has not been very image building. They will write what they perceive as the truth and report with verifiable facts. In addition there are many more stories which add to the above ills and evils of our society, which are our own doings, and not to be blamed on to others.
A quote to suit the situation is:
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty”
– Winston Churchill
The Pakistani media must also take up the responsibility of reforming the society. At the moment, only they can do it most effectively.