Oct 31, 2010

90 days after

Watan cards will certainly help the flood affectees, if they succeed in getting the facility

By Irfan Mufti

As I write these lines, ninety days have passed after floods in Pakistan hit villages in upper Kohistan and Gilgit Baltistan but the basic task of rehabilitating flood victims is still unaddressed. Early assessments confirm that 7 million affected people still need relief, health assistance, temporary shelter and early recovery support. The other 15 million, who have gone back to their villages, are waiting for the promised aid. Among many other needs for this population three are most important: shelter, livelihood recovery, and basic healthcare.

Government schemes have helped revive the situation and disseminate seeds of recovery to the affected. Transfer of cash to these poor flood victims through Watan cards will certainly help poor to recover from their immediate economic hardships. However, the mismanagement in the system of cash distribution and card allocation may kill the purpose.

Transfer of cash to the poor is a good strategy to trickle down economic gains to those that are otherwise excluded and invisible from planning and policies. Cash transfer will also boost the local economy and employment options for the poor. The well-intended objectives can be defeated if the distribution system is not made effective, fool proof and pro-poor.

Reports of violence in several parts of the country during distribution of the cards and obtaining cash from ATM machines must be checked and addressed without delay. All these incidents could have been avoided if the local political leadership was available. Local government would have provided a good leadership in these troubled times and reaching out to the needy and deserving.

Government has so far failed to provide the needed help and leadership. In several parts of Southern Sindh villages are still inundated while major reconstruction proceeds upstream in areas, including Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Gilgit-Baltistan. Ironically, a fraction of government estimated $5billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction plans have been collected or committed.

The support thus far has come from the civil society, governmental institutions, and international community. Support from local NGOs, philanthropists, citizens groups, humanitarian groups and individuals was crucial, timely and useful. It will be difficult to quantify such help but the level of satisfaction shown by the affectees is a testimony to the effectiveness of these responses.

The assistance will decrease in coming weeks as the rehabilitation actions will take over immediate relief and recovery help. Rehabilitation and reconstruction work demand systemic planning, resource allocation, project financing and monitoring and only specialised institutions can perform such functions. Government has so far failed to set-up or strengthen institutional framework to manage rehabilitation and resettlement activities.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and its provincial and district arms have not been given any clear role and mandate, thus they haven’t evolved as viable institution to deal with complex nature of rehabilitation and recovery.

The international response was slow but substantive. UN agencies, (including UNICEF, UNFPA, UNHCR, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, etc.) have been actively from the very beginning of the crisis and meaningfully contributed in emergency, relief and early recovery phases.

Out of the major contributors of financing for recovery and rehabilitation United Nations tops the list. The United Nations approved $1.88 rehabilitation plan for flood-devastated areas and will finance 417 of the 471 projects submitted by the government in the field of agriculture, community restoration, education, health and shelter. The UN sent out three appeals to its 192 member states for 1.6 billion dollars, the largest financial appeal in the UN history and has garnered 668 million dollars, just over 64 percent.

The World Bank, instead of providing additional financing, has allowed the government to divert one billion dollar from its on-going projects for rehabilitation and recovery work in flood-hit areas. Out of this one billion dollar $700 million would be available for early recovery and reconstruction projects and $300 million for financing flood-related imports. The government has announced to use most of the financing facility for importing oil to meet higher furnace oil requirements in the power sector and additional petroleum products to offset supply gaps arising out of closure of the country’s largest oil refinery as a result of flooding.

USAID has provided $50 million under the 2009 Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act to support early flood recovery programs such as rehabilitation of community infrastructure and livelihood recovery activities. This funding will bring the total amount of US immediate humanitarian assistance in response to the flooding to more than $200 million.

The UK government has committed £64 million (more than 8.5 billion PKR) to help affected population. In addition, a £10million (approx 1.3 billion PKR) bridge project has been brought forward. Other international bilateral and multilateral donors have also promised assistance and the total of all such assistance will not go beyond 100 million dollars. With these figures confirmed the government is still faced with a challenge of raising more than $2.5 billion.

There are only two other options left for the government to consider filling this funding gap. Divert major part of public sector development programme funds to rehabilitation purposes or raise more revenue from the public. Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments have already indicated that their Public Sector Development Programmes (PSDP) for the current year had become irrelevant after the devastation caused by the floods and that they would have to divert most of uplift funds towards relief and reconstruction work.

Sindh and Balochistan governments are also planning to divert their funds for rehabilitation. Federal government rightly says that after new national finance commission formula most of the development funds are already transferred to provinces and now provinces have to decide about these funds. Federal grants can be utilised for rebuilding major infrastructure damages. The total allocation of PSDP for 2010-11 is Rs663 billion, while for other development expenditure an amount of Rs124 billion was being allocated. The provinces have been allocated an amount of Rs373 billion for budget estimates 2010-11 in their PSDP as against Rs300 billion in 2009-10. This means if provincial governments allocate 50 percent of allocated PSDP it can fill the financial gap for rehabilitation.

At this critical juncture government has to consider two important and interlinked choices: explore other options to generate resources to finance rehabilitation and reconstruction tasks and, secondly, to set up sustainable foundations to prevent and manage such disasters in future.

For revenue generation the government is walking on a tight rope. The idea of taxing the rich hasn’t kicked off well as provinces have not shown interest in this option. It is, however, important that the government should show its resolve to put this responsibility to those that enjoy perks and benefits but contribute very little in collective societal well-being.

Setting sustainable grounds for rehabilitation and resettlement should be part of government priority. Had there been effective land reforms, reliable irrigation and river management systems, efficient flood warning systems the effects of these floods would have been much less.

The recent natural disasters and subsequent humanitarian crises should provide enough cause of alarm for policy makers to attend to these long-term needs. Government must put such structures in place and provide sustainable policy and fiscal solutions. These include land reforms for poor and landless peasantry as ownership of land and control over natural resources will increase their abilities to cope with such disasters.

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