Miftah’s appeal to philanthropists

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AS the latest data relating to losses caused by flash floods and torrential rains across the country have sent alarm bells among policy-makers, Minister for Finance Miftah Ismail has urged philanthropists to come forward for the help and support to the people affected as the Government alone could not tackle the situation on its own in an effective manner.

In a meeting with a delegation of industrialists and businessmen in Lahore on Sunday, he said that rehabilitation of affected people and reconstruction/repair of damaged roads, bridges, railway tracks and other infrastructure was a Herculean task, which was impossible to surpass without active participation of the industrialists and business community.

The Minister asked the business community to form a committee of industrialists and businessmen from major cities of Punjab to collect at least Rs.2 billion as donations for the flood affected people.

The woes of the Finance Minister are understandable as he is fully aware of the economic and financial conditions of the country, the true magnitude of the devastation caused by the natural calamity of unprecedented scale and what the Government could do within its limited resources to mitigate sufferings of the people and allocate funds for the gigantic task of rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The enormity of the challenge ahead can be gauged by the fact that Rs.1,000 billion are needed only to repair and reconstruct 6,500 kilometres of damaged roads while 246 bridges have also been destroyed besides destruction of 1.7 million houses.

One million cattle-heads have been killed depriving many families of their livelihood and over 33 million people are currently living under the open sky.

Under these circumstances, there is definitely a need for channelizing all available resources to carry out relief and rehabilitation tasks as per ground requirements.

Pakistan is considered a generous country as far as charitable-giving is concerned as it contributes more than one percent of the GDP to charity, pushing it closer to wealthier countries like the United Kingdom (1.3% of GDP to charity) and Canada (1.2%).

A study conducted by Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy shows that Pakistanis give around PKR 240 billion in charity every year.

The study relates to normal conditions while people give more in charity during emergencies as we are witnessing these days.

However, it is also a fact that the amount cannot be effectively utilized as this is collected by hundreds of institutions and NGOs whose activities duplicate in many areas.

The Government has provided 70 billion rupees for relief and rehabilitation and it has announced to provide 50 billion more for the purpose but understandably the scale of devastation demands pooling of all available resources for a prompt and effective response to the situation.

The Finance Minister has done well by proposing formation of a committee of businessmen and industrialists to raise the money but the target given by him is negligible given the capacity of the business community to pay.

It would have been much better to have separate committees for each industrial and business city to create a healthy competition for this noble cause.

Similarly, committees should also be formed in major cities and towns of Sindh, KP, Balochistan and Azad Kashmir.

The measures introduced by the Government for transparency of the expenditure out of the Flood Relief Fund would surely boost the confidence of philanthropists.

The Finance Minister assured that the Government would not only conduct an internal audit of the flood relief funds and donations but also get the same from a reputable international audit firm.

The Government was maintaining a balance sheet of each and every penny of the flood funds.

In a related development, a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday decided to launch a digital flood dashboard to provide information to the general public about financial support and relief goods being received and distributed among flood affectees.

This is an unprecedented move by a Government to ensure transparency in view of allegations of misuse of aid money and goods in the past.

The country has excellent representation in the US and the United Nations and one hopes our towering ambassadors would play their role in sensitizing the international community about the urgent need for relief and rehabilitation operations.

Their task becomes easier as the UN Secretary-General now has firsthand knowledge of the ground situation and is fully motivated to help Pakistan overcome this crisis.

 

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