Rehabilitating rain-hit areas in Balochistan

April 14, 2024

We must not leave our Baloch brothers and sisters alone in these trying times

Rehabilitating rain-hit areas in Balochistan


uring the months of February and March 2024, life in Balochistan was severely hit by torrential rains and consequent disruption. The areas impacted by rain included Quetta, Gwadar, Pishin, Ziarat, Mastung, Turbat, Noshki, Chaman, Ormara, Jiwani, Panjgur and Khuzdar.

Major highways and railroad connections to other parts of the country and neighbouring Iran were temporarily blocked. In some places, telecommunication services were severely affected. Connections to the rest of the province have still to be restored to the pre-disaster levels in many locations. The rains caused substantial damage to the life and property of the residents.

The poor and the vulnerable were the worst hit. Their meager assets and sources of livelihood were either damaged or swept by rainwater. Several challenges remain to be addressed in the post-rain disaster scenario.

Accessibility to most vulnerable and disaster affected regions has been greatly affected. Rehabilitation work has been directly affected due to limited road access. It may be noted that rains have become a perpetual challenge for the province.

Whether it is the monsoon rains that strike many locations with extraordinary fury or it is the winter rains, the scale of damage and destruction is mounting. The province requires a holistic rehabilitation plan with a focus on transforming infrastructure and settlements into resilient and viable assets capable of withstanding torrential rains and other disasters.

Many districts in Balochistan experience face poverty, lack of resources and poor economic outputs. Foremost among these are Sherani, Kohlu, Dera Bugti and Chaghi. It may be noted that the situation in many other districts is not much better.

Every time rain and other disasters strike, the dismal socio-economic conditions become evident. More than half of the population in the province lives in poverty. Reports from rural Balochistan indicate that more than 70 percent of the people experiencing poverty. An important challenge is the long distances between settlements.

Balochistan’s population density of 35 persons per square kilometer is starkly different from the national average of about 236 persons per sq. km. This is one reason for the difficulty in reaching out to people for rescue and relief. It is also a barrier to development as the infrastructural cost for connecting settlements is much higher.

The sparse population requires higher spending to provide healthcare, education, social welfare, employment, electricity and other utilities. Balochistan requires bespoke regional planning and development strategy to deal with the challenges of remoteness and poor accessibility.

Studies and analytical reports have outlined several reasons behind the unrest and resistance by the various nationalist factions. These include expropriation of land and other resources by other communities and state agencies; exclusion of Baloch people from mega development projects and an overwhelming dominance of governance affairs by the security establishment. Many people find it next to impossible to earn a decent living.

Ignoring the political unrest and the feeling of deprivation among the Baloch people will be wrong. Ever since a controversial military operation began in the 1970s, the Baloch polity has been informed by a heightened feeling of deprivation in the state structure of Pakistan. Skirmishes, military operations, guerrilla fighting and executions have added to the trauma.

A sentiment that has recently developed amongst the political cadres is the sense of disenfranchisement. A dangerous trend in the Balochistan politics is that the liberal and secular parties seem to be losing the support and trust of ordinary people. This is apparent in the scathing criticism that the National Party faced during the recent election campaign.

Many people see the provincial government as a puppet controlled from the Centre. The sufferings of the Baloch people during disasters and calamities cannot be adequately addressed by the provincial governments. A sizable population was forced to live under the open sky following the flooding.

The law and order situation has worsened to the extent that even top political leaders are not safe. Instances of sabotage, destruction and killings are reported quite regularly. Attempts to restore normalcy to the province are seen by many as inadequate and half-hearted.

Besides being one of the most thinly populated regions, Balochistan has a diverse range of communities inhabiting it. The colonial administration was content with strategic penetration into the heartland of the region. Aware of the conflicting interests of various tribes and their chieftains, the colonial rulers skillfully maintained administrative calm for a sizable part of their rule.

Trouble began soon after the Partition when the sociological and anthropological peculiarities were ignored. The limited participation of local interest groups in the political administration brewed a sense of deprivation. This could have been addressed through an effective and open-ended political process that was sadly often missing.

The discovery and subsequent utilisation patterns of natural resources fuelled the frustration. The exploitation of common folks at the hands of tribal chieftains was another non-ending problem. To pursue their objectives, some of the sardars developed links with the establishment at the cost of the interests of the people they were supposed to represent.

The ensuing political fragmentation and factional fighting has obstructed the emergence of modern political parties. Inter-ethnic and sub-regional dialogue too has not evolved. Major ethnic denominations, such as Pakhtuns in the north, the Baloch in the central part of province and coastal natives in the Makran strip have yet to reach a political consensus.

Newly elected federal and provincial governments must prioritise the development and execution of a provincial rehabilitation plan. Given the gravity of the situation, the prime minister will do well to call a meeting of the Council of Common Interests to enable other provinces to pledge support to the government of Balochistan and its people.

A climate conducive to undertaking immediate rescue, relief, rehabilitation and redevelopment work must be created without delay. The first step is to use the ongoing rain-induced crisis as an opportunity to build broad-based political consensus on core issues. Extending effective autonomy in decision making, resource utilisation and distribution to the provincial government; reaching out to the insurgent factions; negotiating an agenda of common interest, such as relief and rehabilitation can be a starting point.

It is obvious that complex geopolitics of this region is a cause of ensuing political discord and consequent estrangement of many groups.

The next step can be the identification of major shortcomings in the local capacity to address the task of relief and rehabilitation work. Balochistan lacks experienced technocrats, development consultants and other experts. The provincial government may reach out to other provincial administrations to help them out in dealing with this crucial shortcoming.

Technocrats with a proven track record of working in challenging environments may be deputed from other provinces to support the Balochistan government in dealing with rehabilitation and redevelopment tasks. The availability of such technocrats should be sued by the provincial government to the capacity and competence of local teams.

Core areas where this technical input is needed include emergency medicine, infrastructure planning and development, housing re-development, community driven social enterprise development and assistance to women. We must not leave our Baloch brothers and sisters alone in these trying times.

The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi

Rehabilitating rain-hit areas in Balochistan