After the Flood

Pakistan’s flood crisis is making the spread of disease a fast increasing problem and hospitals are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of affected people. Women and children, especially newborns, are suffering the most from malnourishment. Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull reports from northwest Pakistan.

Jemima Khan has a must-read piece in the Sunday Times. Here’s an excerpt:

The death toll, amounting to 1,600 people, has, Alhamdulillah (praise to God), so far been low relative to the magnitude of the disaster facing Pakistan. Mostly, though, the stories are grim. My ex-husband Imran Khan, whom I spoke to after he visited flood-hit areas in the northwest, sounded uncharacteristically defeated; more so, I thought, than even after his cancer hospital was bombed in 1996. “Pakistan could implode, Jem,” he said. “We are already on the brink of bankruptcy. The poverty and the suffering will be unimaginable. Best not to send the children this weekend. There’s too much to do.”

There are reports of fights for food at distribution points, with widowed women and the weak left empty-handed, of survivors attacking government officials, of babies with nothing but contaminated water to drink, of herds of dead water buffalo floating in flood water, of acute diarrhoea.

What many forget is that ordinary Pakistanis have suffered more as a result of corruption and terrorism than anyone else Two million people are now homeless, electricity grids have been closed down to prevent electrocution, water supplies are contaminated, livestock drowned, 1.7m acres of crops destroyed, bridges, roads, schools, whole villages swept away. Experts have warned of the high risk of a cholera epidemic and further monsoon downpours are forecast. Unlike in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake, when people jumped into their cars crammed with whatever supplies they had in their kitchens and drove to the affected areas, this time there is no voluntary mobilisation. “People don’t even know where to begin,” Imran says wearily.

Every province in Pakistan has been affected and 14m people — about one in 10 of the population — need help.

That is more than the total affected by the Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti quake combined. Dr Mohammed Rafiq, the Pakistan programme specialist for Unicef, the United Nations children’s organisation, says: “This is the worst challenge I have seen in my lifetime, far worse than the earthquake. That was contained in one area so the rest of the country was able to help. This has affected everyone and what we are seeing now is only the beginning. This is a long-term emergency.” There are 6m children in urgent need of help.

Yet the response from the international community has been described as “sluggish”, a diplomatic euphemism for depressing, inadequate, pathetic. So far it has committed funding that works out at just over $3 (£1.90) per flood-affected person, according to the BBC. The commitment per person after the 2005 Pakistani earthquake was, by comparison, $70 and for this year’s earthquake in Haiti it was $495.

Friends I have spoken to in Britain are keen to donate but are concerned that their money will line some corrupt official’s pocket or go to some organisation that is a front for terrorism. You only have to look at the blogs to see there’s not much sympathy left for Pakistan in the West.

Corruption and terrorism have become synonymous with the country, not helped by David Cameron’s recent remarks in India that Pakistan must not be allowed to “promote the export of terror” nor the publication of documents by WikiLeaks linking ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, to the Taliban.

It’s not just the international community that is wary. Pakistanis themselves have failed to donate to the emergency fund set up by their own government. Many are choosing to give hand-outs directly instead. There’s widespread anger in the country against the government, exacerbated by the president’s ill-timed and costly jaunt to London to see our own prime minister earlier this month. As Imran says: “No one trusts the government to administer the funds properly. No one knows where to give or where to even begin to help. It’s so huge.”

There are good reasons to be cynical. Pakistan has a president formerly known as Mr 10% (upgraded since his presidency to Mr 110%), who is alleged to have acquired up to $1.5 billion (£960m) through corruption. Seventy per cent of the money given by the World Bank to be spent on flood prevention has been embezzled or spent badly, according to Syed Adil Gilani at Transparency International Pakistan, the non-governmental organisation…

Pakistan has lost more than 2,000 soldiers fighting militants inside its borders. Seventy American Predator drone attacks this year alone have killed 200 Pakistanis with no leading terrorists among the dead. Pakistan has become both the collateral damage of the war in Afghanistan as well as the West’s favourite whipping boy now that it looks unwinnable…

Jihadi-linked charitable organisations have been very effective at providing aid in times of crisis. The 2m children in Pakistan’s madrasahs are provided with free shelter, food and limited education where there is no government-funded alternative. In Mianwali, Imran’s constituency, 70% of all government schools are closed — “20% are ghost schools which exist only on paper, the other 50% have no teachers. It’s not surprising that poor people send their children to madrasahs”. There is a danger that those same charities will step into the void and gain credibility in the face of the government’s ineptitude.

Also see (via War in Context):

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

2 thoughts on “After the Flood”

  1. Excellent analysis. Pakistan is in dire need of suppotr but its better to provide aid through philanthropists like Imran Khan rather than Mr.110% and his gang.

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