Pakistan’s Youth: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Zubeida Mustafa

The so-called youth bulge in Pakistan has now become visible. One young woman making news around the world of late is 17-year-old Malala Yusufzai, who was named the youngest-ever winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in early October.

Not that Pakistan has not been a young country for several decades. The country’s high population growth rate over the 1980s and 1990s means more than a quarter of the country’s population of 182 million today is between 15 and 29 years of age, which is how youth is defined by the United Nations. However, it is only in times of turbulence, as Pakistan is experiencing at present, that the youth’s presence has become pronounced. Two democratic elections in a row – in 2008 and 2013— have focused public attention on young voters.In the May 2013 general election it is said that about a third of the registered voters were under 29 (that worked out to 25 million in absolute numbers) and many of them would be casting ballots for the first time. The political parties took note, and all of them included plans for the youth in their election manifestos. Continue reading “Pakistan’s Youth: The Light at the End of the Tunnel”

Atoning for our sins

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IS change in the offing? I should hasten to add that I am not talking about political change in Islamabad which is perennially the subject of much speculation. It is socio-economic change I want to write about this week.

Recently at a two-day conference of stakeholders titled `Floods and Beyond` hosted by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research some speakers spoke of the changes that will mark people`s lives in the post-floods period.Dr Kaiser Bengali, adviser to the Sindh chief minister, pointed out that the floods have brought a general awareness of the measure of poverty in the rural areas and what this means for the people. According to him, this has stirred even the residents of Defence Housing Authority to talk about it today. This should augur well for the future.

Two days later, at the Hamza Alavi distinguished lecture, social analyst Arif Hasan delivered a thought-provoking talk on feudalism and the process of change. Arif Hasan pointed out the numerous changes — many of them very subtle, nevertheless profound — that he has observed over decades of travelling to big and small cities and the rural areas of Pakistan. He considered these changes inevitable because the nexus between the administration and the landlords that held the social structure in place has broken down.

Given the dismal state of existence of the overwhelming majority of Pakistan`s population today, these prophecies of change should give rise to hope. But why is there scepticism? There are a number of reasons. The general awareness that has been created, which Dr Bengali so correctly identified, can only be translated into reality if those in a position to act actually do something. The awareness that had sent many into a state of shock is fast dissipating. qurbani

The back-to-normal atmosphere on Eidul Azha would have been reassuring to those who want the status quo to continue. Cows and goats were sacrificed in massive numbers at a time when the headcount of livestock losses in the flood was said to be 234,982. Plea for conserving cattle and making cash donations to the flood victims as a symbolic fell mostly on deaf ears.

Can we then hope for change? The feudal who is no longer believed to be as strongly entrenched as before can still not be written off for he continues to control the lives of the people living on his lands. They have nowhere else to go and they seek his help for their livelihood or for other `favours` which in democratic societies are citizens` fundamental rights. To acquire the latter, `connections with high quarters` are not needed.

This explains why change is such a difficult process in our society. Arif Hasan attributed the difficulties being encountered to the failure of the intelligentsia and the media to provide a value system I think more to blame is the failure of the state to provide protection and the basic human rights a person seeks to make life tolerable. wadera

Apart from employment he also needs healthcare, shelter and education for his children. If the system cannot guarantee these, he has to turn to someone — be it the family, community or the .

And don`t think it is only the poor who suffer from insecurities of this kind. Remember the axiom `uneasy lies the head that wears the crown`. In the absence of state protection and a social security net even the elites fear change. After all, how can they assume that a change would be in their favour?

Change, especially if it comes fast, can be emotionally destabilising. It is human nature to create a comfort zone where a person feels settled and relatively stable as he adjusts to the changes in his wider environment. But if he has to make adjustments in quick succession that can be a challenge for even the most well adjusted. Linked to this is the need one feels to be in control of one`s own life.

Pakistan`s poorest have never enjoyed that luxury. Upward social, economic and political mobility has enhanced the control factor progressively. But today, as recent events have shown, upward mobility is virtually absent and whatever informal support systems people had created for themselves have become fragile. It might be a natural disaster, an act of violence, a criminal activity or even a policy decision by a foreign government that can play havoc with a person`s sense of security today.

It is interesting to see how people have responded to this growing insecurity that has quietly crept into their lives over the last few decades. Religiosity characterises our national ethos. More are turning to religious rituals that enable them to hand over responsibility for their own actions and decisions to a supreme creator.

If it had simply been a case of the whole nation adopting religious values, should not there have been a fall in corruption, a rise in ethical norms, a decline in crimes and an increase in human compassion? After all, we are told that this is what Islam teaches us. On the contrary, this is not happening. Many who are suspected of being involved in wrongdoing of the most heinous kind resort to rituals in a big way because they believe that these are atonement for the evils they have committed.

Take the case of Eidul Azha. On account of soaring prices of sacrificial animals the number of sacrifices offered may have declined somewhat. But that was because of economic compulsions and not in support of conservation. Those who were financially well endowed, celebrated Eid as they have always done — with ostentatious display of their sacrificial booty.

Scant attention was paid to this telling verse from the Holy Quran published by the newsletter of a philanthropic eye hospital in Malir headed by a leading ophthalmologist of Pakistan, Prof M. Saleh Memon: “It is not their (sacrificial animal) meat nor their blood that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him.” (22:37)”

 

What the Future Holds for Flood-Affected Pakistanis: Will Zuhra Go to School Again?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: The WIP

Zuhra is four and she has recently learned her Sindhi alphabet – 52 letters in all. She wants the world to know about her achievement. When I met Zuhra at the Indus Resource Centre’s (IRC) tent city for the flood affected in Dadu – a small town in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh – she tugged at my sleeve and insisted I listen to her recitation.

Data collected from IRC tent cities in Khairpur, Dadu, and Sehwan in Sindh provides an idea of how women fared the ravaging floods in July through September. Of the 8,089 people housed in these camps, 49 percent were females and 47 percent were children, indicating the prevalence of large family sizes and its implications for women.
Continue reading “What the Future Holds for Flood-Affected Pakistanis: Will Zuhra Go to School Again?”

Will Zuhra Go To School Again?

The floods of 2010 have been forgotten. Do we remember the plight of those who suffered. This article was written when the displaced people were returning home. They were happy to be going back to their villages. But their feelings were also marked with trepidation What did the future hold for them?

Today we know that the flood victims have been pushed back into their suffering. It is time we remembered the flood victims. The government is so caught up in crises of its own making, that nothing is being done to rehabilitate the victims. This article has been put up here as a reminder that the miseries of the flood victims are not yet over.

Click here to read the full article.

What next for flood victims?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE narratives of Pakistan’s flood experience are drawing to a close. According to the National Disaster Management Authority’s latest data (Oct 30), 1,984 people lost their lives in the deluge that swept across large tracts of the country.

Nearly 1.7 million houses were damaged and 20.1 million people affected. Gradually, the displaced persons are returning to what were once their homes. If the long queues of wretched flood victims sitting by the roadside awaiting relief are gone and TV talk shows have reverted to the stuff that passes for politics in Pakistan, it doesn’t mean that life is back to normal. Some flood victims still remain in tent cities. Their presence is a powerful reminder of the inept ways of a government trying to cut corners.

Those left behind comprise mainly victims whose homes and lands are still flooded, as in Dadu district. A network of roads built thoughtlessly at an elevated level have facilitated communication no doubt but at what cost? They have trapped the water in the plains and now people simply have to wait for the water to evaporate.

Even those who have managed to return do not have much of a future to look forward too — at least right now. A lot of scepticism is being expressed. In a natural calamity the immediate need is to organise rescue operations and provide relief to the victims to ensure their survival. That phase has passed. What next?

The NGOs and community-based organisations that did a lot in the first phase do not have the financial resources and manpower for the rehabilitation stage. There is also the trust deficit vis-à-vis the government that marks the public’s perception of how the emergency was managed. Thus the truth may never be known about the breaches that were made in the embankments of rivers ostensibly to save the barrages. Besides, there is a widespread impression that the government is not performing.

Isn’t it time for the government to draw up reconstruction plans and start putting its act together? It is important that transparency is observed at every step. Every government department now has its website. A ‘flood rehabilitation’ section must be created where the goals and timeframe for rehabilitation activities are posted. Information about the implementation of the plan should be given on a daily basis so that interested parties can monitor the official performance. The need is to make the government accountable to the public.

This approach may cause less discord and it would certainly reduce the blame game in the provinces if Islamabad distributes the resources for flood rehabilitation among them, allowing them the autonomy of decision-making on issues of local concern. The criteria to determine each province’s share of flood relief funds should be the extent of damage caused and the number of people affected.

In other words this means that the precise extent of the damage should be posted on the website even before aid disbursement begins. What form should this take? The idea of doling out money is simply repugnant. It is not good for the self-esteem of people to make beggars out of them. The complaints against the Watan cards demonstrate that a strategy of distributing funds for reconstruction is inherently flawed in a country where corruption is rife.

As an emergency response it is understandable to initially help people by providing them cash. But thereafter it is important to provide them the means to help themselves. From Nadra’s account it seems a million cards will be processed. Even if we assume that they will go to deserving cases it works out to one card for 20 people — will Rs1,000 per head suffice?

If we do not want starvation to be the next crisis it is time the government thought about the food shortage that is inevitable. The tillers of land should be encouraged to grow vegetables on small plots. Some have received seeds from NGOs. Others should also be provided seeds.

Since most small farmers do not own the land they cultivate, it is important that they be allowed to grow their food on the fringes of the land where the cultivation of wheat, sugarcane, rice or other cash crops takes place.

It is time the big landowners allow this facility to their haris — it is their moral duty to do so. No landowner is known to have assumed total responsibility for the relief and rehabilitation of his farmers. It is time the landlords were asked to do so.

Most important of all, the reconstruction of the infrastructure that is undertaken should be guided by some basic principles. First, no contractor should be hired. Second, all labour should be indigenous. Third, jobs should be created and the flood-affected people hired on a cash-for-work basis.

The floods have opened a window of opportunity for change. The tent cities set up by well-established organisations that collected data have come out with some horrifying information. Literacy rates and school enrollment ratios are much lower than what the government claims. The fertility rate in these areas is very high. The status of women is shockingly dismal.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that accessibility to schools and health facilities is virtually non-existent in many areas. Either these institutions are non-existent or if they do exist they are dysfunctional for various reasons.

A number of flood-affected children have tasted the joys of schooling and adults have experienced the comforts of healthcare in the tent cities where they were housed. It will not be easy to push them back into the Stone Ages and expect them to submit to the indignities of a subhuman existence again. Discontent will rise and its target will be the oppressors of the suffering haris.

If good sense prevails, it is time the cataclysmic flood prompted our rulers to do some long-term thinking on the unfair tenancy laws, the inequitable land ownership pattern and the unequal taxation principles that hurt the poor and benefit the rich. Will those who have suffered put up with this injustice indefinitely?

On the point of change?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

THE tent cities for the flood-affected in Khairpur are now being dismantled. According to the EDO of the district only five remained last Friday.

As I watched the occupants of the Indus Resource Centre’s (IRC) camp prepare for their return journey, I wondered if this watershed event in their lives would also prove to be the turning point. For two months the trauma of the flood’s ravages became a distant nightmare as they lived in a new caring environment they had never known before.

The question is whether this experience will move them to change their lives radically. The two tent cities organised by the NGO in Dadu and Khairpur, where I spent several hours with the flood victims, provide a textbook example of what development is all about.

Sadiqa Salahuddin, the executive director of IRC, who is far from being a desk-bound activist, summed up the choices before the displaced people in her farewell speech. “Your children [there were 685 among the 1,221 victims] were so happy here and we hope you will also keep them happy. Be gentle with them as well as with their mothers. You were also happy here. Take back these memories to give a new direction to your lives,” she exhorted them.

From August to October, it was not just their basic necessities — mainly food, water, shelter and healthcare — that were attended to; their children received schooling, their women got guidance in handicraft and lessons in reproductive healthcare and the men learnt the virtues of living in harmony.

This was done by setting up schools in the two camps I visited, organising health and sanitation education classes, workshops for handicrafts and setting up a conciliation council comprising leaders of different clans to take collective decisions and resolve disputes.

Here was participatory governance at its best. Some teachers and camp managers had to be hired from outside (but from the local population) as expertise was not available among the affected. But assistants — teachers and managers — and manual labour for any project undertaken came from the inmates of the tent cities who received due emoluments in cash.

According to the executive director, it was a record of sorts that no violence occurred in the camps, notwithstanding the diverse backgrounds of the people thrown together by the doings of nature. It was amusing to see a police guard deployed per routine trying to make his presence felt by unnecessarily throwing his weight around.

This participatory form of governance must continue if lives have to change. Sadiqa Salahuddin’s advice to flood survivors carried weight. They could empower themselves if they lived peacefully and did not allow their enemies to hurt them by dividing their communities. haris

Of course it will be a challenge for the flood victims to replicate their camp life in their impoverished home environment. Lacking political empowerment they have to struggle against socio-economic odds that are daunting. Land owners can be tyrannical when it comes to exploiting their to extract undue privileges for themselves. Denied the benefits of good education and the basic facilities of healthcare, family planning, sanitation and nutrition, the farm workers are unaware of the rights they are entitled to.

Nevertheless, the parting message was, ‘Help yourself and we will help you’. The emphasis was on self-reliance and dignity. To show the way, gifts were handed out — tools (shovels, spades, saws, etc for the men), kitchen utensils for women and schoolbags for children (courtesy Unicef). Families were given dry rations for a fortnight and seeds to grow vegetables. Earlier they had received beddings and were allowed to take their tents with them.

Most of them live on land that they have no title to. They were leaving with mixed feelings. They were satisfied and grateful but also pensive. The good times were drawing to a close (evenings had been occasions for folk music and women had been spared the violence that was their fate earlier on). Above all, they were stepping into an uncertain future.

But at least, the first stirrings had been created in a people who had previously shown little interest in sending their children to school. The young ones had became absorbed in their lessons — there were three- and four-year-olds who tugged at my sleeve demanding that I listen to them recite rhymes and alphabets. Will this interest blossom into something more? wadera bara

Many villages have no schools. There are others where the uses the school building as a for his cattle. Others have schools but no schooling. The people lack the means and organisation to pressure the government to safeguard their rights. Two months were not enough for them, the weaker party, to acquire the skills to neutralise the levers that are traditionally used against them.

But there is hope. Seeds of awareness have been sown, new relationships forged and new friendships struck. Ingenious uses of the ubiquitous mobile phone are being discovered. Above all, they have been promised continued support to keep alight the flame that has been lighted. wai

Ali Madad, an IRC project officer who helped with the Khairpur camp, captured the message poignantly when he recited Shaikh Ayaz in -style: When the red roses burst into bloom/We will meet again.

Much now depends on the government. Last week it appeared to be nudging the NGOs out of this space some of them have created for themselves in the life of flood-affected communities. It declared that henceforth the government will manage the $3bn additional aid it was seeking.

Will it be used to dole out meagre charity to individuals to hurt their dignity? Or will this aid be used to stimulate economic activity in the flood-ravaged regions to rebuild the infrastructure on a cash-for-work basis — albeit keeping contractors out and employing only indigenous people?

Contribution of expatriates

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

IT was President John F. Kennedy who exhorted Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you…..but what you can do for your country”. This ‘do for your country’ spirit is very much in evidence in Pakistan today, especially among the generation that got the best from it in its youth. It is heart-warming to see that many Pakistanis are now willing to repay the debt they feel they owe their people. And they are doing it abundantly.

Recently, I received an email from Saquib Hameed, the honorary vice chairman and CEO of the Layton Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust (LRBT) that runs its eye hospitals all over the country and is rendering excellent and free service to those suffering from eye diseases. Saquib was my contemporary at the University of Karachi. He described his own service at the LRBT as a “payback” after retirement.

There are others who have not yet retired but are giving back to the country what they feel they owe to their motherland. Dr Azhar Salahuddin, an ophthalmologist working in the US, has been visiting Karachi for a week or so every year since 2006 to perform eye surgeries at the LRBT hospital in Korangi. He partners with a group called SEE International in the US which gives him enough supplies for 100 cataract surgeries which he brings with him.

Apart from performing a few cataract surgeries and cornea transplants, he also teaches new techniques to the local doctors. The supplies that are not used up are donated to LRBT. Dr Salahuddin is in the process of setting up an eye bank in Pakistan. His services are pro bono.

During the August floods, the financial contributions from Pakistani expatriates were phenomenal. No figures are available and it is unlikely they ever will be. Most of these donations came through private channels and were given to trusted NGOs and some charities set up spontaneously and informally to help provide relief to flood victims.

A Rotarian who sent out an appeal for funds for flood relief managed to raise a big sum of which 63 per cent came from abroad. In Toronto a Pakistani raised $420,000 from one fund-raiser. The migrants have been selflessly generous and do not expect any rewards in return as a few high-profile Pakistanis have in the past. The latter became ministers — returning home to make hay while the sun shone.

Another response to the floods came from a friend Azhar Fasih in Oaksville, Ontario (Canada) who is an engineer (having graduated from the NED in 1967 and completing a Masters in engineering from Cornell). He works for a Canadian company and has been posted in Argentina, Poland and China. Azhar was very concerned about Pakistan, as I have found most expatriates to be. He wanted to know what he and his friends could do to help the country. They had all donated hefty sums for flood relief.Azhar, along with his fellow NEDians, would like to offer his expertise as his namesake, the ophthalmologist, is doing.

I asked him what kind of services he envisaged to help Pakistan in these trying times when a large area of the country lies in ruins with 20 million people affected. Being an engineer his focus is understandably on reconstruction. But he wants to go beyond the simple act of rebuilding all the structures which he believes may face the fury of the floods in a few years again.

As pointed out by the World Meteorological Organisation, Pakistan’s floods fit international scientists’ projections of more frequent and more intense extreme weather events due to global warming.

The ecological damage has been so severe, especially deforestation, that even unusually heavy rainfall can lead to flooding. There are few trees and plantations left in the mountainous areas to bind the soil and serve as a barrier to the torrential flow of rainwater.

Azhar describes the 2010 floods as a disaster as well as a “wake-up call” for future calamities. He emphasises the important of undertaking forestation on a large and concerted scale to pre-empt the devastation wrought by floods in future,

Azhar speaks of using the expertise of engineers for designing projects such as reservoirs, bridges, roads and houses designed to withstand the pressure of floodwater and also solar panels for heating water and homes in winter as a form of conserving electricity. barani

These are very feasible and affordable propositions. Millions of cusecs of water flowed into the Arabian Sea through the Indus River system during the floods. But with the dry season there is talk of water shortage given the absence of storage capacity.Azhar speaks of rain-filled reservoirs that have been built in some areas with “engineered earth” with an impermeable liner, mainly clay, to prevent seepage. I wonder if such reservoirs can’t be built to store the excess water in the rivers during rainy season. They would expand the irrigation network and boost agriculture. Why not plan these reservoirs in the reconstruction phase?

He is bubbling with ideas as he has seen many such projects in China where he lived for five years. I find it intriguing that the government in Islamabad should be eager to buy nuclear plants from China but not acquire something simpler for the power sector such as solar panels, which would help conserve trees that are used up as firewood for heating.

Similarly the bridges that have been washed away by the floods, Azhar points out, were too low and close to the riverbed. Their spans were not wide enough. They must be redesigned keeping the floods in view. Pakistani bridge engineers in North America could provide this expertise.

The need is to tap into this huge reserve of goodwill that Pakistani expatriates have for the country. Some coordination and organisation is needed. It would be so satisfying to see Pakistanis help out their less fortunate brethren in the reconstruction task on a self-help basis rather than our leaders going round the globe with a begging bowl in hand.

Seizing the moment

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

HISTORY is replete with examples of societies having cleverly turned their adversity into a window of opportunity to achieve what they never would have in ‘normal’ times. Without a cataclysmic tragedy they often remain mired in retrogressive traditions that block their innate dynamism.

It is a well-established fact that people leading settled and stable lives are prone to resisting change in their conventional lifestyle and culture. Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, the architect of the Orangi Pilot Project and the epitome of worldly wisdom, had observed that migrants uprooted from their homes tended to be more enterprising.

In their research on the aftermath of the 1947 partition of India, the Indian feminist writers, Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon, discovered that many women who fled their hearths and homes found it easier to break away from the culture of servility they had been chained to for centuries. Many opted for education that changed their lives which would never have happened if events had not disturbed the social equilibrium. munshis.

In the 1970s, in the post-Bangladesh period when many workers from Pakistan went to the Gulf states to take up jobs, a silent revolution was initiated back home amongst their women. Zeba Zubair, the founder of Pavhna, an NGO working in Sindh, used to tell me about women joining literacy classes. They wanted to read the weekly letters their homesick spouses sent them without the intervention of intrusive Knowledge of reading and writing also helped them manage their own affairs independently.

I wonder if it is possible to show the way to the millions who have been displaced today by the devastating floods to seize this moment as an opportunity to change the direction of their lives. They can, if they are mobilised and motivated by community leaders and provided some support (financial, technical and moral) by those who understand their needs. In this way what is being branded as the “wrath of God” will become a godsend opportunity.

Why should not Pakistan rise from the ‘waters’ as New Orleans has done from Hurricane Katrina that struck in 2005? As rehabilitation and reconstruction of the flood-ravaged areas is undertaken, it would be a cheering thought if those who have come forward to extend a helping hand to the flood victims in their hour of crisis, do not pack their bags and go home once relief operations are over. Let them stay back for the rebuilding task as well.

Let the rebuilding efforts be spearheaded by those who have devoted their services primarily to education. Let reconstruction be school-centric with housing, healthcare, nutrition and economic activity revolving round education. The Pakistan Coalition for Education has reminded the government of the UN General Assembly resolution A/64/L58 (July 2010) that reaffirms the human right to education for all citizens and calls on governments to ensure access to education to all affected people in an emergency situation. It is the government’s job primarily to rebuild the schools that have been swept away and make them functional as soon as possible.

But will it? In normal times education has never been the government’s first priority. It will take its time to get its act together. Meanwhile the numerous NGOs and other institutions, which are already in the field having responded promptly when the floods came, should not be in a hurry to leave. Although the prime minister has made unkind remarks about NGOs they should not be discouraged. It is now time to turn to long-term plans for rehabilitation.

Some like the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and the Sindh Education Foundation have gone beyond their mandate to provide relief to flood victims. The first has been providing safe drinking water to nearly 10,000 IDPs who have been housed in Karachi. It has also opened a primary school and got volunteer teachers to teach the children while a medical camp has been set up with the help of the Pakistan Medical Association.

The Sindh Education Foundation has undertaken the responsibility of providing food, water, shelter and basic health services to the flood-affected people in Sindh. The foundation says it has also launched an emergency education programme for adults and children across all IDP camps in the province.

Meanwhile, the Layton Rehmatullah Benevolent Trust (LRBT), has provided medical relief to over 23,000 flood victims in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where its mobile teams started work on the ground within days of the flooding and has been treating cases of acute diarrhoea, respiratory ailments, skin problems and eye infections.

These are just a few I have named. What is significant about them is the public confidence they enjoy. They have raised donations to fund their projects. My mailbox is flooded with appeals for help from NGOs and I know they can be trusted, given their past performance.

This is the time to focus on education. Let the NGOs network and coordinate their efforts. Concentrating on schooling in this hour of crisis offers three advantages. First, it would allow the people the opportunity to organise their lives and get involved which would help them cope with their distress by getting control of their lives.

Second, it would create public interest in education especially when people realise that the school in their area could become the focus of the rehabilitation process.

Third, some innovative approaches could be tried now. The Sindh Education Foundation could encourage communities to organise their own schools without over-centralising the education system as has been the practice until now.

Of course guidance and learning material along with new ideas will have to be supplied. For instance why can’t shortwave radio transmissions be used to motivate teachers and help them upgrade their pedagogy and subject knowledge? (The power of radio can be gauged by Mullah Fazlullah’s transmissions to boost the Taliban’s following in Swat before the army cracked down.) If we wait for the education department to get round to conducting surveys to draw up their plans precious time would have been wasted and another generation would be lost.

How Pakistan survives

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

FOR some time now — especially since the electronic media was unwittingly liberated by the military government of Gen Pervez Musharraf — cynics and pessimists have been writing off Pakistan.

Since the closing days of July when devastating floods brought large chunks of the country under water, the question being raised by numerous analysts and commentators is how long would Pakistan survive.

There are many who have predicted apocalyptically the end of Pakistan. Others, who are more generous, have warned of collapse not of the state but of the government. Economists speak of the economic downturn as though Pakistan was not in its grip already. But it is a pity that no one deems it necessary to focus on the resilience of the flood victims and the humanitarian spirit of many who are extending a helping hand.

Statistics might be difficult to verify but now it is known that the destruction has been huge. The NDMA recorded close to 1,500 deaths, more than 2,000 injuries and almost 900,000 damaged houses. But before reconstruction and rehabilitation come rescue and relief. Lives have to be saved.

Many have been rescued from the waters of the raging rivers — almost 700,000 according to the NDMA. But now the spectre of hunger, starvation and disease looms large. If more lives are not to be lost it is important to work swiftly to provide healthcare, sanitation, clean drinking water and protection from the natural elements.

The sad part is that the people of Pakistan, expatriates abroad, as well as foreign governments, have lost confidence in the government which should have been in a position to conduct an effective rescue, relief and rehabilitation operation with financial help from the people and friendly foreign governments.

The people of our country always loosen their purse strings when it comes to providing financial relief to a genuine cause if they trust those managing a project. Their generosity has never been in doubt and the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy estimated that in 1998 Pakistanis donated Rs70bn towards philanthropic causes. This figure must have risen over the years.

Yet the government has failed to mobilise massive donations at home and abroad. While foreign governments have begun to respond to the appeal for disaster relief, they are reluctant to hand over funds to the government.

According to the NDMA, 43 governments/agencies have committed flood relief aid to Pakistan, quite a bit of it in kind. Of these, only 11 have made their donations directly to the government or its agencies. The rest have preferred to give the pledged aid to the United Nations, its agencies or NGOs, both international and local.

This trust deficit was most visible in the case of the funds received in the prime minister`s relief fund account in the National Bank of Pakistan. Ten days after this account was launched only Rs4.3m had been raised. The bank itself donated Rs50m. Conversely, individuals and NGOs have demonstrated that they have greater credibility in the public`s eyes. I personally know of many of them who have raised big amounts for flood relief and have joined the relief efforts.

The Pakistan Medical Association was one of the first to take the initiative by collecting donations in the form of goods, cash and medicines for the flood victims. Other doctors have also responded and the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, which is an autonomous body in the public sector but depends preponderantly on public donations and has a long tradition of free public service, let it be known on Sunday that in 10 days it had provided medical treatment to over 10,000 people in the flood-hit areas.

Other groups have also joined the relief operation. They comprise like-minded people whose integrity is above reproach. They are trusted and manage to raise donations. There are others who carry weight because they include trusted public figures, such as Aitemaad Pakistan led by Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim who is trying to provide immediate help to the flood affected in Sindh. Target collect and distribute 24,000 dry ration bags to provide meals for 6,000 families for four weeks.

Yet another organisation I know of is The Citizens Foundation which also aims to provide relief packs to 50,000 families to feed them for a month. Given its success in setting up 660 schools for 92,000 children from low-income families, TCF should hopefully succeed in meeting its target.

Another I know personally which has stepped forward to help is the Indus Resource Centre that has been working in the field of education for rural communities and their sustainable livelihoods in Sindh. The IRC has adopted camps in Dadu and Khairpur where it is supporting over 1,500 families by providing food, water, sanitation and even temporary schools.

There are a host of other dedicated workers and groups who have responded to the emergency with remarkable speed. They are far too many for me to list here. What gives heart and hope is that many have said that once the immediate danger has passed, they will help with the rehabilitation efforts.

It is of course not possible for individuals to do what the government with its resources and administrative machinery has failed to do. But if the numerous groups that have sprouted in the wake of the floods were to adopt an area and work with the community leaders on a long-term basis, the floods could prove to be the turning point in the lives of many Pakistanis.

It must be ensured that whichever village is adopted, it must be provided a primary school and a health centre, however small it may be. Those who adopt a village should continue to interact with the villagers to provide them motivation, moral support and whatever financial assistance possible.

Actually all this should come from the government. But waiting for that amounts to waiting for Godot. Even in these testing times the big landowners have not been moved to part with some of their own wealth that they stole from the people who till their land, to help them in their hour of need.

Cashing in on the floods

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

WHEN natural disaster strikes, it can affect the rich and the poor, but not alike. Calamities such as floods and earthquakes hit the poor harder.

Being the children of lesser gods, the poor are more vulnerable. As such they need more help and for them recovery becomes a massive challenge.

In times of such crises, the temptation to cash in on their misery and play politics becomes irresistible for the rich and the powerful who have traditionally prospered from this inequitable equation.

This is being amply demonstrated in the testing times that Pakistan is currently going through, when floods are wreaking havoc on people who have already fallen victim to other tragedies that were essentially man-made. Many had suffered at the hands of terrorists. Others had seen dislocation and violence caused by the war that terrorism had invited. There were many more whose hardships were compounded by a dysfunctional and apathetic government not famous for its integrity.

Hence when the rains described by the Met Office as “once in a century” descended on the country, the devastation caused was stupendous. One should be wary of giving figures because the range of the numbers being quoted in the media and by leaders is mind-boggling. We are told that over 1,600 people have drowned, 13 million have been displaced, 252,000 homes have been washed away and infrastructure in large areas has been totally destroyed. The National Disaster Management Authority’s website gives the update for Aug 8 as 1,203 deaths, 1,317 injured and 288,170 houses damaged. The country was in a state of shock — or should have been — given the scale of the destruction.

Natural calamities are unavoidable. But their impact can be minimised by careful and shrewd planning, and effective and prompt disaster management. Accurate forecasting and early warning, where possible, also reduce damage. In this context, we do not know how unpredictable the deluge really was and whether the loss of life could have been lower.

What was painful was the experience of watching different sectors of society vying to politicise the crisis to their own advantage. The reaction of different people spoke volumes for their perception of the crisis. The prime minister described the floods as the “worst in Pakistan’s history” and went on to launch a flood relief fund while also making an appeal for international humanitarian assistance. Many countries were quick to respond — the US pledged $35m and Britain £15m.

True, the enormity of the damage called for intensive official intervention and the government’s resources are limited. But its failure to make even a token gesture of demonstrating a spirit of self-reliance evoked cynicism. One did not hear of Islamabad tightening its belt to generate funds for flood relief. In fact, President Zardari’s visit to France and Britain was even embarrassing because it displayed brazen insensitivity at a time when he should have been with his people. Besides, can one justify appeals for donations when the head of a government is ostensibly on a spending spree? The president tried to justify his visit in the context of the flood by saying that it helped him raise donations.

But was it just a coincidence that only a day before, his son Bilawal had launched a fund-raising drive, and the UK’s Charity Commission, the independent charity regulator, issued a warning titled “Be aware of possible Pakistan appeal scams”. It warned the public against “criminals who try to take advantage of the public’s generosity” through fictitious appeals.

The commission stated “the public’s support is crucial to enable charities to deliver desperately needed aid to Pakistan but it is vital that donations go to a genuine charity so that they reach those in need”. Pakistani expatriates are usually known to donate generously whenever natural disaster strikes.

While political elements exploited the situation, the religious extremists were not to be left behind. Before the floods, the Taliban had no qualms about inflicting their brand of violence on innocent people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They had also been hand in glove with the timber mafia in denuding forested regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Deforestation, it is admitted, has exacerbated the tempo of the flood.

Adopting a carrot and stick strategy, a spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan announced at a time when the flood was at its peak that his organisation was suspending attacks in the flood-hit areas of the country. Of course the temporary respite never came. The day following this announcement the chief of the Frontier Constabulary was killed by a teenaged suicide bomber in Peshawar.

The Taliban saw the floods as an occasion to preach their own ideological doctrines and seize upon the people’s misery to bring them to heel. A purported representative of the Taliban, as quoted by Channel 4 news, claimed that the flood was an opportunity for the people “to seek forgiveness” and “pledge support to the Mujahideen and Islam”. According to him the calamity was a punishment inflicted on the people who had “desecrated Sharia and insulted the Mujahideen and sought help from the infidels”.

After pointing out the flawed character of the population, the militants could not let go of this chance to impress on the people their “humanitarian spirit”. The religious parties went into action to set up relief camps for the flood victims in a show of sympathy for them.

In the lead was the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation — relief wing of the Jamaatud Dawa thought to be the public face of the Lashkar-i-Taiba which has been accused of masterminding the Mumbai attacks in 2008. With the government and the army’s rescue operations failing to neutralise the impact of the fury of the rivers, the Islamist charities stood a good chance of winning the public’s heart.

We will have to wait and see who wins in this strange battle for hearts and minds that is shaping up in Pakistan.