Pakistan’s Political Turmoil Can Hinder Recovery from Serious Disasters

pakistan flood 1

Pakistan has suffered its worst ever floods this year, resulting in over 1700 deaths, nearly 13,000 seriously injured persons and damage estimated at around $40 billon. UNICEF stated in a report that as a result of these floods, nearly 10 million children needed urgent assistance.

As millions of persons were rendered homeless by floods, urgent reconstruction efforts are needed. Winter is almost there now, and these people must find some shelter before the cold waves worsen. Substantial crops have been destroyed here at a time when the food and fertilizer situation at world level is already more uncertain than before.

Surely all this calls for a massive relief and rehabilitation effort across a very wide area. Pakistan had made a good start in this direction with both Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the most prominent opposition leader Imran Khan leading from the front with good initiatives. However as the country’s perennial political conflicts have aggravated rapidly in recent times there is a real danger that the currently prevailing political turmoil can have a very adverse impact on the ability of the governance systems to function effectively to provide proper relief and rehabilitation, or to to be able to give it the due priority.

Things have deteriorated rapidly with the assassination attempt on Imran Khan on November 3, and the subsequent eruption of protests in several parts of country. Very strong charges and counter-charges are being traded between the ruling and the opposition parties, and the role of the armed forces in all this and in subsequent developments is a subject of widespread speculation. In such an uncertain situation, with central, state and local authorities being faced with many conflicting situations and priorities, it will not be surprising if the task of relief and rehabilitation is pushed further back in terms of priorities, particularly when it comes to meeting the needs if the poorer and more marginalized sections who do not have much of a political voice.

This is certainly not as it should be. Both the ruling and opposition parties should have realized that they have a special responsibility towards the victims of one of the worst ever disasters ever faced by the country. What is more, these floods were preceded by very severe heat waves, which in turn were preceded and partially accompanied by the pandemic as well as pandemic related measures which adversely affected livelihoods and incomes of ordinary people. This should have been the time for all leading political parties to tone down their conflicts for some time and they as well as the country’s armed forces, who have all too often interfered in extra-legal ways in the political affairs of the country, should have tried to create conditions of unity and stability so that the country can concentrate on the relief and rehabilitation effort. But this was not to be and the next few weeks after one of the worst disasters have also seen one of the worst disruptions in the periodically crisis-ridden political situation of the country.

The wider question this raises is one of governance response to worsening threat from disasters in times of climate change. What we often read in several learned research papers is how, at various levels, several important governance reforms are needed so as to ensure an effective response to the increased threat from disasters related to climate change. This ideal should be compared to the more widely seen reality of the deterioration of governance structures visible in several areas which are known to be highly vulnerable to several types of disasters which are predicted to aggravate in times of  climate change.

Next door to Pakistan, in Afghanistan, an exceptionally long and severe drought was followed by earthquakes and more recently by heavy rains and ferocious floods in some parts. Here again the governance structure, particularly with respect to relief, has dwindled and weakened considerably, with the departure of several experienced international aid agencies. This is not to underestimate the corruption of the governance structures earlier when the American forces were present. However at least several international relief agencies were present in places where these were needed, and in the context of the welfare of women and children in particular, this was clearly useful.

These possibilities of increasing governance failures at times of serious disaster situations should get more attention. The situation can be even more serious in countries where civil war type of situation prevails. In Africa some countries caught in serious conflict situations are also experiencing intense droughts and other extreme weather. In such situations large numbers are being trapped in situations which combine much higher disasters with more governance failure. The serious threats faced by such people should get wider attention.

Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children and Earth without Borders.

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