Pakistan is experiencing the worst flooding it has seen in more than eighty years. The magnitude of the damage is beyond anything seen in the tsunami, hurricane Katrina, earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 and the recent Haiti earthquake. More than 1600 people have died with thousands more missing and more than 2 million displaced. The damage to property, infrastructure and the economy is beyond comprehension.
Entire villages and small towns have been washed away, livestock has been killed in the thousands and people are desperate for even basic amenities such as food and water. And the rains show no signs of letting up. Right now the main objective is providing relief and assistance to the hardest-hit areas, evacuating people still in the path of the flood and setting up temporary camps for the millions of displaced families. Reaching these people is the biggest challenge as roads have been washed away, bridges destroyed and landslides block access points. People are trying to escape using wooden boats, donkeys, makeshift rickety bridges or just taking shelter on the roofs of buildings that are in a precarious condition.
The damage done to the agricultural base of the country is unimaginable. Once the flood waters recede, the country will have to tackle the issue of a food shortage, massive inflation, disease due to water contamination and a deadly blow to the economy. Coupled with the issue of militancy that Pakistan is dealing with, the country will require a massive rehabilitation and reconstruction effort requiring billions of dollars. International relief organizations and other nations have pledged their support and have promised large sums of money for the rescue efforts but how much of that money will Pakistan actually see, and how much will be used productively is something only time will tell. And if history is any indicator, then much of this international aid will stay on paper or go into the pockets of politicians.
What the country needs right now is a thriving, viable, effective government; such an entity doesn’t exist in Pakistan. The government has been largely missing in this natural disaster and has chosen to, as usual, make statements on television and watch the misery unfold from the comfort of their palatial homes. President Zardari has come under severe criticism, and rightly so, for touring Europe as his country undergoes a great tragedy. There is a complete lack of response and coordination from the government, and the large mistrust people have of the leadership is making people hesitant to contribute to the government’s relief fund. In such a vacuum, relief organizations have come forward and are trying their best to provide basic amenities such as medicines, clean water and shelter to the affectees.
The institution that is contributing the most is the armed forces. The army is always at the forefront of such humanitarian missions and they are working round the clock to evacuate families and provide much needed aid to the displaced. Their level of coordination and effort is admirable, and as usual it is the army that has filled the void left by the government. In addition to the army and coast guards, another institution has risen to the challenge; and that is the civil society. Pakistani’s are known to be extremely hospitable and generous, and this can be seen in how the public has mobilized to help in any way possible. Student groups, religious entities, house wives, NGO’s and average citizens are collecting funds and necessary goods, and in many cases taking it upon themselves to travel to those areas to distribute them. Considering the scale of this disaster it will take the concerted effort of every Pakistani to rebuild the nation as well as the lives of people.
Pakistani’s are a resilient bunch and have been through their share of misfortune, and like each time they will persevere and come out of this stronger. The rest of the world needs to provide as much support as possible, as the coming months will be the greatest challenge the fascinating and complicated nation has ever faced.