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Published: September 25th 2010
Her face says it allIt's the faces that say it all
The mixture of hopelessness combined with disbelief says it all about the worst flood in living memory
. Bewilderment at what happened through an unstoppable force of nature measured by some cynicism that we who pass by in our 4X4 Lexus off-roader will actually do something to help. They are probably right. Altho' my current client has distributed tents and other commodities it remains to be seen whether the Government of Pakistan and the international aid agencies will do more than do the minimum. Pakistan is so mistrusted that the international community has dragged its feet more than usual. These people have lost everything to a flood of Biblical proportions and it is almost beyond imagination what it must have been like to watch the water slowly rise. This wasn't a dramatic, disaster-movie destruction, but a slow, inexorable, creeping up of water that destroyed fields and crops and took away precious animals.
But let's dig a little deeper than usual. First talk to the District Coordination Officer (DCO), a Pakistani equivalent of the old colonial district commissioner, someone with pretty much life and death power. He says that most people have gone back to their land - he simply told them there was no money and they should go back and
The old man
He managed to keep his animals safe and listened respectfully to the visiting foreigners. But is there an edge of doubt there that anything will come from this visit?
make the best of it. The people looking mournful by the side of the road in makeshift tents provided by well-meaning foreigners are simply (his word) "fishing" - hoping that someone will give them something else rather than getting on with re-building. Mmmmh
And was it an unstoppable force of nature? In a sense, yes and it's worth noting that Pakistan has been hit by a series of such disasters starting with the earthquake in 2005. But, and again, but....... according to the DCO the flood was entirely predictable. Look at the Indus River System, he says; it's bound to flood, and indeed the flood is a manifestation of a living river. The thing is, the authorities responsible for predicting floods and managing their outcomes (yes, the water could have been diverted by strategic breaches in embankments to move it away from habitable and farm land) failed to execute (or even have) Flood Plans. They just hoped for the best, and the best didn't happen. And then there is the assertion made in some quarters that the floods were
diverted - but away from the commercial farms owned by the rich and towards land inhabited by squatters.
They probably think it's fun... But not really with no clean water and not enough food
don't have any evidence of that, but it is the case in Muzzafarghar located at the confluence of the Indus and the Chenab Rivers that those worst affected are people who lived outside the embankment that surrounds the majority of the habitations including the town. The flood victims are all people who have chosen to live on the so-called "katcha" lands - the fertile flood plain. Most are squatters or tenant farmers with very loose land holding rights.
None of this diminishes the genuine suffering. From what I have seen - and it's my professional business to know - it will take years to recover the agriculture that has been lost. The damage doesn't look dramatic - indeed one reason I haven't included a photograph is that to the layman it looks like a few flooded or muddy field and some dead plants. But these represent the entire destruction of the cotton crop, so a huge loss of industrial raw material; destruction of the maize (corn) crop and so loss of animal fodder for the dairy industry, loss of mango trees .... the list goes on and on.
My job is to help plan what to do to recover and reconstruct this mess. It's one of the greatest challenges I've faced. There is no simple answer and we will have to go carefully to avoid making the situation worse. We have to remember that the people count and the people need to help us understand what they need to recover. So it's a looking and listening job - one that will will last a long time.
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