An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission
Baseer Naveed with Stewart Sloan
This article may be seen at: http://www.humanrights.asia/news/ahrc-news/AHRC-ART-053-2011
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".
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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.