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.