PakObserver: WHILE Pakistan was still grappling with last year’s devastating floods that marooned one-fifth of the country, it has again been hit by the natural calamity causing devastation of enormous magnitude. According to National Disaster Management Authority, 5.3 million people have been affected by this summer’s heavy rains in 23 districts of Sindh. Of these, nine highly affected districts are: Badin, Mirpurkhas, Tharparkar, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Umerkot, Sanghar and Benazirabad. Over 500 villages of Badin have been affected and their crops and fish farms have been completely washed away. The rains caused 141 deaths, inundated 4.5 million acres of land, displaced four million people and damaged 7,00,000 houses.
Standing crops on 1.7 million acres have been affected, while over 120,000 cattle have been lost due to flooding and various diseases in the rain-affected areas. Lives of hundreds of thousands more livestock and poultry are at risk as water-borne diseases have emerged. Besides, the livestock that is not diseased yet might die of starvation because fodder has been washed away. Poultry and fish farms have also suffered losses of tens of millions of rupees. It may be recalled that last year’s devastating floods had caused unprecedented destruction, which the UN described as worst than the Asian tsunami. Apart from 1,400 deaths, the overall losses were estimated by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank at US$ 10 billion. However, fresh floods have again put an added strain on the people and the government of Pakistan to provide relief to their vulnerable compatriots.
Aware of donor fatigue due to various emergencies world over, the people and government of Pakistan seem determined to rely on their own resources and share the major burden of relief and rehabilitation work. But such emergent situations are beyond any nation’s capacity to make immediate arrangements for providing sufficient number of relief items, like tents, aqua tablets, water purification equipment, food supplies, de-watering pumps and medicines. Since in emergencies, time is of essence, relief needs to be provided to the flood affected people swiftly. Three dimensions of a response to the flood disaster can be identified: (a) Immediate relief measures over the next month; (b) medium-term rehabilitation measures over the next year and (c) longer-term institutional arrangements whereby the financial and management resources can be put into place for a systematic response to natural disasters in the future.
In the first phase, providing relief entails mobilising funds from government sources and private philanthropy, acquiring the necessary goods such as drinking water, food, bedding and temporary shelter in a transparent manner and ensuring that they reach those in need promptly. At the same time, given the danger of outbreak of diseases such as dengue, cholera, typhoid and dysentery, emergency medical services and the required medicines must be provided without delay. The organisational mechanisms for these initiatives will require close coordination between NGOs in civil society, federal government agencies such as the National Disaster Management Authority, the Pakistan Army, Navy, PAF and provincial government departments. For the second phase, a rehabilitation plan will have to be prepared by the federal and provincial governments in consultation with civil society organisations and international aid agencies to help reconstruct homes, provide livelihoods, recover agriculture land, reconstitute the disrupted agriculture production cycle and provide medical facilities for persisting flood related diseases.
The third dimension of the national response to the current flood disaster must start with the recognition that the consequences of global warming do not lie in the distant future but are already upon us. The increased variability of monsoons with respect to timing and volume of precipitation will cause recurrent floods, droughts and storms. The accelerated melting of some Himalayan glaciers associated with global warming will further exacerbate the problem. According to a recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change could reduce crop yields of food grain in South Asia by 30 per cent. Apart from the human losses, already incurred due to direct effects of the flood water, international aid agencies fear that there would be “a second wave of deaths” emanating from the water-borne diseases and food shortages until and unless the local and international aid could reach to the affected people.
As per the Pakistani health officials, “diseases could spread quickly among the millions of displaced people and that 3.5 million children are at risk.” Already, there is a breakout of the waterborne diseases in some of the areas. Being unsound financially, Pakistan would not be able to manage the crises from its own budget. If international community failed to provide timely support to the flood affected people, it is most likely that Pakistan would face the biggest crises of its history. In fact, to contend with this situation, it is obligatory that international community as well as the people of Pakistan should rise to support the affected people, who really need their help.
This would not be the first time. Indeed, Pakistani nation has been facing such like catastrophe and have always came out successful. Let us hope that this time too, the nation is able to overcome the crises in an efficient manner and the affected people are rehabilitated after relief and rescue within a shortest possible time.
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