Monday, September 19, 2011

PAKISTAN: Devastating floods and the criminal negligence of the authorities What plans are underway to deal with the aftermath of this year's flood?

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Baseer Naveed with Stewart Sloan

This article may be seen at:

Ongoing flooding due to monsoon rains has inundated the entirety of the Sindh province causing billions of Rupees in damage and the loss of crops alone is estimated to be Rs. 5.6 billion. The people in many areas, particularly those of Khaipur district in the northern part of the province, Sanghar, Tharparker, Umerkot and Mipur Khas districts in the central part and the entire Badin district and its surrounding areas in the south have been badly affected. The floods have also been felt in and around Karachi, the capital of the province. Those most affected are members of the farming community and many families have had to leave their homes and farms with as much as they can carry. Having lost their crops they have only their livestock left and the cows and bullocks are being dragged along after them. It is estimated that five million people are displaced and a further two million are directly affected, over four million acres of land are flooded and unusable.

Altogether a total of 22 out of the 23 districts of the province have been directly or indirectly affected and living in a large city offers no protection from the flood waters. Indeed, even the cities have been inundated due to the poor drainage facilities. Facilities which the citizens have been complaining about for several years and which the provincial government has been promising to improve for even longer. Enormous amounts of funds donated by international donors have been lost due to wastage and corruption as may be seen by the World Bank Funded Left Bank Outfall Drain which is one of the main causes of the flooding.

In fact, after the catastrophe of last year it was predicted that this year's monsoon would be extraordinary. The government was made fully aware of this and offers of international aid were arrogantly turned down with the explanation that the government was fully in control of the situation. This mindset is the result of the centuries-old bureaucracy which dictates that catastrophes such as this are merely an opportunity of misusing the aid meant for the people. This is particularly visible in the Badin area which was one of the worst hit, there is hardly a square foot of dry land and yet, despite receiving international aid almost immediately no assistance has been seen. This situation is now seen in many areas and it is difficult even to find a dry spot to erect a tent.

The Irrigation Secretary informed the government that the flooding on this occasion was reportedly caused by "..... an unusual and unexpected wave of flood and monsoon rains had increased the amount and pressure of water." However, the truth of the matter is that despite the flooding of last year which caused the single most devastating natural catastrophe in the history of the country, little, if anything has been done to prepare the country for a repetition; a repetition which is now in full swing. The government paid lip service to the potential for further catastrophes by setting up Disaster Management Authorities in each province which have proved to be largely if not totally ineffective.

It is only now that the government is examining the conditions of the bunds and embankments which are only just, if at all, holding the flood waters at bay. In the meantime hundreds of thousands of people are trapped due to the flooding of the roads and it is the women and children who are suffering the most due to the lack of safe drinking water, milk and food. As was seen in the last catastrophe the response from the government was very slow due to the lack of a proper relief system and resources. While the refugees are slowly making their way towards the ever decreasing drier regions of the province there is little in the way of facilities to accommodate them. Those fortunate enough to have reached the comparative safety of a camp are lucky if they have one meal a day. Safe drinking water is totally unavailable in most areas.

It has been reported that the Government has established 1400 camps across the flood-affected areas. However, these camps alone cannot assist more than 20 percent of the affected people.

The army and navy have been mobilised and have started airlifting dry food packs, medicines for the treatment of diarrhoea, gastro-enteritis and other diseases. This also includes anti snake bite serum. Tents and other temporary accommodation are being provided but very slowly and the condition of some of the refugees remains perilous. However, this is seen as a public relations effort on the part of the armed forces to show that they are indeed doing something.

What is sad about this is the fact that if they put as much effort into actually doing something instead of just being seen to do something the situation of the affected people would be much improved. It may be said that the armed forces are simply following the lead of the government and provincial authorities as the president and prime minister are out of the country and have not seen fit to return despite the enormity of the catastrophe. There has been little or no sign of the local administration. Similar to last year's floods the Chief Minister of the province, Qaim Ali Shah, has visited affected areas and made the usual promises none of which have come to fruition.

The local NGOs, political parties, the government and international aid agencies are appealing for donations but it is feared that much of what is donated will once again be lost to misuse and corruption. Indeed, it has already reported that donated relief items are available for sale in the open street markets.

The scope of the humanitarian disaster has yet to be realised. The worst situation will be seen when the flood waters finally recede. It is then that the carcasses of the farm animals and domestic pets that died in the flooding will be seen rotting in the open air and in what used to be drinking wells. Disease will spread faster than the medical aid can be distributed and it is then that the world will see the totality of the disaster. It is then the government will hold their hands to the international aid agencies. Around 500 people including children are already dead and this figure is likely to rise due to the spread of disease.

What is very frightening about this is the fact that it is unlikely that any lessons will be learned from this year's flooding. Taken into consideration with last year's disaster it can be safely predicted that this is going to happen again. The poor and vulnerable will bear the brunt of the criminal negligence of the people who are supposed to be protecting them. The question is: will the government be ready this time. The unfortunate answer must be, "No".

# # #

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Monday, September 5, 2011

King George the Fifth -- before and beyond

Stewart Sloan

(This was published in Family and Friends from Shanghai and Hong Kong an open group on Facebook)

I started my secondary school education at St. Joseph’s College in Kennedy Road. St. Joseph’s is a Catholic school and most of the teachers were Brothers. In those days corporal punishment was still permitted and unlike KGV, where only the headmaster was allowed to wack the students, in St. Joseph’s any of the brothers could punish the students they deemed to have been naughty. The punishment itself was not severe and the sting of the teacher’s ruler on the palm of the hand soon faded; what hurt me more was the fact that we were never told the reason for our punishment. Every Friday morning the form teacher would call out a list of names and we would step out to the front and await our turn with the ruler. One of the brothers was particularly sadistic and it came as no surprise when, one day one of his student victims placed a hypodermic syringe under the cushion of his chair. I will leave his reaction to the reader’s imagination. Needless to say he didn’t get much sympathy and the only reason no one laughed was because of the threat of future punishment.

St. Joseph’s was then, and is today, a school with an enviable scholastic record and they didn’t have the time to commit to slower students. After a trying year my parents transferred me to King George the Fifth and then the fun started.

I was initially placed in Form 2E until the school realised that they didn’t have enough students to justify an additional class and we amalgamated with 2D, my first promotion!

I was not a very good student. It seemed that as soon as I started making progress in any one class or subject they would transfer the teacher. The next two years were a series of failures to which my parents became accustomed to.

Then I started writing and everything changed. I found that there was something I could do in life better than anyone else.

At the end of every school year the teacher would stand up at the head of the class and read out the class positions. In a class of an average of 22 students I usually came 22nd and then suddenly it was the end of Form 4. The teacher, a kind lady whose name I don’t recall now stood up at the head of the class and started announcing the positions. It was customary to start at the last place and work towards the first. Accustomed as I was to being number 22 I was surprised when my name wasn’t called. We progressed to 10th and then 5th and then 2nd and lo and behold to everyone’s amazement (including my own), my name was called. I remember that the teacher asked me how I felt. I recall that I just sat there opening and closing my mouth for a few moments before muttering something like, “OK”.

The Headmaster in those days was E.W.D Gore, known affectionately to his students as ‘Egore’. Egore was so impressed that he wrote a personal letter to my mother congratulating me on my progress and saying that I shouldn’t put off my small setbacks. In this case the small setback was getting 2 out of 200 for my maths test. They gave me one mark for turning up and another for getting my name correct.

For what it’s worth I finally got an O Level equivalency in maths when I was 44 years of age.

Corporal punishment to be banned in Sri Lanka

(Children are the future of every family, culture and country. They must be protected from persons who believe themselves to be in position of impunity. They must be nurtured, encouraged and given every opportunity of fulfilling the potential that every human being has).
by Stewart Sloan

(September 02, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) A recent article in the Sri Lankan press announced that corporal punishment in schools, children's homes and prisons is to be made a punishable offense. (No corporal punishment, Daily Mirror, 2nd September 2011 by Sandun A. Jayasekara). This is incredibly good news for the thousands of innocents who are affected by corporal punishment every year in the country.

Frequent reports are received about school children, sometimes not yet in their teens, being severely beaten by their teachers and principals. The physical damage, which sometimes amounts to severe injuries such as partial loss of hearing, contusions and sprains, is only one part of the problem. The worst part is the anguish the child undergoes knowing that the physical punishment he has received is in no way justified by his alleged 'crime'.

Often the usual scenario is that the parents of the child find out about the incident and either go to the school themselves or the nearest police station to file a complaint. The educational authorities arrange for a reconciliation meeting between the teacher involved and the parents knowing full well in advance that they will support the version of the teacher. The child is considered biased; a trouble maker and someone who is simply trying to bring the school into disrepute. At the school the parents are given the teacher's version of the event. There is no fairness involved; the child was rude, obstructive and/or stole something from either the school or another student. The parents are forced to either accept the school's version of the incident or, if they feel that this version doesn't jell with that of their child they have the option of making a complaint to the educational authorities or the police.

What happens next is almost laughable in its commonality with all similar cases. What happens is absolutely nothing!

The situation is similar when the parents go to the police. The officers will take a statement from the child and the parents and then perhaps, if they are feeling diligent, take the child for a medical examination. Then, similar to the educational authorities they call the teacher in for a 'talk'. They listen to the teacher, weigh up the version of the child and without fail, support the version of the school. The end result of this is that the child, having suffered physical trauma, is then subjected to the embarrassment of being called a liar. Invariably, the child is either expelled from the school or simply refuses to go back for fear of ridicule by the teachers and other students. Many children are so traumatised that the incident brings their education to an abrupt end.

The Women Empowerment and Child Welfare Ministry is behind the move to introduce this law and are to be congratulated for its forward thinking. However, once such a law is introduced it is vital, absolutely vital that the government of Sri Lanka ensures that complaints made under this legislation are investigated thoroughly and with impartiality. Sadly, the speed with which Sri Lankan police officers are corrupted means that, as in the past, they will likely side with the school and teachers for a 'consideration'. This will simply make a mockery out of a law designed to protect children from persons in a much higher and more powerful position. If this happens it will be yet another example of legislation designed to protect the innocent being wasted.

Children are the future of every family, culture and country. They must be protected from persons who believe themselves to be in position of impunity. They must be nurtured, encouraged and given every opportunity of fulfilling the potential that every human being has.

(The author is a father of two, one son born to his first wife and the second one was adopted. He has worked as an English teacher with children as young as two and a half years).