PAKISTAN: Negligence of the authorities exposes the lives of millions to peril 

AHRC-STM-169-2010-aThe negligence of the authorities and improper mechanisms to deal with natural disasters has put the lives of millions of people in peril after the heavy rains in Pakistan. As a result the lives of the people have been drastically affected with the destruction and loss of vast areas of agriculture lands. More than 1,600 people have been killed by the flood waters that swept away over 400,000 houses throughout the country. Around 5000 villages were inundated and thousands of people are stranded with no hope of relief from the authorities.

According to the United Nations the massive floods in Pakistan affected 14 million people eclipsing the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the January 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The absence of any legal mechanism to deal with natural and man-made disasters has raised possibilities for the authorities to profit from this latest natural disaster. The National Disaster Management Bill has been pending before the national assembly since February 2010, but it is yet to be passed into law. As a result there has been no unified action to deal with the disaster and the authorities and governments are depending on the local people to handle themselves. Particularly since 2005, Pakistan has been suffering natural disasters in different forms but the development of any unified mechanism to handle the natural and man-made disasters has still not able to catch the attention of the elected representatives. There was a National Disaster Management Ordinance during General Musharraf’s government and it was amended during the state of emergency of 2007 but in 2009 the Supreme Court declared all the ordinances issued during the state of emergency as illegal. Since then the government and the elected representatives had never given it serious thought.

The destruction and deaths in the flooding

The seriousness paid to the plight of the affected people by the federal and all provincial governments can be judged by the fact that during the first three days of flooding in Pakhtoon Kha province (former north west frontier province) no action from the federal government were initiated and the local people were left to fend for themselves. During this period around 800 people were swept away or killed because of the heavy floods and landslides which broke more than 100 bridges and inundated thousands of houses. The noise of the flowing water was so loud that it could be heard from many miles away. Sadly it was not heard in Islamabad.

The floods started on July 23 and did not reached Punjab province until August 1, a period of almost eight days which provided more than sufficient time to make proper arrangements for avoiding the loss of human lives, but the government in Punjab province totally ignored the impact of the flow of water rushing towards them. This incredible negligence, which can only be classified as criminal, has resulted in the deaths of a great many persons, the destruction of 171,010 houses, 1480 villages and the destruction of standing crops of cotton, rice, sugarcane, fodder and different types of grains covering over two million acres. Around 200,000 animals were swept away or killed. Major road links, bridges and embankments along the rivers were broken and water inundated thousands of acres of land. The embankments are so fragile that they could not resist the flood waters. The first action of the chief minister was when he and members of his cabinet made an aerial reconnaissance of the flood havoc and held photo sessions with the affected people.

Again within three days of the passage of the heavy flow of water from some districts in southern Punjab province, the embankments of many rivers were broken, particularly in Muzzafar Gargh, Rajan pur and some parts of the Multan districts and hundreds of villages went under water. The population of more than 200,000 people has had to leave these districts.

The flood is the worst for 100 years and tested the entire irrigation infrastructure on canals and rivers beyond its limits. The issue now raised in Punjab is whether the impact could have been mitigated with better planning. According to the media reports the land lords sitting in the provincial cabinet has used their powers to close down the doors of barrages or breached the embankments of the rivers and canals to protect their lands from floods leaving the villagers to face the water. The majority of the villages did not know how to safeguard themselves from the floods and they were not informed of any precautionary measures. Quite obviously the administration was busy with other things and left the disaster management to those affected.

In Balochistan province more than 600 villages and towns were affected by torrential rains and flooding which resulted in the deaths of more than 100 persons. The people were forced to leave their homes without any kind of help or guidelines from the provincial government. Balochistan was the first affected province from the heavy rains, floods and landslides since mid July but the government failed to make any planning to provide protection. Balochistan faced floods and landslides in different parts of the province on three occasions. Around 20,000 houses had been destroyed, as reported in the media.

In the province of Sindh, the government’s inability to provide protection to the areas along the Indus River, the largest river of the country, resulted in the destruction of standing crops on hundreds of thousands of acres and the inundation of 2000 villages. More than 100 persons died. The same practice was repeated in the Sindh as powerful land lords, mainly from the coalition government of the province, allegedly made breaches in the embankments along the rivers and canals to save their own lands.

The 5,000-year-old Mohenjo-Daro archeological treasures are at risk of being inundated by terrible flooding as protective embankments along the Indus continue to disintegrate.

Lightning, heavy rains and flash floods wreaked havoc in Gilgit-Baltistan, close to the border with China killing 63 people. Here the landslides resulted in the killings of 254 persons, mainly women and children. The third round of heavy rains and floods in Qumara village claimed the lives of 45 people and destroyed 28 houses. At least 45 people lost their lives in rain-related incidents in three villages of Skardu region, while 15 others sustained injuries according to the Deputy Inspector General of Police. Heavy rains and floods destroyed a bridge linking Pakistan with China. The road link between Skardu and the rest of the country has been closed down for traffic.

The new phase of devastation is waiting to come

A new phase of disaster is about to come which may be more serious than the havoc created by the current phase of floods and torrential rains. UN agencies as well as domestic and international agencies have warned that a new phase of floods is imminent which would be more disastrous than the previous one. Heavy rains have started again in the northern parts of the country, particularly in Gilgit Balistan. The Swat Valley and other parts of Pakhtoon Kha and Balochistan provinces are flooding and the waters are heading towards the same parts of the country already afflicted by the previous floods. The incapacity of the authorities to handle this natural disaster will ultimately increase the misery of the people. It is likely that that many barrages, dams and embankments will be directly affected by the second phase of the floods.

The government is asking for relief funds from international donors but it has received a promise of only US$ 20 million which is not in any way sufficient to help the affected victims or lessening the destructions caused by the floods. This support from the world is much less than was asked for by the government but its credibility is much more in question as the aid or funds will be used on the logistics of the bureaucracy rather than assisting the victims.

The crisis of food items

The other major crisis the people of Pakistan, particularly the poor people, have to face is the scarcity of essential and edible items. The destruction of the standing crops and the inundation of the arable land which will render it unusable for many months will add the scarcity of food. The price of fruit, vegetables and meat has skyrocketed due to the destruction of the crops roads, bridges and communication networks.

The country will face this food crisis in the coming days and there is no chance that the gap of food supplies created during the floods can be filled within the coming years. The villagers have lost thousands of animals; the business in the big cities is at standstill and there are no commercial activities because of huge damage to the roads and linking bridges. Therefore the food shortages will create a huge problem for years.

Suitable drinking water is another issue and people that do not have an available supply will have to rely on anything they can get which will certainly create health problems. Water borne diseases like cholera, skin diseases and malaria are common in the affected areas and the thousands of animal carcasses will spread disease even faster.

Golden opportunity for corruption

The heavy floods have brought a golden opportunity for the bureaucracy and persons in the government for the reconstruction of damaged bridges, dams and roads. They were all in a dilapidated condition long before the flooding started and their destruction has eliminated the evidence of the corruption that allowed their condition in the first place. Now with the help of foreign aid and donations these all have to be constructed again to restore the communication system and this will give unscrupulous persons a good opportunity to make money out of the miseries of the affected population.

Indifferent attitude of ministers

The heavy rains and floods have exposed the poor state of affairs of the authorities who failed to take the floods seriously. It was only after one week of the flood’s havoc and the death of 1000 persons that the federal cabinet was forced to consider the situation and start relief work. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s visit to Mianwali, Punjab province caused him embarrassment instead of creating any goodwill. He used a motorboat to visit the affected areas and was then brought to a medical relief camp. As reported by the media, the camp was wound up and the crowd paid some money as soon as the prime minister left. This is how some of the VVIP visits are arranged, hiring the participants and making a feel-good atmosphere. On the other hand, the Punjab government has not convened any meeting of the cabinet to discuss the losses produced by the floods. Punjab is the most affected province after Pakhtoon Kha. The chief minister is prominent in holding photo sessions with the affected persons and allegedly making false promises. In Balochistan province the ministers and authorities are more concerned for their security rather than providing relief to the affected population.

The heavy floods and huge losses of property and the displacements of millions need the attention of international bodies to immediately lessen the plight of the affected people. The disaster cannot be handled by the Pakistani authorities and ultimately it is the people who will suffer.

The government should consult all the stake holders and provide immediate help to restore normal life in the affected areas. The government must maintain transparency in distribution of relief which must reach every affected person and the distribution must be monitored by elected forums.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-169-2010
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Refugees, IDPs & Asylum seekers,