Gigantic task ahead

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ACCORDING to initial but conservative estimates, the rains and floods have inflicted losses worth $10 billion on different sectors of Pakistan’s economy, which means a gigantic task ahead as it would take several years to rehabilitate the affected families and restore/rebuild the damaged infrastructure.

Talking to newsmen on Sunday, Minister for Finance Miftah Ismail said these were the initial assessments and the actual situation would emerge once ground assessment is undertaken by the agencies and departments concerned.

The magnitude of the calamity calls for a well-coordinated national plan of action to ensure that each and every affected individual gets adequate support to rebuild homes and resume livelihood activities besides reconstruction of roads, highways, bridges, public buildings, mosques, electricity and gas networks and telecommunication facilities.

The scale of the disaster is much more than previous estimates as so far over one thousand people have lost their lives in different parts of the country, over 1,500 injured, millions of livestock heads killed besides damage to an untold number of houses, hotels and roods in major flood-hit areas of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and KP.

Hundreds of villages and settlements, especially those around rivers have been wiped out resulting in displacement of millions of people.

Apart from the catastrophic consequences of the floods and incessant rains in the affected areas, the entire country has started witnessing the effects of the damage caused to standing crops, vegetable and fruit.

Prices of vegetable and other perishables have increased manifolds in the length and breadth of the country because of destruction of crops and disruption in supplies.

A new wave of price-hike has engulfed the entire country and the government might have to opt for immediate imports of food and vegetable to help stabilize their prices for the already inflation-ridden masses.

This would also be a heavy strain on the limited foreign exchange reserves of the country and that too at a time when the government was running from pillar to post to ensure inflow of external aid.

In this backdrop, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has done well by deciding to consult all political parties over the worrying situation.

Hopefully, this national dialogue would enable the government to have fruitful input from the leadership on how best to address the challenge within the limited resources of the country.

Pakistan is a disaster prone country and that is why a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in August 2007 followed by creation of similar bodies in the provinces but fifteen years down the drain one is constrained to say that these institutions have not proved as effective as they should have.

No doubt, NDMA and PDMAs have limited resources and there are capacity issues as far as prompt and required level of relief activities are concerned but there are legitimate questions as to why these authorities as well as National Flood Commission could not play their due role in flood mitigation activities and at least timely and effective warnings coupled with timely evacuation to avoid precious lives.

It is also legitimately being asked as to why helicopters available with different organizations were not put into service to save lives whereas, according to media reports, our neighbouring country Afghanistan has deployed 150 for rescue and relief operations.

Similarly, it has been observed that most of the damage has been caused because of illegal settlements and structures in and around the areas of river flow and the question arises as to why such illegal activities are allowed by the relevant civic agencies.

Deforestation and lip-service to the cause of tree plantation are also among the main causes of the climate change in the country besides ill-planned housing activities by a mushroom of societies.

Therefore, mere rehabilitation and reconstruction would not resolve the problem and meticulous planning and execution for a sustained period of time would be required to forestall damage of this magnitude in future.

For the long term, we need to learn from China which not only diverted the course of a furious river to avoid human and material losses but is also implementing the South-to-North Water Diversion Project which involves drawing water from southern rivers and supplying it to the dry north.

Studies also need to be undertaken to confirm whether the existence of all the proposed dams would have mitigated floods or complicated the situation further and based on findings of the experts, plans should be revised and updated through a national debate.

 

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