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Pakistan's Floods: The Aftermath

By Gulam Mitha

22 August, 2010

The floods in Pakistan have created a very scary situation but what is going to be even scarier is the aftermath as the floods recede. Preliminary assessments from sources indicates that over 20 million people have been directly or indirectly effected. Of this figure, 75% are the poor people who’ve lost their homes, livelihoods, live stocks and personal belongings. By last count nearly 5 million people have become homeless. They now have nothing and their immediate needs are food and survival. They’re being referred to as the IDP (Internally Displaced People). The pictures of these people on the move do not reflect theirs fears. A Picture cannot capture fear which resides within the mind and a hungry soul is unable to express the extent of its hunger.

The floods have come on the heels of military operations in 2009 that have displaced about 2 million people in the northern regions where Pakistan is fighting America’s “war on terror” in return for aid that has only benefitted the politician feudal landlords, the super rich and armed forces. The nation is crushed under the weight of feudal democracy.

Several countries and charities have pledged or raised aid to the tune of $500 million but the floods are hampering the logistics as the infrastructure of Pakistan has been severely damaged. The IDP are moving, rather aimlessly, from flood effected areas of Pakistan with only the clothes on their bodies and the meagre belongings they managed to save, continuously seeking dry land to settle down with their families and the floods haunting their every step. They’re hungry, thirsty and sick. It is impossible to gauge the true plights of those 5 million destitute who’re on the move.

I do not see the need to cover what has and is already being covered. The intention of this author is to gauge the social and economic impact on the nation as the floods begin to recede. Will life ever return to normal? Will Pakistan survive and if it survives at what economic and social cost?

Karachi with a population of 17 million or 10% of Pakistan’s population is spread over 3700 sq. km. It is a sprawling, ethnically diverse, industrial, trade and financial megalopolis which has recently seen an unprecedented spurt in political, sectarian and religious triggered violence. 80% of the population lives in areas where the violence is most notable. 40% of Karachi’s population lives in abject poverty and is suffering from at least 30% unemployment. Whenever I’ve visited Karachi, several times over the past few years, I notice bigger and deeper cracks and scars on the city. The affluent areas of Karachi where only 7% of the population lives enjoys relative peace. Those are the few rich, moderate, educated middle class and active and retired defence officers.

It is estimated that 2 million hungry, tired and sick IDP from lower Punjab and Sindh provinces are moving towards Karachi for settling. Several thousand are already settled in outlying areas of northern and eastern Karachi. It is now mainly social workers who are tending to the needs of IDP. The few social workers and doctors are clamouring for government help but none is forthcoming due to bickering among the four major national political parties. Meanwhile several children have died in the impromptu camps or been removed to hospitals due to cholera, dysentery, dehydration, malaria and other diseases. As more IDP pour into Karachi, the threat of diseases is bound to increase due to insanitary conditions, lack of clean water and medical facilities in these camps. In order to escape the problems in the camps and earn money, the IDP are likely to move to those areas of Karachi where they can either earn money by working or begging and satisfy hunger by scavenging food.

Karachi is an unplanned city growing haphazardly. As a result there is scarcity of water and electricity and an ill maintained infrastructure. With the slightest rains, Karachi gets plunged into chaos. The only area of Karachi that is not as neglected is the affluent sections of Defense Housing and Clifton. Another malaise in Karachi is the high level of corruption prevalent among civil (police and justice) and political governments. Law and order is slowly deteriorating to the point of no return. Theft, political , religious and sectarian killing is done in plain sight and open daylight. The list of problems continues to grow.

Industries thrive in Karachi, a seaport and the nation’s busiest airport. The cotton-textile industry accounts for 12% of the national GDP, 30% of manufacturing jobs and 50% of export receipts followed by rice, sports, leather and surgical goods. Moreover cotton is Pakistan’s principal rural crop supplying critical income to urban and rural households. The floods have damaged 25% of the cotton crop by initial estimates, severely restricting the cotton-textile industrial output, export earnings and employment. Therefore, coupled with the IDP situation the social impact on an already constrained city could be exacerbated and likely give rise to more violence, thefts and social sectarian and religious problems.

1800-2000 trucks carrying vegetables, fruits, poultry, pulses, meat and other edibles normally enter Karachi on any given day. Due to the severely impacted infrastructure and agricultural damage, only 40-50% of those trucks are making it into Karachi. The net result has become growing shortages and inflation that is likely to climb to 30-35% from the current 20-25%. Food shortages and inflation will only further impact the city’s population, effecting mostly the poor and middle class.

Besides Karachi, the rest of the IDP might move to the other cities like Lahore, capital of Punjab province with population of 10 million, Peshawar capital of Khyber-Pakhtunwa province with population of 3 million and Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, with a population of 1 million. These IDP will likely not move back to their rural villages and towns.

On 20 August, UN’s secretary-general Ban Ki Moon correctly described the situation in Pakistan as “a slow moving tsunami”. Nothing could be further from the truth than those words.

It is impossible to gauge the plight of the other 15 million effected by the floods. At least 10 million people are staying put in their flooded villages and towns where nearly 350,000 homes have been destroyed. They’re the rural poor who’ve lost their homes, farms, live stock and belongings. Now they’re in critical need of food, clean water, shelter and medical care.

In 2009 Pakistan GDP growth was a mere 2% (as compared to 7% in 2008), foreign loans have swelled to $60 billion and inflation a staggering 22%. The floods will take its toll for several years, inflation might hit 35% and Pakistan’s government will have to secure further loans of $20-25 billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Pakistan will survive but the social and economic tangible and intangible costs will leave deep scars on an injured nation. However, the greatest threat to Pakistan is anarchy that may emanate from Karachi and effect the entire nation, rich or poor. How the government intends to ensure that anarchy can be contained will be a momentous task. Does the government have that vision? Judging from the current situation in Karachi, the answer is no.