Pakistan Floods – A Natural, Political Crisis

Pakistan’s government has been heavily criticised over its response to sweeping floods, but will it now plan for future disasters?

There are times, few and far between I might add, that flying has its benefits.

Arriving into Pakistan from London I got a birds eye view of the massive flood that has left millions stranded and, according to some estimates, nearly 1,300 people dead.

From this height the water shimmers in the sun. Huge swathes of the countryside seem to be covered.

That this is a tragedy is beyond doubt, but what is in doubt is the government’s response to it.

Over the last few days the administration has been hugely criticised by a cross section of Pakistani society.

In the Swat valley, in the country’s northwest, many complain of aid not getting through.

One man who I spoke to, Min Hajuddin was blunt. “President Asif Ali Zardari is simply useless.” It seems to be a common refrain.

The president is currently on a tour of Europe where he will visit the UK.

His visit comes after scathing comments by David Cameron, the British prime minister, accusing Pakistan of playing a double game when it comes to terrorism.

That Zardari will shake hands with Cameron whilst Pakistanis die in the floods has not won him much acclaim.

But it’s not just him. Pakistani prime minister Yousuf Reza Gilani has only been seen once since this crisis began.

All in all its a PR disaster for the government.

Much Like George Dubya Bush playing with his horses on his ranch in Crawford when hurricane Katrina landed in New Orleans.

There is some hope though. Donors are making pledges and some are even in the process of delivering much needed aid. This has given the government a much needed boost.

However, could this crisis have been averted?

Well, yes and no, according to experts. The country’s natural disaster management has always seemed to be in a reactive rather active mode. There has been little forward planning to deal with such events.

Pakistan’s dams are close to collapse as years of chronic under investment in dredging has left many susceptible to excess water rises, coupled with the fact that India can open her dams and let water flow into Pakistan at any time should also be a worry.

In January a lake in northern Pakistan formed when landslides blocked a river – one which is dangerously close to bursting point and more than 30,000 people are at risk – and what’s been done about it in all these months?

Corruption, under investment and mismanagement at every single level – coupled with an over reliance on it’s standing army with no excellence what so ever coming from the civilian sector – means that Pakistan will always be playing catch up.

In the now oft talked about phase of “The War OF Terror” playing out in Pakistan – acting as a even more diversionary problem for Pakistan – one can see that Pakistan has some immense challenges ahead.

We’re almost within touching distance of Ramadhan, I’m sure we’ll be doing our charitable best and digging deep in our pockets and giving as much as we can to those who have lost everything.

In the coming days and months the focus will be on immediate relief, but at what point though will Pakistan decide to plan for the inevitable natural disasters still to come?

That was what one passenger asked me as we both looked out of the window as our plane descended into a country once again gripped by crisis.

Based on an article by Imran Khan, Al Jazeera

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