Aug 26, 2010

Callous corruption

Nosheen Saeed
The flood situation demands immediate action and no slip-ups. Or we will end up facing the demons arising out of this catastrophe, such as economic collapse, political instability, civil unrest and conflicts and rise of extremism, as well as outbreak of disease or epidemics, psychological disorders, food insecurity, sharply worsened poverty, lawlessness, agricultural crisis and environmental disaster.
The government of Pakistan should have declared national emergency, which is a condition of urgent need for action or assistance. A declared emergency allows the government to react more quickly than it can during normal times, helps in prioritising and focusing on the catastrophe, and allows state agencies to quickly respond to the situation.
According to reports pouring in, looters and armed bandits are exacerbating the misery of flood survivors by stealing their valuables, cattle and food. In the village of Karampur, outside the city of Sukkur, the flood victims lashed out at the government for its failure to protect them from looters.
There are widespread complaints of political interference in relief distribution. In Camp Koroona, in Nowshera district, flood victims residents accused the local cadres of the ANP and the PPP of distributing aid among their respective handpicked affiliates and non-deserving people.
Involvement of politicians in the distribution of relief goods, with the civil administration sidelined, has stirred controversies, raising the issue of transparency in the process. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government accused the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of unequal distribution of relief goods and of being more generous in dispatching relief goods to Multan, the hometown of Prime Minister Gilani. Multan is one of the favoured districts to receive the lion's share of goods donated by different countries and charity organisations.
The information minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Mian Iftikhar, described the response of the federal government and the NDMA to the crisis as pathetic and said his province had been ignored in distribution of relief goods. "The United Nations and other donor agencies say that 95 per cent of the damage has taken place in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, while the NDMA is sending relief goods to [other] areas," Mian Iftikhar lamented.
Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer stated that he was providing aid to everyone irrespective of their political affiliations. But Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif has complained that the federal government had not given even a "single penny" so far for rescue and relief.
There are cases of federal ministers preferring their own constituencies to the cities of Sukkur and Hyderabad, and politicians and cabinet ministers squabbling over a breach in a canal.
Such shameless conduct, in callous disregard of human suffering, has reinforced the already widespread perception that Pakistan is being ruled by a corrupt plutocracy completely lacking in public responsibility. The government is so full of itself that it has no time for people's problems, which is why it has no clue of governance and no sense of purpose.
The lives of millions have been shattered and they are facing an uncertain future deprived of everything they ever possessed. Speaking at a tent city in Sukkur, mother of five Mai Meema sighed: "We were poor people but never slept on an empty stomach. This flood has made us beggars. We have nothing at all."
The government needs to grasp the gravity of the situation. A crisis is usually a decisive turning point in a situation or state of affairs, and everything depends on the outcome of it. We have no option but to respond appropriately, or else be prepared for extreme consequences.

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