Pakistan's deadly monsoons: Why did the government fail?
Islamabad, Aug 29: Tens of millions of people across Pakistan have been battling the worst monsoon floods in over a decade. Pakistan's Climate Minister Sherry Rehman said on Monday that the "crisis of unimaginable proportions" had put a third of Pakistan "under water."
Months of unprecedented monsoon rains and catastrophic flooding have wreaked havoc affecting the lives of over 33 million people across Pakistan.
Officials say that 1,061 people have died since the start of the seasonal rains. The final toll could be much higher because roads and bridges were swept away by the heavy rains, cutting off parts of the northern Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
The floodwaters have also destroyed crops, affecting over 2 million acres of land in the southern province of Sindh alone — which also reportedly incurred the losses of over 400 billion rupees (€5 billion, $5 billion) because of the floods.
Widespread grief and devastation
Thirty-year-old coal miner Hussain Buksh Marri from Pakistan's western province, Balochistan, lost three members of his family in July to the catastrophe. His father, brother and cousin were among those who died.
Marri told DW that he and his other cousin were injured during the floods. He complained that no assistance had been provided, despite widespread destruction that overwhelmed his town's markets, houses, buildings and crops.
Marri and his family were making preparations for his upcoming wedding to his future wife when the devastating floods made his family homeless and snatched away whatever meager resources they had.
The coal miner deplored the authorities' slow response. He told DW that it took them six days to recover one of his loved one's bodies. Marri said he has so far only received promises of help, but no actual assistance. He added that his mother has been in shock since the death of her husband and son.
Failed rescue efforts
Sixty-year-old Razzak Shahid was forced to flee Punjab's Fazilpur town on August 18 after around 65% of the urban area became submerged in water.
Shahid told DW that more than 20 surrounding villages had also been overwhelmed by the floodwaters for days and that authorities didn't have enough boats in which to rescue people.
When locals pointed out bodies, floating in the water, to emergency workers, they were told that the rescue service did not have the capacity to save people who had survived, let alone recover those who had lost their lives.
Shahid said that this contradicted government claims that they are helping people.
Locals unleash anger at government
Sources told DW that people are so furious about what they described as their government's inaction, that they surrounded a visiting provincial minister in south Punjab, forcing him to flee after residents protested against the indifference of the ruling elite towards the plight of those hit by floods.
Similar scenes were also witnessed in Sindh where people vented their anger.
Shahid told DW that his town has been without power for five days. He added that people needed camps, medicine, food, mosquito nets, de-watering machines and other items — none of which were adequately available.
Diseases have started breaking out, yet no preventative action has been taken, Shahid said, adding that anger has been simmering over the government's apathy towards the victims of the monsoon.
Heart-wrenching scenes of five men in a northwestern province town making desperate attempts to save themselves further enraged locals.
Images depicting children who had been washed away in Balochistan prompted many to heavily criticize the ruling elite, who they claimed, are busy in political wrangling and making trips abroad.
Why the lackluster response?
Pakistani social media has been abuzz with complaints against the government's slow response in extending help and support.
Some politicians believe that the government's apathy and sheer incompetence is leading to more deaths and destruction.
Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan — a parliamentarian from religious political organization Jamaat-e-Islami — asserted that several towns across the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had made desperate appeals for help.
But authorities failed to rescue the people crying for help, he told DW, adding that the government did not make plans to prevent the destruction — despite knowing for months in advance that the monsoon rains would be unusual this year.
Kishwar Zehra, another parliamentarian, bemoaned the attitude of politicians that are ruling flood-affected regions.
It is highly unfortunate that helicopters are available for politicians and rulers — but not to rescue people, she told DW. It can be called nothing but apathy and indifference of the ruling elite towards the grief-stricken people, she added.
Some activists believe the current political tensions are a factor hampering relief efforts.
Former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, has been locked in a tussle with the Sharif government — registering cases against Khan and his comrades while Khan holds massive rallies to drum up support for ousting the federal government.
Quetta-based activist Yasmin Lehri believes relief and assistance is low on the list of the rulers' priorities. Khan's party rules four of the six regions affected by floods, she told DW.
Lehri said that Khan has been spending billions of rupees on political activities while the ministers in these four regions prepare for these actions instead of helping flood affected people.
The federal government is equally responsible, she said, claiming it was also busy settling political scores with Khan instead of coming up with a comprehensive package to help people.
Are the disaster-management tools enough?
Some experts believe that the government's disaster management bodies do not have the capacity to deal with destruction on an epic scale caused by floods and rains.
Islamabad-based development expert Amir Hussain told DW that these bodies — which have a short supply of helicopters, boats, resources, funds and manpower — have been stocked with non-professional people.
International NGOs could have helped, Hussain told DW, but the government has put in place a complicated and lengthy scrutiny process for aid organizations who wish to work in flood-affected areas, resulting in a reluctance to work in Pakistan.
The government dismisses the notion that it did not do enough to help people. Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, a former Khyber Pakhtunkhwagovernor and a central leader of the ruling party, said that the government has already announced monetary compensation for the affected people.
We have released 38 billion rupees, besides calling in the army that is rescuing people and extending help, he told DW, adding the prime minister is visiting flood-affected areas to help people. Jhagra believes that these are unusual rains and floods, breaking the 30-year record.
But even then, we are doing our best to help people, he added.