Feb 13, 2011

Flooded with problems, still

A first-hand account of flood affectees who remain
off-limits to the process of rehabilitation

By Irfan Mufti

Government’s performance to recover flood losses, reconstruct damaged infrastructure, and resettle displaced population has been dismally slow during the last six months. Ironically, no clear plan has been announced to do so in the coming weeks and months. The crisis caused by floods may continue for months, with remaining flood waters not expected to recede for another three to six months.

At the same time, efforts to rebuild 1.6 million homes are being compromised by infighting between federal and provincial authorities. Some rightly blame the government for inaction, as thousands of families still remain camped out on roadsides in makeshift tents. Huge swaths of Sindh province in the south and Western districts remain underwater. Just outside the villages of Johi and Jacobabad, families languish under tents overlooking fields submerged in water, clamoring for relief that they say has failed to arrive in the months since the disaster occurred.

Villagers returning from relief camps on donkeys found their homes still flooded or destroyed. My recent visit to devastated villages in Rajanpur, Muzaffagardh, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Ghotki, and Dadu confirms the plight of millions waiting for the promised support. A chair balanced on a rubber ring was the only way to ferry people across a flooded street. Villages after villages tell the stories of devastations caused by floods. “We’re very worried about our income because our land is submerged under water. Nobody has helped us,” says a 45-year-old Mohammad Khan, who has returned to his home with seven children to find a pile of rubble. “Please rebuild our homes. We don’t have anything,” says an old woman sitting under a thatched roof-house not sufficient to provide shelter to more than 3 persons but is occupied by a family of eight.

Critical infrastructure, including health clinics, power stations, roads, bridges and water supply systems were destroyed and have still not been repaired. The education infrastructure has been badly disrupted with the result that for many children returning to school in the near future is now not possible.

Reconstruction needs assessed by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank stand at $6-9 billion depending on what model for long-term reconstruction was adopted and the government expected the international community to provide ‘fresh, additional and new cash disbursement’ of about $3 billion. Although seeking an additional foreign aid of $3 billion for flood-related reconstruction, the government has started outsourcing project management and allowed international agencies to directly implement rehabilitation schemes in the name of ensuring transparent use of funds. The transactional cost (of such arrangement) will be exorbitant.

There has to be one development agenda (spearheaded by the government). Government being the protector and benefactor of its population must take the responsibility. International agencies also want to outsource project management and get directly involved with contract award process to ensure transparent utilisation of funds.

The required $3 billion were to be used for the rehabilitation of 20 million people affected by floods. International agencies, however, were to re-prioritise existing portfolios instead of additional funds. The government in the meantime wants to let go the $3 billion offered by the ADB and World Bank through re-allocation of their existing projects.

These funds were already committed by the institutions for social sector development and ought to be used for such projects. In the meantime, the government hasn’t announced any intention to shift some of its development budgets for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Besides Punjab and KP governments that have shown some promise to prioritise needs of affected population, the federal government and other provincial governments haven’t announced any such plans. This makes questionable all the claims of the government to rehabilitate 6 million people waiting to restart their lives.

Despite promises of foreign aid the flow of funds has been slow, below expectations, and unclear. There can be multiple reasons for this disappointing pace. Among the key reasons are the government failure to ‘market’ its agenda of rehabilitation, recovery, and reconstruction to its international allies and donors. Mismanagement and misuse of cash is also seriously hampering relief efforts with nearly $60 million in the Prime Ministers Fund remaining unspent. Foreign donors have stumped up just half of a UN appeal target of $1.93 billion, sparking fears for 6.8 million displaced populations as farmland could remain flooded for another six months.

Total receipts of foreign aid, from both bilateral and multilateral sources, is around $1.8 billion which is less than 40 percent of the total promised aid. Some of the main aid contributors are UN, US, UK, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Turkish government, China, European Union, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and humanitarian agencies including Oxfam, IRC, Islamic Relief, Internal Medical Corp (IMC), Red Cross and other international organisations.

The German government raised its initial donation from $1.3 million to nearly $20 million. Many aid groups are increasing their efforts as the scope of the disaster is still largely unresolved. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies began an appeal for more than $16 million, of which about 60 percent has been donated, but now expects to double the appeal. International Rescue Committee generated $5 million and Saudi Arabia had contributed more than $40 million.

The UN and its partners have received less than half of the $1.94 billion they requested for flood relief, and called on countries and international organisations to provide the rest. The United Nations also released an extra appeal for $460 million for food, clean water, shelter and medical care for an estimated six million people, many of whom have not been reached with aid. The UN has released $200 million, or nearly 44 percent, and pledged $43 million more in the next few weeks. China delivered on its previous commitment of an additional $200 million in unconditional aid to the flood-stricken country, bringing China’s total commitment to $250 million. All these and other smaller contributions are respectable and must be commended.

The government also announced cash compensation scheme, 1.6 million for the worst-off families, Rs85,450 rupees for each family, to rebuild their homes using Watan Cards. World Bank and other multilateral donors have refused to back the scheme until the use of fund is made more transparent and accountable.

Slow flow of aid can be attributed to failure of the government to show destruction and the urgency to international donors. There are two intrinsically inclusive issues on lack of international response for aiding flood affectees. First is the slow response of aid to Pakistan and, secondly, government’s failure to utilise the aid received for flood affectees. Recently, it has been announced that more than $60 million in Prime Minister’s Fund and $190 million aid by the US government are still unused.

This money is sufficient to pay second the installment of Watan Cards and provide for the basic needs of poor farmers to sow their kharif crops. Timely payment of the next installment will enable millions of affectees to reconstruct damaged houses and to recover from immediate affects of flood.

There is still a great deal to do, as people are still experiencing an acute emergency situation that requires domestic and international attention. Humanitarian access continues to be a problem in some areas because of governmental worries about the security of aid workers amid continued conflict.

The government must address these problems through immediate, intermediate and longer plans. The needs of six million most vulnerable people will be addressed through multi-sector integrated programmes in a sustainable manner.

No comments:

Post a Comment