Selaabi Sarapa

In South Asia on 19. October 2011 at 23:41

“Gods vengeance on the sinful people” is the most common used phrase to answer why poor people suffer from natural calamities. Be it the conservatives in the bible belt of USA, evangelical priests in the African continent or the feudal lords turned politicians and their religious cronies in Pakistan. They all know for sure that God is punishing his people (often the poor) for their sins. Therefore there is no need to point fingers at those in power, neither to complain about the relief work.

There seems to be confusion around the subject relating to Gods will and what lies in human power. Those who argument these increasingly amounts of natural disasters on supreme plans do not give a clear limit for when it is not divine interference. Earthquakes, cyclones, typhoons, draughts and floods are all for sure natural calamities, controlled or predestined off course by divine power. What about the lack of necessary means to limit such seasonal damages and calamities? What about human controlled and planned interference in the nature which increases the suffering? Not to mention the human caused climate changes?

For those who argument that all of what happens on earth is being divinely controlled and predestined, there is probably no point in arguing. The debate about Qadr (free will) and Jabr (predestined) is perhaps as old as Islamic theology and philosophy itself. What can be said is that humankind is given the choice to take ethical good/evil and right/wrong decisions, if that was not the case, then the whole purpose of a life on earth, followed by a judgment would all had been pointless. In short: God has promised a certain amount of grain on each and every one of us, but he will not come home to our kitchens to feed us. The divine authority has also prohibited suicide, clearly indicating that human being should not choose to do anything which damages oneself (and others).

Pakistan is an underdeveloped and a young nation. It lacks the infrastructure or the means to control such major natural calamities. Not even developed nations as Japan or USA can predict or control a natural disaster. What can be done is to prevent the unnecessary damage by forecasts on weather by experts, evacuation and plan relief in the most optimal way in order to let life come to normal as soon as possible. USA and Japan do have well functioning crisis management authorities (despite the criticism of FEMA during the hurricane Katrina). Pakistan on the other hand lacks efficiency due to corruption and incompetent bureaucrats put in position by even more incompetent political leaders.

There are still 5 billion rupees aided by the UN for last year’s flood which are still unused. Even the 800 million rupees from the 2005 major earthquake in northern Pakistan are untouched. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMA) and Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) complain it all on the Government and bureaucracy. The latter blame each others, meantime the millions of poor victims are helpless in their shelters. The 2010 flood had a 43 billion dollars impact on Pakistan’s economy it affected over 20 million people. Such should have raised bells in order to launch preventive measures.

Such did not happen.

This year’s monsoon season was predicted long before to cause floods especially at the lower riparian Indus River. Seven of the 23 districts in Sind province are severely hit. Badin, Nawabshah, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar, Umerkot, Tharparkar and Tando Allahyar are all rural districts. Most of these lie in the southern and southeastern portions of the province. The area is flat covered with some vegetation and some irrigation channels. The villagers depended on their crops in order to survive while others have domestic animals from where they generate milk and meat. Both the crops and cattle are badly hit as the flood swept away all of property. Those affected are still waiting for the water to recover so they can get back to normal, but the huge amounts of flood takes weeks to run through.

So far there are estimates of about 1, 4 million homes being affected, around 9 million people. The death toll is reported to be about 500 but taken in consideration the lack of information it can be higher. Although the number of deaths after the flood, yet still related can be much higher. This is due to the waterborne diseases as diarrhea, cholera, malaria (dengue in Punjab these days as well) and gastroenteritis. Pakistan lacks efficient and planned city development, and in many cases cities have sewage water running in open channels alongside the road networks. When floodwater is meddling with sewage the water becomes borne with diseases. Such water also pollutes the drinking water of the rural population. The mighty Indus River is already heavy polluted by sewage and waste from upper riparian cities and settlements. This affects the health of the dwellers and increases the amount of diseases even when calamity is not stricken.

On the economic front 70 % or 2 million acres of the crops in Sind province are destroyed. These crops were the lifeline for the farmers and majority of Sind’s rural dwellers. The peasants are also landless and work under gruesome circumstances for landowners and feudal lords. In many cases the workers are considered the property of the landlord. In other cases the peasants work in order to pay back a loan which they needed urgently. Due to the vulnerable situation the landlord takes advantage and sets a rent which is unbearable. The peasant is then locked in work for eternity. When floods hits the burden gets even heavier. The governmental and local political parties have not addressed these kinds of problems. Sind is the province where 86 % of the households are landless (the national average being 67 %).

The minorities of Sind do suffer even more (as does minorities each place which lacks writ of law). Out of the 3 million Hindus left in Pakistan, 2, 5 million belong to the so called low castes. These are the ones that suffer the most in the current floods. In relief work there are also reports of discrimination where sectarian and religious background has been a critical factor for whom the help will be served, especially when sectarian and ethnic oriented groupings are involved in relief work. It should be of national shame that 200 Hindu families from Baluchistan had to flee to India last year because of persecution.

Instead of helping minorities like Hindus in Sindh, Sikhs in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Ahmadis in Punjab and Zikris in Baluchistan the establishment seem to be of the view that these minorities are fifth columns. Former Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Khawaja Mohammad Sharif (2009-2010) even proclaimed once that while the bombers were Muslims the financiers were Hindus. His remarks made it tougher for the small community which already suffers from discrimination.

On top of all this suffering and losses the government seems to rely more on publicity stunts well planned by advisors. President Asif Ali Zardari visited Benazirabad town in Nawabshah with full escort of camera teams, ministers, bodyguards and land cruisers. The entire sessions was shown several times repeatedly on state TV. What is disturbing is the video sessions of entire neighborhoods filled with PPP stalwarts and supporters, all of them being youngsters and all of them men. All of them smiling and hailing their leader.

Not one footage was shown of those original dwellers or of any suffering woman, children or elder. Such public stunts do not ease up the people’s anger at government, it increases it. Such also shows the lack of connection in between those with power and those at grassroots level. Last year Zardari faced criticism because he went on a visit to his chateau in France in addition to a state visit to UK to meet Cameroon in the midst of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. This year he made one public stunt and was then gone like the wind.

Yet the government in charge (or any government in the past history) has such a record at the international arena that no other state or institutions trust aid to the hands of politicians. This is a shame as the means collected are peanuts compared to what is needed. On the other hand, Pakistan is probably the nation with the most NGOs per capita. This ensures that at each crisis the private volunteers do their in order to help the needy. It is also to be noted that a small group of welfare organizations also share links with banned terrorist organizations which tries to win sympathy and support for their war against Islamabad. USA is also as always pouring in money and aid to win hearts and minds. On the other side USA also has volunteers and goodwill ambassadors like Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie. She was in the frontline to help victims in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and was probably at the scene much before Prime Minister Gillani or President Zardari could be.

Pakistan needs a proper functioning local governmental system, be it elected or chosen by the National Assembly. The local government system from Ayub Khan era can also be of interest. If local politicians or leaders have been trusted with responsibility and can be questioned if they do not deliver then relief works with flow of money from central administration be much smoother. Pakistan also needs to make its democratic institutions more transparent and auditable. Electing cronies as heads of accountability bureaus does not help in strengthening the democratic institution.

The long term consequences of the floods will be even more devastating than the one which are known now. Arguing that this is Gods punishment is merely cynicism and wrong use of religion as a tool to gather ignorant masses. We need to acknowledge that God knows his responsibilities, questions is, do we know ours?

  1. Interesting article…I agree with a lot of what you stated here.. I think it is a good punishment for the people of sindh to elect PPPs government.. -_- punjab is also suffering by dengue.. so like always they shouldn’t look at us for help..

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