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December 25, 2010

Is the flood over in Pakistan?

Lahore

December 25, 2010

Is the flood over in Pakistan? No. Most certainly not. Notwithstanding the massive relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction operations carried out by the government and people of Pakistan, the floodgates of devastations in the wake of the worst natural disaster in recent times continues to claim lives due to outbreak of epidemics, lack of health facilities, and shortage of food, shelter and clothing.
How horrendous life has been after the deluge is unfortunately fading away from the focus of the international media. No doubt, the media has more spicy things to go after, such as Wikileaks. But it must not ignore what Pakistan continues to waddle through in the aftermath of a natural calamity described by UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon as a slow tsunami, and six times bigger than any other catastrophe in the last fifty years. The flood sweeping from the northern tip of Pakistan down to Sindh affected a landmass the size of England, uprooting more than 20 million people.
Floodwater has not yet receded in many areas. According to recent reports following the visit of the European Union delegation to Pakistan, stagnant water may take months to dry, particularly in Sindh where, due to geographical factors, the water will stay longer. Dislocated victims put up in tented settlements, lack of infrastructure and no means of livelihood have compounded their sufferings.
Reconstruction work is in full swing, thanks to domestic and international agencies. As a resilient nation, Pakistanis are doing their best to get back on their feet. No doubt there are gigantic challenges ahead, but these floods have opened new venues of opportunities to everyone, within Pakistan and abroad.
Although assessment is being made of infrastructural losses, there are estimates that nearly 2,433 miles of roads and 3,508 miles of railway lines, 45 bridges, and nearly 10,000 schools and 1.7 million houses are destroyed, waiting to be built again, and that certainly offers an

enormous scope for investment and cooperation, as well as people’s goodwill to gain. Pakistan’s hour of adversity offers a potential of playing a positive role in rebuilding its national economy to add to its power to fight terrorism more effectively. Construction of 1.7 million houses alone offers a big business opportunity.
The government of Pakistan’s Flood Relief and Early Recovery Plan, 2010, launched in collaboration with the United Nations for realising the goal of a sustainable, meaningful and productive recovery of the flood-affected areas is a way forward. The National Disaster Management Authority has so far approved 397 projects in the fields of agriculture, community restoration, coordination and support, education and food security, with an estimate of $1.9 billion. For the approval and execution of projects the government has put in place effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
Construction and reconstruction always generate employment. “Dig a hole, fill a hole” was Roosevelt’s policy to combat unemployment and affects of the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States. The construction sector has a multiplier impact that leads to employment and production opportunities, which generate multifaceted economic openings.
Pakistan today is open for reconstruction. These immense opportunities cannot be overlooked for investing in construction of housing colonies, schools and hospitals, as well as the building of roads and bridges.
Innovative methods are being adopted in many countries to take full advantage of the advancement in technologies in construction. Pakistan offers a chance for sharing these experiences more than ever before. It is easy to introduce resource efficient methods in agriculture farming, livestock and dairy farming, once thriving businesses which were completely washed away in the floods, as these activities began to gain momentum again.
Climate change and environmental factors are other areas where more cooperation in conducting researches for the benefit of humankind can be carried out. A recent report by the American-run Refugees International estimates that as many as 200 million people will be displaced by natural disasters and climate change around the world by 2050, affecting the world’s poorest and most crisis-prone countries. The report advises that countries around the world must recognise the threat represented by the massive floods that hit Pakistan.
According to Michel Gabaudan, president of Refugees International, “the massive flooding in Pakistan is a wakeup call that starkly highlights the real threats we face from climate-related disasters.” The study describes it as an opportunity for planning for protection against future disasters. A lot has been mentioned on the mismanagement of the irrigation system in Pakistan. This is yet another area that needs urgent attention where many countries could come forward with scientific and technical cooperation.
The opportunities Pakistan offers today are immense, but time is of the essence. We will have to start attracting investment now. Once the people go back to the rut and start living in quick-fix shanties again without adopting necessary and quality changes, the chance to bring about a revolutionary change in living will be lost for ever.
The writer is Pakistan’s high commissioner to the UK.

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