Pakistan Floods – A test of our humanity

I can barely believe the words I am writing are not a nightmare from which I will soon wake up. A third of Pakistan is now under water, the area submerged is as big as the United Kingdom and fresh rainfall threatens two more waves of flooding in the southern Sindh province.

14 million Pakistans have been affected.

2 million have been made altogether homeless.

6 million people are in need of immediate help.

The United Nations is now calling for nearly half a billion dollars in international aid for Pakistan, in the face of a weird resistance on the part of the world community to step up and help. When Pakistan faced a relatively minor security threat from a small guerrilla movement of Pakistani Taliban in the northwest, the world community ponied up billions in aid. This much more devastating flood is not generating the same enthusiasm for helping the country.

Like my people over at MPACUK said, Giving Ain’t Enough.

An unexpected casualty of the floods has been press freedom in civilian-ruled Pakistan. President Asaf Ali Zardari’s trip to Europe has provoked widespread protest. But the ruling Pakistan People’s Party officials have attempted to prevent the public from seeing the protests on television, and so have blacked out the GEO and Ary satellite news in Urdu. It is the sort of policy that military dictator Pervez Musharraf used to engage in, and it helped make him so hated that his government fell.

Aljazeera English has video on the disappointment in the Pakistani public at the government’s failure to distribute aid in a timely way and efficiently, and at Mr. Zardari’s trips abroad.

Alex Rodriguez of the LAT in Muzaffargarh reports that the inundation is likely to have a long-term bad effect on Pakistani agriculture in south Punjab, killing mango trees and swamping rice paddies and sugar cane fields. Over two-thirds of farmers in the southern district of Muzaffargarh are affected. In fact nearly one and a half million acres of farm land has been affected, to the tune of $1 billion in losses. (A dollar goes a long way in Pakistan, so a billion of them is a pretty frightening number). Half of Pakistan’s work force is in agriculture, though that sector only accounts for 1/4 of the country’s gross national product. The damage to this sector seems likely, Rodriguez reports, to keep Pakistan from reaching its target growth of 4.5 percent this year. Pakistan has a high birth rate, so it needs to grow eight percent a year for people to get ahead on a per capita basis. At this rate this year Pakistanis will at most stand still economically, and every lost year is a threat to the country’s long-term prospects for stability.

ITN Reports that much of Pakistan now lacks clean water, a major public health dilemma that could especially harm infants.

Aljazeera English reports on the impact of the floods on the remaining Afghan refugees in northern Pakistan:

The huge natural disaster has become politicized. Some observers feel that a prompt, effective and visible American relief effort could win many friends for the US among the Pakistani public, which has long been suspicious of and hostile to Washington. In contrast, Ahmad Rashid argues that the disruption of the country presents an opportunity for the radical Muslim fundamentalists, the Pakistani Taliban, to gain in popularity at the West’s expense.

Certainly, President Asaf Ali Zardari, hailing from the relatively secular and center-left Pakistan People’s Party, has given secular governance a bad name. Zardari was widely pilloried for a posh visit to Europe in the midst of the crisis. That the Muslim fundamentalists could make hay with the PPP’s image problems is certainly possible, though most Pakistanis do not approve of fundamentalism.

Based on an article by Juan Cole

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