Pakistan’s killer monsoons: why did the government fail? | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW

Tens of millions of people across Pakistan have battled the worst monsoon floods in more than 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 floods have taken their toll, affecting the lives of more than 33 million people across Pakistan.

Officials say 1,061 people have died since the seasonal rains began. The final toll could be much higher as roads and bridges have been washed away by heavy rains, cutting off parts of the northern Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Floodwaters have also destroyed crops, affecting more than 2 million acres of land in the southern province of Sindh alone – which is also believed to have suffered losses of more than 400 billion rupees (5 billion euros, 5 billion dollars) due to flooding.

Widespread grief and devastation

Hussain Buksh Marri, a 30-year-old coal miner from Pakistan’s western province of Balochistan, lost three family members in the disaster in July. His father, brother and cousin were among those who died.

Marri told DW that he and his other cousin were injured in the floods. He complained that no aid had been provided, despite the widespread destruction that overwhelmed markets, homes, buildings and crops in his town.

Marri and his family were preparing for his upcoming wedding to his future wife when the devastating floods rendered his family homeless and snatched the meager resources they had.

The coal miner lamented the slow response from the authorities. He told DW it took them six days to recover the body of one of his relatives. Marri said he had so far only received promises of help, but no real help. He added that his mother has been in shock since the deaths of her husband and son.

Millions of acres of rich farmland have been inundated by weeks of uninterrupted rain

Failed rescue efforts

Razzak Shahid, 60, was forced to flee the city of Fazilpur, Punjab, on August 18 after around 65% of the urban area was submerged in water.

Shahid told DW that more than 20 surrounding villages had also been submerged in floodwaters for days and authorities did not have enough boats to rescue people.

When locals reported bodies floating in the water to rescuers, they were told that the rescue services had no capacity to save those who had survived, let alone recover those who had lost their lives.

Shahid said this contradicted government claims that he was helping people.

Residents unleash anger on government

Sources told DW that people were so enraged at what they described as their government’s inaction, that they surrounded a visiting provincial minister in South Punjab, forcing him to flee after the residents protested against the indifference of the ruling elite towards the plight of those affected by the floods. .

Similar scenes were also seen in Sindh where people expressed their anger.

Shahid told DW his town has been without power for five days. He added that people needed camps, medicine, food, mosquito nets, drying machines and other items – none of which were adequately available.

Diseases started to break out, but no preventive measures were taken, Shahid said, adding that anger was simmering over the government’s apathy towards monsoon victims.

Heartbreaking scenes of five men in a town in the North West Province making desperate attempts to save themselves have infuriated residents even further.

Images depicting children who had been taken to Balochistan have prompted many to strongly criticize the ruling elite, which they say is busy with political wrangling and foreign travel.

Why the lackluster response?

Pakistani social media has been abuzz with complaints about the government’s slow response in providing aid and support.

Some politicians believe that government apathy and sheer incompetence is leading to more death and destruction.

Senator Mushtaq Ahmad Khan – a parliamentarian from the religious political organization Jamaat-e-Islami – claimed that several towns in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province had made desperate pleas for help.

But authorities failed to rescue those who were crying out for help, he told DW, adding that the government had no plans to prevent the destruction – despite knowing for years months in advance that monsoon rains would be unusual this year.

Kishwar Zehra, another parliamentarian, deplored the attitude of politicians who govern the regions affected by the floods.

It is very unfortunate that helicopters are available for politicians and leaders – but not for rescuing people, she told DW. This can only be described as the apathy and indifference of the ruling elite towards the grieving people, she added.

Political tensions

Some activists believe that the current political tensions are a factor hampering relief efforts.

Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has been locked in a tussle with the Sharif government – registering cases against Khan and his comrades as Khan stages mass rallies to drum up support to oust the federal government.

Quetta-based activist Yasmin Lehri says relief and assistance is not on the leaders’ list of priorities. Khan’s party leads four of the six flood-affected regions, she told DW.

Lehri said Khan had spent billions of rupees on political activities while the ministers of these four regions were preparing for these actions instead of helping those affected by the floods.

The federal government is also responsible, she said, saying it was also busy settling political scores with Khan instead of coming up with a comprehensive package to help people.

Are disaster management tools sufficient?

Some experts believe that government disaster management bodies lack the capacity to deal with large-scale destruction caused by floods and rains.

Amir Hussain, an Islamabad-based development expert, told DW that these bodies – which lack helicopters, boats, resources, funds and manpower – have been filled with unprofessional people.

International NGOs could have helped, Hussain told DW, but the government has put in place a long and complicated review process for aid organizations wanting to work in flood-affected areas, resulting in a reluctance to work. in Pakistan.

Government position

The government rejects the idea that it has not done enough to help people. Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, a former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor and central leader of the ruling party, said the government had already announced monetary compensation for those affected.

We have released 38 billion rupees, in addition to calling in the army which is rescuing people and extending aid, he told DW, adding that the Prime Minister was visiting the areas affected by the floods to help people. Jhagra thinks it was unusual rain and flooding, breaking the 30-year record.

But even then, we are doing our best to help people, he added.

Edited by: Keith Walker

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