Giving Pakistani Flood Victims a Voice

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Pakistan Survivors Tell their Stories. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent. Nov. 30, 2010.

“…the shows utilize the skills of volunteers with the PRCS gender programme. The young, energetic university students are responsible for developing programme content and lining up guests. “These shows are allowing us to communicate directly with flood-affected communities,” says 24 year old Sadia Jamil. “By providing a platform for them to voice their concerns, we can help find the best solution to resolve their problems.”

Pakistan – disaster recovery under extreme conditions and great scrutiny

As noted here many times, the recovery process is a complex one and one that is hard to accomplish in the U.S.  When the U.S. participates in the international response to a major to catastrophic disaster in another sovereign nation – especially underdeveloped ones,  such as Haiti or Pakistan — the problems grow almost at a logarythmic  rate.  Added to all of the elements of recovery are issues of morality, strategic significance, and existential concerns.  An opinion piece in the Wash. Post highlights some of these added concerns. Pakistan flood relief is in America’s strategic interest, Sept. 1, 2010.

The challenge for the Obama administration and other governments is to develop new mechanisms — similar to those, perhaps, that the United Nations has devised for rebuilding Haiti after its earthquake in January — that would enable relief and reconstruction with maximum transparency and honesty. If this is done successfully, the Pakistani government and its international allies, the United States included, could gain prestige in the eyes of a skeptical people. The alternative is a vacuum that extreme Islamist groups are already attempting to fill.  The American people must be there when the floodwaters recede. The moral justification is compelling enough. But the strategic rationale is real, too.

A related report, well written and compelling, was issued by the U.S. Institute of Peace, on August 17th, titled: Flooding Challenges Pakistan’s Government and the International Community. It makes a somewhat different case for the U.S. aid to Pakistan, highlighting the link between disaster recovery and peacebuilding.  A notable observation in that report is:

Unfortunately, disaster management priorities are often focused on immediate visible results rather than the less tangible and long-term goals of stable peace, good governance, and sustainable development. Saving lives is undoubtedly essential. At the same time, how disasters are managed can have a long-term impact on the conflict context. Disaster managers must ensure that short-term interventions also carry positive long-term impacts on societies that have already experienced considerable suffering.

Additional article, posted on Sept. 2, is well worth reading.  It deals primarily with the digital media and the mechanics of providing assistance to Pakistan, providing a very interesting contrast with the Haiti catastrophic earthquake earlier this year. See A Month In, Pakistan Flood Relief Efforts Stuck at 1.0, in Wired magazine .

More disaster updates

(1) Behind Scenes of Gulf Oil Spill, Acrimony and Stress. NY Times , Aug. 27. Interesting account of the behind the scenes struggles between BP and the federal government and among the many engineers involved.

(2) Regarding Pakistan, the dimensions of the damage and losses are hard to comprehend.  Two key points about recovery stand out in stark relief: the need to do more than replace infrastructure but in fact to rebuild in a better way.  The need to create and maintain a vision for betterment of society and the nation will be very hard to attain there;  the temptation for a “snap back” to past ways is always strong.  US foreign policy and foreign aid objectives also are in play here.

Pakistan Flood Sets Back Years of Gains on Infrastructure. NY Times.

You have to highlight that the infrastructure all the way from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to Sindh is ruined … referring to Pakistan’s northernmost and southernmost provinces. “It will take years to rebuild.”

Nearly 20 million people have been significantly affected, about the population of New York State… The number in urgent need is now about eight million and expected to rise. More than half of them are without shelter. The government’s estimates of the damage are equally grim. More than 5,000 miles of roads and railways have been washed away, along with some 7,000 schools and more than 400 health facilities. Just to build about 500 miles of road in war-ravaged Afghanistan, the United States spent $500 million and several years, according to USAID.

And the agency has spent $200 million to rebuild just 56 schools, 19 health facilities and other services since the momentous earthquake in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir in 2005. One estimate …put the total cost of the flood damage at $7.1 billion. That is nearly a fifth of Pakistan’s budget, and it exceeds the total cost of last year’s five-year aid package to Pakistan passed by Congress.

Water and energy were a prime focus of the five-year $7.5 billion American aid package for Pakistan passed by Congress last year. The Obama administration had hoped to use the legislation as the centerpiece of a lasting strategic partnership with Pakistan and to help buttress the economy and Pakistan’s weak government institutions. Now, American officials fear that money will end up being spent just to get Pakistan back to where it was before the “super flood.” The US has already redirected $50 million of the aid package to help with the flood recovery, and the disaster will force a review of all projects that had been planned, Dr. Shah said.

“Priorities will necessarily have to shift and shift so that there is more of a recovery and reconstruction approach than people were thinking just a few months ago….He and other American officials are insisting that the disaster be treated as an opportunity for Pakistan to “leapfrog” ahead and help it build water and energy systems better than what was destroyed. They point to successes that grew out of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, namely the creation of the National Disaster Management Administration, which is now spearheading the government response to the floods. But diplomats said government accountability and reforms in the rule of law would have to accompany the effort and the aid money.“This is going to be very, very difficult, this is a huge scale disaster,” Dr. Shah said. “But we have to continue to be optimistic and look for those opportunities to help Pakistan to use this to build back better.”

More on the flooding in Pakistan

From the Christian Science Monitor, August 19 – Pakistan floods: Why aid is so slow compared to Haiti earthquake.

Pakistan floods have displaced 4 million people, but aid to the country has been at a trickle compared to other catastrophes, such as the Jan. 12 Haiti earthquake.

Why America needs to ramp up aid to Pakistan. August 17. Foreign Policy.com

More people have been affected by Pakistan’s catastrophic floods than any other natural disaster on record — over 20 million and counting. That’s more than were affected by the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and this year’s earthquake in Haiti combined.  As millions of dislocated Pakistanis search for shelter and food and as health conditions deteriorate and disease spreads, the need for an immediate, large-scale humanitarian response is urgent.  And this is just the beginning.  Once the floodwaters subside from Pakistan’s swollen rivers, the task of rebuilding will be staggering – with a price tag in the billions, and lasting for years to come.  The effectiveness of the response to these relief and rebuilding challenges will have serious implications for the wellbeing of the country’s citizens, for the peace and stability of Pakistan and the entire South Asian region, and for U.S. national security.

The Catastrophic Flooding in Pakistan – extent still not clear

Although the flooding has gone on for weeks, somehow the full scale and impact of the catastrophic flooding has not been effectively communicated to the world at large.See Death toll rises from Pakistan flooding, CNN, August 16. In actuality, the numbers of people affected are staggering and the response and recovery are hampered by the continuing flooding.  Some key facts:

  • The death toll from flooding that has ravaged Pakistan for more than two weeks is up to 1,463;
  • More than 895,200 houses have been damaged, and more than 2,000 people have been injured;
  • One-fifth of the country is under water. Roughly 900,000 are homeless as a result of the catastrophe
  • Thousands of towns and villages (estimated at 4,000) have been washed away.
  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said …that while he has visited sites of natural disasters around the world, he has never seen anything like the devastation created by flooding in Pakistan.
  • He said the disaster is worse than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2005 Pakistani earthquake combined.

A thoughtful and comprehensive look at the longer-term impacts, including the stability of the country are examined in this NYTimes article: Floods Could Have Lasting Impact for Pakistan. N.Y. Times. If in fact this flood disaster is greater than the two most recent Asian catastrophic disasters noted above, are the capabilities of the international community sufficient to effectively assist? Add to that concern the political importance of Pakistan to the U.S.  This is a catastrophic disaster that bears careful watching.