Amid Floods, Bigger Tests Loom for Pakistan's Government

“Pakistan continues to struggle with relief and rescue operations in the wake of massive flood devastation,” says Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Fellow Hassan Abbas, who has just returned to New York from Pakistan. “International help has increased to around $800 million in the meanwhile, but it is taking time for the aid to reach the needy on the ground. Coordination between government agencies, local NGOs and international aid agencies is still lacking, but various communities from urban areas in Pakistan are gearing up their efforts independently to reach out to the areas that are worst affected. The real test will come after the water recedes as rehabilitation and reconstruction besides disease control will require massive financial resources. Pakistan is in discussions with the IMF for loans to prepare for this long-term challenge but this approach is being criticized by opposition forces in the country. In the midst of all this debate, a leading political figure Altaf Hussain, leader of MQM, has surprised everyone by declaring that he will welcome military takeover by ‘patriotic generals’ if they will eliminate feudalistic and corrupt politicians. Pakistan can ill afford any such adventure as the model has been tried on four occasions in the 63 year checkered history of Pakistan and it failed miserably on every occasion.”

"The flood affectees in Pakistan need food, clean drinking water and medicines urgently," says Asia Society Associate Fellow Ayesha Haroon. The relief effort mounted by the government, international agencies, and the local citizens is simply not enough. The human need in the flood affected areas is heartrending. The dark rain-filled monsoon clouds fill hearts with dread --  rains are continuing in the north, south and now east of Pakistan. The placid waters of the rivers of central Punjab are now fast and growling. The farmers who were spared the flood waters are quietly watching the heavy and constant rains destroy their crops."

“A tragedy, which many compare to Noah's floods, if not addressed comprehensively, is most likely to lead to drought -- with its own wave of human suffering and violence. The floods came at a time when the wheat crops were almost ready – a majority of the small farmers are able to store grain for their yearly use, selling only the excess in the market. These farmers are now left with no crops, devasted land, no houses, and heavy agriculture loans such as for pesticides and fertilisers, which they pay off after the excess crop is sold in the market.”

“As if this weren’t enough, the weather is already changing in the mountains and valleys of Swat, Kohistan, Kashmir and FATA. Soon it'll be winter throughout the country. We have millions of flood refugees without a change of clothes for themselves or their children -- without tents, without bedding and quilts. The government and the aid agencies will have to start thinking of the medium run, even while they evacuate stranded people, so that people do not die of hunger, cold, and lack of hope.” Ayesha is in New York.

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And for more resources on Pakistan’s floods, including video of our program last week with Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, as well as ways to help, click here