Pakistan’s massive floods destroyed not only standing crops of the season but also vast proportions of arable land and capacities of numerous farmers to cultivate crops in the upcoming seasons. The consequences are far reaching for an impoverished country that relies heavily on its agricultural productivity and employs two-thirds of its population in this sector.
Nearly 20 million people have been directly affected, most of whom are from the rural agricultural areas and depend on agriculture to meet their food and income needs. A great number of them have been uprooted from their lands, with their household assets, investments in farm tools and animals, and food stocks all destroyed by the floods. Submerged roads and fallen bridges have disconnected access of thousands other to the rest of Pakistan. They all lack proper shelter, food, clean water, medicine, and other basic supplies. At least six million are at risk of waterborne diseases, including an estimated 3.5 million children according to U.N.
However, if the situation is terribly bad now, the worst is yet to come.
With major crops damaged or destroyed over 3.6 million hectares of cultivated land and variable food supply expected from the unaffected regions, a famine-like food crisis is imminent in many parts of the country that could be in full swing by coming spring when Pakistan’s current food stocks will start to run out. The shockwaves will be so far reaching that even the unaffected regions will not be spared.
It has been over six weeks since heavy rains caused devastating floods across Pakistan and the UN has launched an unprecedented disaster appeal for $2bn. Pakistan has already received more than $1bn in emergency donations but some opposition politicians accuse the government of playing politics with international aid money. Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder asked the politicians representing both the opposition and the government if the flood victims are receiving aid regardless of their political affinity.
As if everyday life in Pakistan weren’t dispiriting enough, last month the swift and turbulent Indus burst its banks and swathes of the country disappeared under water. Divine punishment, the poor said, but they were the ones who suffered. Allah rarely targets the rich. As the floods came and the country panicked, its president fled the bunker and went on a tour of inspection to France and Britain.
The floodwaters have now receded in many parts of the country, leaving 20 million people homeless. The province of Sindh, however, is still under threat and 800,000 people are marooned without food. Aid agencies estimate the bail-out costs for the country at between seven and ten billion dollars, but only $800 million has been pledged by foreign donors, in total contrast to the support given after the devastating earthquake of 2005. The rebuilt towns and villages are proof that not all the money was stolen that time. But despite this, little help has been forthcoming from abroad, the result of a combination of Islamophobia and distrust of the Zardari government on financial matters.
Did the rulers of Pakistan treat the worst natural disaster to hit their country as an emergency, and pull out all the stops without thinking of themselves or drooling at the prospects of foreign aid pouring in? Like hell they did. For the whole of August the plutocracy floundered hopelessly as the catastrophe grew. The army did its best, but was hindered by the war on terror. As nearly a million people came under threat from the floodwater in Jacobabad, the local authorities were informed that the nearby Shahbaz airbase could not be used for rescue operations. In response to a parliamentary question from the opposition, the health secretary, Khushnood Lashari, explained: ‘Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is controlled by the United States.’ It was not necessary to add that those on the base were busy arming and dispatching drones to hit villages in northern Pakistan. In Swat, closer to the AfPak war zones, a detachment of marines was made available to airlift tribal elders to safety, in an attempt presumably to win hearts and minds. Some hope.
A disaster of biblical scope: the floods triggered by heavy monsoon rains a month ago have affected more than 17.2 million people and killed over 1,500, according to Pakistan’s disaster management body. August is the monsoon season in Pakistan. This year a hard rain keeps falling, which is why the floodwaters are not abating. Nearly two thousand deaths and over 20 million people are homeless. The man-made disasters – war in Afghanistan, its spillage into Pakistan – are bad enough. Now the country faces its worst ever natural disaster. Most governments would find it difficult to cope, but the current regime is virtually paralyzed.
Over the last sixty years, the ruling elite in the country has never been able to construct a social infrastructure for its people. This is a structural defect that goes deep and affects the bulk of the population adversely. Today the country’s rulers eagerly follow the neoliberal dictates of the IMF, to keep the loans flowing. Not helpful at the best of times they are useless when the country is undergoing its worst humanitarian crisis of recent decades.
PAKISTAN: Minister tasked with saving US airbase at the cost of the displacement of thousands
The presence of Pakistan army personnel speaks to the fact that the breach of Jamali bypass was intentional and ordered from above.
It has been reported earlier that the US Air Force has denied the relief agencies use of the Shahbaz airbase for the distribution of aid and assistance. Soldiers of the Pakistan army, a federal minister and the administration of Sindh province are blamed for the incident involving Shahbaz Airbase at Jacobabad district in Sindh province in which it has been reported that flood waters were diverted in order to save the airbase. The diversion of the floodwaters is blamed for inundating hundreds of houses and the displacement of 800,000 people. According to the media reports, the Federal Minister of Sports along with soldiers from the army and a contingent of officials from the Sindh provincial government breached the Jamali Bypass in Jafferabad district of Balochistan province during the night between August 13 and 14 to divert the water entering the airbase which has remained in US Air Force hands since the war on terror started in 2001.
The plights of those who survive when all around them falls to a state of ruin is especially heart-wrenching, and tuning in to such atrocity has not come without a response of great empathy. An outpouring of donations to relief work came from all corners of the world as it watched the aftermath of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and now a catastrophic flood. Still, with such widespread devastation hitting the globe with frightening regularity, the amount that sympathetic souls can give, especially those who are themselves hard-pressed by a recession of epic proportions is seemingly on the decline.
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.
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.”