The situation is still critical in Pakistan as the floods now leave a trail of destruction in the southern province of Sindh and inundate parts of the country’s impoverished Baluchistan province, where the people are still waiting for assistance.
Their plight has been eclipsed by the horrendous scale of destruction in the country’s breadbasket province of Punjab and by the fact that the north was also badly hit – from Gilgit Baltistan down to the southern belt of the frontier.
According to some estimates, the area hit by the floods is equal to the size of Italy. In the short term, this means that a major undertaking is needed to restore communications links and replenish wheat stocks to avoid a famine-like situation. It may take years to restore farmlands and repair the damage caused by the floods.
The authorities will also have to look into its antiquated canal systems and think seriously of building run-of-the-river dams to be able to regulate the flow of the waters more effectively and, above all, to improve its embankments for its major canals that have over the years become less effective with the deposit of silt.
It would also have to move rapidly to stop the destruction of its forests, which have been depleting at an alarming rate because of the collusion of the timber mafia and Pakistan’s feudal political elite.
Photo by Kamal Hyder
It is estimated that up to 5,000 truckloads of timber was washed away from Kohistan alone. The timber was being collected over the years by the roadsides despite the fact that the previous government had put a ban on cutting trees.
With the coming of a new government in Islamabad, the timber mafia had increased the cutting of trees and had piled them up close to the Indus. All that timber was washed away and much of it was then looted on the way by villagers. Some civilised members in the villages are dismayed by what has become a treasure hunting day, but they are a minority.
A large chuck of this timber is said to have washed up near the spillway of the country’s largest earth-filled dam at Tarbela.
Perhaps, even now, it would be a great opportunity for every Pakistani to plant at least one tree every year to ensure that the country can regain its natural forests.
In the endeavour to rebuild what is lost, we must not repeat the follies of the past and for once do honestly what we should have been done decades ago to ensure that the new infrastructure built must be regulated and done with honesty above all.
Many people in Pakistan say that the contractors and the government skim off the bulk of the money from projects because of dangerously high levels of corruption, which has unfortunately become institutionalised.
For the sake of future generations, no one should be allowed to build habitats along the embankments of the rivers. Or build weak bridges. It is surprising to find that, despite the heavy flow of the waters, many bridges built by the British still survived or incurred less damage.
Without respect for nature, Pakistan cannot have a healthy and safe future.
Sadly when Pakistan faced a major earthquake several years ago, it noted that all schools built by the government collapsed and killed thousands of school children. Those built with the help of foreign countries and were supervised did not have a single casualty.
Pakistanis will have to look very carefully at their own conduct to ensure that its children have a prosperous and secure future. It will also have to learn to live up to challenges without begging the world.
As one man said to me:
“First we were poor but had honour. Now we are beggars and have no shame”
He said that if 20 per cent of Pakistanis were willing to come out and offer assistance, they could easily help all those hit hard by the floods. He said they don’t need to beg the world.
The recent catastrophe will also have an effect on the large cities, especially in the province of Sindh, where hundreds of thousands of people are said to be congregating. That could ultimately mean a change in the demography of major cities like Sukkur, Hyderabad and Karachi.