Pakistan faced the worst disaster in the form of flooding that started around July this year that has continued through September. These floods have impacted major parts of all provinces; more specifically Saraiki vusaib in Punjab, and major parts of Balochistan, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While the social media images of this natural calamity are already creating a panic, the visit to the actual locations is a heart-wrenching experience.
My recent visit to the regions of Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur, Jampur and Fazilpur depicted a grim situation. While Dera Ghazi Khan city was comparatively safer, the worst impacted area appeared to be Fazilpur. While driving from Rajanpur to Fazilpur, we observed many families camping on the roadsides. The camps include the people’s bare minimum belongings, and the owners are accompanied by their surviving cattle. The children stare hopelessly in search of someone who will provide them with the necessities of life. More discussions with activists indicated that many people camping on the roads may not be the actual flood-affected families, and included those who want to avail the opportunity to grab the donations that were being arranged by the community and/or government.
At Fazilpur, a cultural/literary organisation – Sojhal Dhartivas – headed by Engineer Shahnawaz Mashori, voluntarily took charge of providing some basics to the local population since the city was greatly impacted by floods. They now aim to set up a ‘khaima basti’ (camping village) at a location owned by a team member’s construction site for a residential colony. People camping here have lost family members. They include people of all ages, including pregnant women, infants, and senior citizens. The team provides basic medical facilities, clean water, and other basic provisions to thousands of people and keeps their morale boosted. The sanitation problems and emerging health issues have been temporarily tackled by the organisers of this makeshift village, but it may not be sufficient, considering the large number of impacted populations in this area. Discussion with the organisers of this charity initiative indicated that viral diseases and health issues due to floodwater are inevitable here, which impact many and can result in more deaths. Most of them have lost their crops and cannot rely on agricultural areas until the land is dry enough to be cultivated. It is difficult for most of them coming from respectable backgrounds to beg people or the state for help.
In these testing times, community workers like this cultural organization have come forward independently by providing thousands of people with food, shelter, medical facility, and basic provisions. In addition, various Siraiki political parties, local activists and intellectuals, cultural organizations, community have privately joined hands to serve the local community in this time of crisis. Siraiki student organizations such as ‘Siraiki Student Council (Lahore)’, ‘Wardah Noor Foundation’ (Leyyah) and their volunteers have played a pivotal role in supporting the community. Other private organizations such as Edhi Foundation, The Citizens Foundation, Vaseela-e-Rah (headed by the singer Hadiqa Kiyani), and Alkhidmat Foundation have actively contributed towards such efforts by providing rashan bags, giving donations and collecting funds via flood relief camps. However, there are also areas where the impact of feudal influence prevents people from supporting the flood-affected population.
It has been over one month that people await government support but so far there has been nothing except surveys and paperwork and using the images of this desolate region as a means of gaining sympathy for Pakistanis via social media that has empathetically responded across the nation. The local government representatives, MPAs and MNAs are nowhere to be found actively engaging with the community. If at all any provisions are sent to this region, they do not match the population figures that are impacted by this natural disaster. It is also uncertain how the foreign aid being sent for flood relief will reach the deserving people and when exactly will the rehabilitation process start. Moreover, the rehabilitation process is laborious and requires efficient and effective planning which evidently seems to be lacking.
The areas that we visited in the Siraiki vusaib present just one example of a flood-affected area, but the calamity has struck thousands across all the provinces of Pakistan. The situation raises a pertinent question: Was the 2010 flooding not enough for various governments to start preparing to deal with such natural disasters? If people occupy land which is likely to be flooded, then they should be guided properly in planning their residential arrangements and agricultural needs. There should be an organized effort towards dealing with such calamities at the state level primarily in the areas where there are strong chances of flooding. More dams should be constructed to prevent such disasters. A country that was still recovering from the Covid crisis, various political traumas and inflation now face the challenge of settling most of the population that is fighting to survive. It may take a while to recover if the empowered authorities reject their basic rights and fail to support them in this difficult hour and prioritize their political agendas over the lives of the citizens.