Wide ranging problems challenge the Balochistan government’s ability to provide help to flood affected people
n July and August last year, Balochistan witnessed one of the biggest natural disasters in recent times. The abnormal rainfalls followed by flash floods and aided by crumbling infrastructure and inefficient government response mechanisms wreaked havoc in the most impoverished province of the country. As the calendar moves to 2023, complaints from flood victims persist. Most are disappointed that they have not been taken care of in the aftermath of the floods.
According to situation reports of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), last updated in November, 336 people died and 187 were wounded in the aftermath of the floods in Balochistan. There was an estimated loss of over half a million livestock; the locals have called it gross underestimation. More than 2,220 kilometres of roads were destroyed in the province. Around 350,000 houses were washed away. The floods were massive in terms of the devastation caused; the damage was unprecedented.
Winters in Balochistan are often harsh and flood victims living in temporary shelters will face a difficult situation. However, a majority of the flood victims in Balochistan are located in the Naseerabad division, which is not as cold as areas around Quetta.
Naseerabad, Jaffarabad and Sohbatpur districts of the Naseerabad division were the worst hit by floods. Six months later, the locals have a long list of complaints against the government. They say that they were provided much more help and assistance by the government in the 2010 floods, which had caused less damage.
Government officials interviewed by The News on Sunday do not agree with the claims. Officials say that the government has provided free wheat seed to small farmers across the province, which will be helpful in the cultivation of wheat in the ongoing season. Floods had swept away seed stockpiles in many places. This risked a severe shortage of wheat next year. The seed supplied by the government will contribute to keeping the wheat shortage to a manageable scale.
Officials admit that some parts of the Naseerabad division remain inundated. They say that water in the Naseerabad region will take a long time to recede. Some expect the land to be dry in May. They say, however, that farm land in only a few union councils is now under stagnant water. Some officials say reports of huge volumes of flood water inundating farm land are exaggerated.
Meanwhile, the provincial government is facing a financial crunch on account of imprudent spending and delays in the release of federal transfers. This has left the government with limited resources to help flood victims. As a result, there has been little rehabilitation and reconstruction actively carried out by the government. The government had apparently expected more assistance from foreign donors, which did not come through.
To fill the vacuum to an extent, the government has requested local NGOs to help the flood victims. The NGOs are working in several parts of the Naseerabad division and providing relief and rehabilitation in the form of food rations, clothing and materials for house construction. However, there are only a limited number of NGOs that can provide such help and they are catering to a relatively small section of the flood victims. This leaves the needs of a majority of flood victims unmet.
Additionally, inefficiency in government systems is aggravating the situation. Initially, when the NGOs arrived in the Naseerabad division for relief work, the government stopped some of them from undertaking work without first getting permission from the deputy commissioner. This action, some say, was taken to control the activities of the NGOs and influence their geographical area selection for relief work for political considerations. This delayed relief work by some aid agencies.
The government also undertook a damage assessment in every district of the province. People were asked to appear before the assessment committees and file claims for damages, which could then be used to assess the extent of damage and provision of relief accordingly. The assessment committees have completed their work but the final report is pending. The delay has paralysed the rehabilitation work of not only the government departments but also private philanthropists and NGOs. Likewise, the government has announced to provide cash compensation for flood affected but the promised compensation has not reached the people.
The fundamental flaws in the disaster mitigation and response system in the province remain the main issue. There is a Provincial Disaster Management Authority with a significant budget but it lacks planning, accountability and direction. This prevents it from providing meaningful help to those who need it. In the short run, the government needs to provide immediate relief and assistance to flood victims. In the long run, it should also improve its disaster response mechanisms.
The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and economy. He can be reached on twitter @iAdnanAamir