Provincial and federal governments are seen prioritising power politics over flood relief and rehabilitation efforts
ince its inception, Pakistan has been entangled in a host of crises ranging from influx of immigrants, catastrophic wars, devastating floods, disastrous earthquakes, climate change, terrorism and extremism, economic hardship and political chaos. The list is unending. Instead of responding to these crises adequately, skillfully, timely and dedicatedly, the governments have been habitual in their inadequate, inappropriate, untimely and inept responses for one or the other reason. The recent floods in Pakistan that inundated a third of the country are an apposite example for gauging the governments’ response and priorities. Following the 2022 floods both provincial and federal governments prioritised power politics over flood relief and rehabilitation efforts.
The damage caused by these floods has been unprecedented: millions of people have been dislocated; hundreds have lost their lives; vast swathes of cropland and villages have been under water; around half a million pregnant women have either given birth or will do so away from hospitals (without proper medical/ health facilities); almost 10 million youth are still waiting for immediate lifesaving support; flood affected populations have been hit by diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, typhoid and acute respiratory infections; approximately two million additional children have been locked out of learning due to destruction of over 27,000 schools; plenty of people have been drinking contaminated water and face hunger and malnutrition. The longer the crisis continues, the greater the humanitarian loss will be. Apart from this, economic/ financial and infrastructural losses are colossal.
The damage could have been less had disaster prevention been prioritised. However, the concerned authorities failed to act in time despite multiple warnings by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which had sent out pre-monsoon and monsoon reports. The daily situation report(s) produced by the NDMA were sent directly to secretary to the prime minister and the military secretary to the prime minister besides other stakeholders, including the PMD, the FWO, the NHEPRN and the NHA. Despite the early warnings about torrential rains and flashfloods, precautionary measures were not taken in many places to limit the damage and to enhance the spectrum of flood relief and rehabilitation activities.
Why did this exacerbation of damage caused by the catastrophic floods happen? To a notable degree it was on account of a volatile political situation in the country. The tussle between the present government (led by the Pakistan Democratic Movement and the Pakistan Peoples Party) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, which had led the previous government, resulted in a delayed response to the situation. The institutional decadence further aggravated the problems.
The government and the opposition at provincial and federal levels had locked horns for power politics instead of focusing on flood relief activities. While one vied to cement their position, the other sought to dethrone it.
This shows that the leaders of major political parties are more interested in politicking than actually working for the people — this is fast becoming a national tragedy. They are busy making calls for rallies and counter-rallies to determine the most popular or the least popular and the selected or the elected leader(s) instead of mobilising their voters and supporters and investing their time and resources for flood relief. The PTI is primarily pushing for early elections while the PDM and the PPP are resisting these efforts and seeking to delay the elections.
In the same vein, both the political adversaries have claimed that they collected more donations for flood relief. For example, Imran Khan, chairman of the PTI and former prime minister, collected Rs 5 billion for flood victims in a three-hour international telethon in August 2022, as per claims made by Faisal Javed Khan, the PTI senator who moderated the event. Similar claims have been made by the federal government claiming they have received large sums. However, in practical terms, neither the government nor the opposition have contributed enough to solve the problems of the flood affected. This indicates that the claims were mere rhetoric to chagrin each other.
Apart from this, the provincial governments (of PTI in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the PPP in Sindh) and the federal government of the PDM have been accused of having doled out funds to cement their positions and suppress their opponents. The provincial governments of the Punjab and KP have been accused of diverting resources for Imran Khan’s rallies and the PPP government in Sindh of dispensing funds to suppress the opposition on one hand and to cement its position on the other. At the federal level the government has been accused of trying to keep the coalition intact using official resources.
None of the parties appear interested in a ceasefire, particularly a unilateral one. It appears that none of the leaders recognise that good rulers are supposed to be good at serving the public. Where some people had hoped that the historic devastation would bring about historic unity, polarisation and power politics have persisted. The political adversaries have been holding each other responsible for the devastating floods in different parts of the country. They have prioritised power politics even over flood relief activities, exacerbating both the amount and the duration of the damage.
The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University, and is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be contacted at email@example.com. He tweets at @MazharGondal87