by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 7, Ramadan, 1431)
To understand the floods’ impact on Pakistan’s economy, let us look at some statistics. Even before the floods, 40% of Pakistan’s population lived below the poverty line
Teetering on the brink, Pakistan’s economy was dealt another blow by the devastating floods that inundated more than one-third of the country last month. It will be decades before Pakistan recovers from the consequences of the deluge, the most severe in its entire history. In addition to 2,000 people dead, an estimated 20 million have been made homeless when their villages and towns were submerged under water. Hardest hit is the country’s northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where three river systems overflowed their banks. Entire villages simply disappeared as water swept poorly built houses. Even concrete and brick homes could not withstand the force of the surging water. According to reports, 80% of all bridges in the province have been washed away. As the country’s only major river — the Indus — surged southward, villages in Punjab and Sind were also flooded. Floods have affected areas as far away as Baluchistan province destroying villages as well as standing crops.
To understand the floods’ impact on Pakistan’s economy, let us look at some statistics. Even before the floods, 40% of Pakistan’s population lived below the poverty line. Another 48% were food deficient, especially in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. With their homes, villages and towns swept away by the floods, poverty will become the defining feature of the province, in which the ordinary people were already severely affected by years of militancy and military operations. Compounding their misery are the relentless US drone attacks on defenceless villages, allegedly to fight terrorism by using state terrorism.
The KP province has been afflicted by the third disaster in five years. In October 2005, a massive earthquake that killed an estimated 85,000 people, struck the region. Towns and villages in nearby Kashmir were also affected. Little has been rebuilt despite a lapse of five years. Last year, there was a major military operation in Swat Valley based around the town of Mingora. Some 3.5 million people were turned into refugees. Within a year, the floods have disrupted their lives again. Even nature appears to have a special grudge against these people.
Ignoring the fact that poor water management planning by successive governments has contributed to worsening the impact of floods, Pakistan’s economy would need an injection of some $10 billion to get back to where it was before the floods destroyed much of the countryside’s infrastructure. Given the stingy response of other countries so far, including those that call themselves friends of Pakistan, such huge sums are unlikely to be forthcoming. Even the United Nations has complained about lack of donor response. There is also widespread feeling that Pakistan’s corrupt political elite will pocket much of the aid — if it ever materializes — as they did during the earthquake relief efforts in 2005.
Given this grim scenario, it is not difficult to surmise what kind of a future awaits Pakistan. Prices of essential commodities have increased fourfold. How can the poor cope under such conditions? People have been so ravaged by grinding poverty, lack of concern by a government that is too remote from most people, and loss of hope about the future, that 180 people committed suicide last year. These figures reflect only what was reported in the media. The actual numbers are much higher. With the misery index reaching new heights, more people will be driven to suicide unless help is provided to them immediately. If the past is any guide, such help is unlikely to materialize. Far from rebuilding their shattered lives and homes, even immediate help in the form of water and food is not forthcoming. Apart from some dedicated non-governmental organizations, efforts by the government are grossly inadequate. While the government offers excuses about the enormity of the problem — and there is no doubt about that — what is within its power is also not being done. Excuses do not fill hungry stomachs.
This calamity provides an opportunity for the Islamic movement to move in and provide the kind of help people desperately need: water and food immediately and then start the process of rebuilding their homes and villages. It is this kind of compassionate care that will earn their trust and win hearts and minds. No amount of lecturing about the tenets of Islam will have much impact if people are gripped by poverty and misery. As a well-known hadith of the noble Messenger (pbuh) says, when a person is hungry, his iman goes out the window. The Islamic movement in Pakistan has a vast pool of dedicated youth that have never failed the people. What is needed is to channel their energies into constructive ways to help the people and, therefore, win them over. They must also not hesitate from pointing out that the existing socio-economic and political order in society is not suited to their needs and they must understand that by replacing one set of corrupt elite by another will not solve their problems. Perhaps nature has a way of showing people that they have been living an ostrich-like existence for far too long. It is time to snap out of this. The floods provide an opportunity to do so. Thousands of people have bitterly complained about the government’s lack of response. It is time to give this decrepit government and its decaying system one last parting kick and consign it to the dustbin of history.
Only the Islamic movement can do so. Nature has exposed the corrupt and incompetent system in Pakistan completely. There is opportunity in every challenge; the Islamic movement must grab it and move quickly rather than allow the corrupt system to reassert itself.