On September 9, floods washed away 90 percent areas in the Naseerabad and Jaffarabad districts of Balochistan, affecting 1.3 million acres of agro-land and causing a loss of about Rs18 billion to farmers and growers. The irrigation system was also badly affected because two main canals and their distributaries irrigating millions of acres of land were left in a shambles. For two weeks after the torrential rains brought ruin to the region, around 0.1 million victims sat under the open sky, taking refuge on the banks of the Rabi and Pat Feeder canals, waiting for assistance. Despite the top district official’s claim that 90 percent of the area had indeed been washed away, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority took 11 days to declare an emergency because it didn’t have the assessment report from the district government. In essence, the flood victims of Balochistan were left trapped between the rigidity of the bureaucracy and the callousness of an inefficient provincial government. Now, finally, there may be some good news: the prime minister has announced a package of Rs2.6 billion for the rehabilitation of the people and the rebuilding of the infrastructure of the province, as well as Rs400,000 each for families of those who have perished in the floods.
Positive news as this may be, we know that the mere allocation of money is never enough, especially in Balochistan. Despite the best of intentions and the loftiest of announcements, official indifference and irregularities in the aid distribution mechanism have combined to ensure that the affected see very little of the funds allocated for them. Few relief items arrive, ending up in the hands of a few influential people. Local politicians have been known to intervene in the dispensation of relief goods and unjustifiably allocate them to voters and close relatives. What is needed, thus, is not just the announcement of hefty aid packages but also the systematic streamlining of the aid distribution mechanism to prevent it from falling victim to cronyism, corruption and mismanagement. Most importantly, the provincial government needs to be made to give up its parochial, greedy ways. For instance, even in the face of the recent devastation in Balochistan, the provincial government blocked the collection and distribution of supplies by NGOs in what was seen as an attempt to grab hold of the funds and supplies provided by international and national aid agencies. While this tug-of-war between the provincial government and NGOs went on, the miserable, broken people of Balochistan were left to fend for themselves. Also take the example of the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package, which promised the moon when it was first announced in November 2009 but whose implementation has been severely hampered by bureaucratic red tape and severe lethargy at the political end. At the end of the day, what is missing in Balochistan is honesty of purpose. The federal and provincial governments must both demonstrate that their words of support are indeed supported by tangible action on the ground, and hence convince the Baloch that they are also equal and precious citizens of this blighted country.