Sunday, February 20, 2011

Apathy of another kind

When the floods hit Pakistan last July, all private channels stormed into the muddy waters to capture events not captured by others and took credit of being the first to reach the desperate people. The Punjab Chief Minister took pains to reach the flood victims on a motorcycle; taking a “lift” from someone heading towards the flooded area (I wonder why he staged the drama). A few ministers, and even the president and the PM clad in beautifully creased attire had photo sessions with the shivering people still stranded in mud and slime. And then by and by, events other than floods became more important and media hype too died down to report other issues.

Angelina Jolie flew all the way from her cozy abode to sit like ordinary people with the poor women on a village cot and was angry when she was given gifts in a state banquet in her honour. She went back disgusted and unhappy as she could not find the hearts bleeding and eyes crying over the tragic loss of life and property in the higher ups of the government.

Even there is no more talk of the so called model villages for the flood victims, but we do hear construction of parliament lodges at an exuberant cost of Rs. 3 billion for the already filthy rich members of the parliament. We also hear of import of bullet proof cars but not a mention of taking flood victims back from their now tattered tents braving the severe winter.

I have voiced my concern a number of times and I am sure none of these would have been read by anyone. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has been continuously voicing its concerns and is of the view that the problems of the flood-hit population all over Pakistan seem to have come off the priority list even though the difficulties facing the affected people remain as challenging as ever and in some areas have even aggravated.

Conducting a survey and ascertain the damage and needs assessment in 33 flood-affected districts across the country, the HRCP is of the opinion that the government policies to deal with the post-flood situation lack consistency and do not take into account the dissimilar needs and the varying nature and extent of damage in different areas. HRCP has also pointed out towards serious allegations of corruption in distribution of material and financial assistance by the official and non-government organizations. Discrimination on various grounds, including political and official patronage, have also reported in provision of assistance and in reconstruction.

The role of the NDMA seems minimal or even to the extent of saying non-excitant to provide and implement any worthwhile and comprehensive strategy for the rehabilitation of the flood affected people. The much trumpeted Watan Card has died its own death after paying a paltry Rs. 20,000 to flood victims, which even has not reached everyone. The second tranche of Rs. 80,000 is not in sight.

The work to restore the destroyed infrastructure, including roads, bridges, schools and health facilities is pathetically slow paced. People are finding difficulties in going back to their flood hit areas as in most of the cases either the flood water is still standing or has made the area look like a quagmire. Those who have made it to their desolate lands have not been given seeds and other assistance to relive their lives and continue with the cultivation. Farmers and tenants who lacked influential patronage missed out on financial and material assistance, including seeds and fertilizer, building material or work for their subsistence, are now finding it difficult to start afresh.

We need to keep talking and reminding the government not to forget the poor who have suffered and lost their life long belongings and desperately need our help. Our media too needs to find time and send their teams to continue monitoring the plight of the flood victims, lest these poor are forgotten forever

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