The flooding in Pakistan, the worst in 80 years, has eclipsed the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, the Pakistani earthquake of 2005, and the Haitian earthquake earlier this year, says the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The World Food Program reports that 80% of Pakistan’s food reserves have been wiped out, and 558,000 hectares of farmland have been destroyed. This season’s rice crop in Sindh Province, part of the country’s “food belt,” has been destroyed, and the Punjab Province, which holds 70% of the country’s cotton reserves, has been devastated. It is now estimated that 1/3 of Pakistan is submerged, about the size of the United Kingdom.
A number of villages and towns along the Indus River have simply been washed away or submerged. The Swat Valley is completely closed off, and Mohenjo-daro, widely known as the world’s first planned city (2400 BC), may very well be destroyed.
All this destruction and Pakistan is only halfway through the monsoon season.
On Aug. 4, Canada announced that it was contributing $2 million in emergency aid. “[This] will help meet the immediate humanitarian needs of over 150,000 families who have been severely affected by the monsoon floods,” said Minister of International Cooperation Beverley Oda.
However, given the magnitude of destruction and the rising numbers of refugees, $2 million is nowhere near enough.
Despite the dispatching of 300,000 soldiers to help with the relief effort, people in severely affected areas have complained about the government’s lack of response.
For example, President Asif Ali Zardari has refused to cancel a prolonged trip to Europe to tend to the crisis. Facing protestors in Birmingham, U.K., Zardari made the excuse that he was not needed since he empowered other elected officials in Pakistan to deal with the crisis. This “excuse,” along with images of him lounging at his chateau in France, has infuriated Pakistanis.
“President Zardari has a history of leaving the country when the going gets tough,” said Fatima Bhutto, a vocal critic of the current regime and Zardari’s niece by marriage. “A local pundit anecdotally once estimated that Richard Holbrooke has spent more time in Pakistan than the president.”
Like Haiti, Pakistan is both prone to natural disasters and ill equipped to deal with humanitarian crises.
According to Bhutto, ignorance and corruption play a big role in ensuring such incompetence, but world powers like the United States are also culpable. The Obama administration has ordered dozens of drone air strikes in northern Pakistan to “wipe out al-Qa‘ida operatives,” and this complicates Pakistan’s status as a U.S. ally in the global “War on Terror.” Thus, controversy erupts when Pakistanis see American ground troops trying to help with the relief effort.
The government has also done little to build up a disaster readiness program. “Everyone here has been complaining the government actually does not have the capacity to respond, because when there isn’t a disaster, they do nothing,” notes Qalandar Memon, a member of the Labour Party of Pakistan.
The bottom line is that the disaster has devastated five provinces and displaced upwards of 6 million people.
Relief efforts are only being conducted when circumstances are suitable, and the full scope of the damage is not yet known. Sadly, neither the Pakistani government nor the international community has responded effectively.