THE very fact that despite being caught in a cobweb of political odds Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has once again launched an impassioned appeal for forging national unity to effectively address the challenges facing the country is reflective of his deep and unwavering commitment to the core causes of the nation, a hallmark of a true and genuine leader.
The PM, who took time out of his busy schedule to meet and comprehensively brief media men on Thursday about different aspects of the natural calamity of unprecedented magnitude, said with the country facing severe challenges, including the worst flooding in history, there was a need for all to join hands to pay heed to the miseries of flood-hit masses by leaving the politicking and political differences aside.
Unfortunately, the society was sharply divided on political lines due to selfish pursuits and propaganda but credit goes to Mian Shehbaz Sharif whose untiring and selfless efforts and hard work has started paying dividends as his Government has succeeded in attracting domestic and international attention towards the plight of flood affected people and the need for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
As some leaders were busy in electioneering and delivering controversial statements at this critical juncture of our history, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif focused on the situation arising out of incessant rains and floods and visited affected regions in all the four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan to have firsthand knowledge of the ground situation, which enabled him and the authorities concerned to plan and execute rescue and relief operations in a better manner.
The magnitude of the disaster is much more than initially assessed as over 1,300 lost their lives and many more injured due to the floods; thousands of villages in Sindh and Punjab were inundated; while rice, cotton and date-palm crops on millions of acres were destroyed and the human life had come to a standstill.
There are some areas where standing water is feared to remain there for weeks with attendant consequences for resumption of daily lives, impact on relief and rehabilitation activities and the possibility of spread of diseases.
As per conservative estimates, over 33 million people have been affected, around seven hundred thousand cattle-heads lost and thousands of houses of the poor have either been completely destroyed or partially damaged.
There would be issues of livelihood as food and vegetable crops and fruits have been destroyed and it would be a gigantic task to support and feed people in the affected regions.
Thanks to the active personal interest being taken by the Prime Minister, rescue and relief efforts were continuing in the flood affected areas through effective coordination among the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) and the National Flood Response and Coordination Centre (NFRCC).
The Election Commission has done well by delaying the scheduled by-elections to several constituencies of the National and Provincial Assemblies as this would also help divert attention, energy and resources for the daunting task of relief and rehabilitation that needs constant endeavours on the part of the federal and provincial governments.
This is important in view of the fact that some chief ministers were found performing protocol duties instead of visiting flood affected areas and supervising rescue and relief operations.
The Federal Government, despite the worst kind of financial crisis, is mobilizing necessary resources to reach out to each and every affected family.
The personnel of Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force were also busy in carrying out rescue and relief operations round the clock by using their resources, including boats and helicopters.
The federal government, which had earlier allocated Rs 28 billion for the flood affected area across the country as per initial assessment of damages, has now enhanced that amount to Rs 70 billion after the latest assessment of losses.
As the Federal Government had announced the financial assistance of Rs 25,000 per affected family in the flood-hit areas, an amount of Rs 20 billion had already been distributed among the victim families through a transparent process under the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP).
Apart from this, Rs one million each was also being paid to the heirs of over 1,300 people, who lost their lives in the floods.
Rs 70 billion allocated by the Federal Government did not include any foreign funding.
It is also encouraging that as a result of the sustained efforts of the Government, some friendly countries have announced significant contribution in cash and kind to help overcome the challenge thrown by floods.
The laudable decision of the Prime Minister to get the aid money audited by a private firm has boosted confidence of local and foreign donors as it is reflective of complete transparency in relief operations.
It is also important to note that the United Nations has already launched a flash appeal of $160 million aid to help the flood affected people in Pakistan and the visit of the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is reflective of the urgency of the situation besides an expression of solidarity with the country.
In fact, the world is ready to extend cooperation to cope with the challenging situation but we need to have our own house in order so that local resources and foreign commitments lead to tangible results.
And flood situation is not the only challenge as the task of bringing the economy back on track is all the more important as it is deeply linked to the real sovereignty of the country.
In this backdrop, we hope, all parties, stakeholders and power players would heed to the appeal of the Prime Minister, bury their differences and act in accordance with the national aspirations and interests of the country.
The major issue that divides the nation today is the timing of next general election as one party is hell bent to get them held immediately but in the given situation it will have to be put on the back-burner.
This is because if by-elections in some particular constituencies cannot be held in view of the extraordinary situation then there is no question of having general election in the near future.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has elevated his stature further in the eyes of the people because of his visionary policies; cool-mindedness and reconciliatory posture and others ought to follow the suit.