Pakistan Floods Aftermath: A Continuing Crisis
FRIDAY FILE: In July 2010, almost one-fifth of Pakistan’s land mass was devastated by floods which killed almost 2000 people and affected another 20 million. The country’s province of Sindh was the most severely affected. Ayesha Khan of the Collective for Social Science Research, a Karachi-based organization spoke with AWID about the current situation in Sindh.
By Kathambi Kinoti
AWID: What is the situation in Sindh now, six months since the floods?
AYESHA KHAN: Sindh is still the worst affected province. Roads destroyed by the floods have still not been repaired, so access is a major problem, and the resumption of the farming economy will be much more difficult. Some villagers who returned to Dadu where there is still water, have pitched tents on high land, and the future looks very grim for them. The water that has not yet receded near some roads can be diverted further with special pumps, but it will take a longer time for the waterlogged land inside in the villages to be drained of water. Flood waters are still flowing into Manchar Lake which is now overflowing. The cycle continues because there is nowhere else for the water to go. The government could have redirected the flow of the Lake into the sea at the start of the floods but now it is too late.
Landlords in Sindh are less affected than their tenant farmers. The latter have all left for camps and other safer places, and they fear that if they return, the landlords will demand their annual loan repayments, and if they cannot pay they will be further penalized. Farmers have been left destitute. They will only go back to their villages when the land is cultivatable and not when they cannot pay their landlords. There are fears that the landlords will give them guns and have them carry out criminal activities something that is already a problem in Sindh. There is a suggestion that the government cancel the landlords’ outstanding agricultural loan debt so as to take the pressure off of the poorest farmers.
In Sindh, about 30 percent of the flood waters have still not receded and the land that they cover will not yield produce for up to a year. The land from which water has receded is not cultivatable either because the flood waters carried dirt and was saline and this affects the quality of produce.
In some districts of the province, the majority of people are still in camps, some of which are on private property run by NGOs. Others are run by the government. The people in the camps rely on a watan card, which entitles identified heads of households (men or widows) to access government compensation in the form of cash installments for reconstruction of houses. However there have been a number of problems: Not all households have been able to access these cards, and some of those who do have the cards resort to using the money to buy food and other necessities and will therefore have no place to live when they have to leave the camps. Some of the displaced say that the support which came at first has decreased and they now get intermittent food supplies.
AWID: How were women affected by the floods?
AYESHA: Most women affected had been involved in agricultural work, and when they had to shift to camps they lost their sources of income because of the ruined crops. The annual wheat stores that they relied on were destroyed. The camps also have inadequate facilities. Food supplies and medical facilities are provided sporadically and people are exposed to a lot of diseases. Some of the women reported that when they found that the camps were full they tried to stay with relatives, who sent them back to camps. Men can leave the camps and seek work as day labourers, but women are stuck there and have to deal with these conditions.
AWID: Some news reports said that religious minorities received lower priority in relief efforts. Was there any indication of this?
AYESHA: There is anecdotal evidence and some press reports that in some relief camps authorities refused to assist non-Muslims due to ongoing persecution of and prejudice against members of the Ahmedi community. However, the camps were not run by the government, but by religious-based organizations who have been involved in relief work.
AWID: What is your impression of the media coverage of the lasting impact of the devastation, particularly in the last few months?
AYESHA: The media is giving the floods and the people they affected much less coverage than it did during July and August last year. A major reason for this is that the media generally has very weak follow up and although there are many private television channels the reporters are not well-trained. Another reason for this is that there is a strong rural-urban divide in terms of information flow in Pakistan. Newspapers, radio and television channels are all based in cities, and the preferred method of getting information is to interview individual experts preferably within the offices of these media outlets. There was a burst of interest when the floods happened and journalists were forced to interview people in camps, mainly those near cities, and it seemed as if the media in Pakistan had ‘discovered’ rural folk for the first time. One would hear long speeches by TV or radio reporters in the field about how poor the displaced were, how astonished they were about the fact that they had no belongings and were often malnourished. That has now faded and the media is back to focussing mainly on politicians, corruption and suicide attacks.