Pakistan Needs Us

Posted on September 13, 2010

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By Mehroz Siraj

Originally published at: http://www.aiia.asn.au/access-monthly-access/ma-issue-11/423-pakistan-needs-us

Pakistan has suffered immensely in recent years.

Since the 2005 Kashmir earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people, the country has endured economic recession, terrorism, insurgency and political violence.

Now, the devastating floods swamping nearly one third of the nation put the futures of the already most vulnerable and needy, the stability of the nation and the international community’s moral standing, in a precarious balance.

More than 21 million people, roughly the entire population of Australia, have been severely affected and displaced as a result of massive flooding, which has so far affected an area the size of the UK.  At least 9 million of these are children, most at risk of waterborne disease, such as diarrhoea.

Although the floods have hit all the four provinces of Pakistan, the regions most affected have been central and southern Punjab, northern Sindh and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province (formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province).

Punjab and Sindh were the breadbaskets of Pakistan. 90 per cent of Pakistan’s total agricultural production takes place in Punjab and Sindh annually. Before the floods this was Pakistan’s agricultural heartland, worth tens of billions of dollars. Now, a total of more than 3.2 million hectares of agricultural crops, including 600,000 tonnes of wheat, at least 15 per cent of the country’s cotton crop and around 200,000 acres of rice plantation lands have been damaged or destroyed.

In northern Sindh, dairy farming was another major business for the subsistence farmers and small business owners. Now, their farms have been flooded and nearly 200,000 cattle have been destroyed.

The effect of the floods on employment will also be enormous.  Cottage industries and the agricultural sector in Pakistan employ more than 45 per cent of the nation’s total work-force, many of whom are women who work extremely hard to support their poor families.

According to the World Bank, the estimated initial losses to Pakistan’s economy from the floods were around US$ 1 billion. However, more recent estimates show that the short and long term economic costs of the floods to be nearly $43 billion, and are widespread.

Most of the affected people lived predominantly in the rural areas devastated by these floods, and have now lost their only source of earning.

These people were doing backbreaking work in their fields in which they had invested their entire life savings.  Many of these poor and working class farmers would have taken loans to fund their businesses.

Not only have their crops been washed away, but also their hopes of a better future for themselves and their children.  The sad truth is the floods now risk confining many farmers to a life of abject poverty and chronic indebtedness for loans that cannot be repaid.

The poor and landless people are now totally reliant on assistance and relief provided by local and international charities and NGOs

The sheer rise in the numbers of Internally Displaced People, IDPs, who require at least two meals a day and clothing, now add enormous pressure on Pakistan’s depleted food resources, possibly pushing up inflation tremendously.

Over the last week, a second wave of disaster has descended on flood victims – waterborne disease including malaria and diarrhoea – a major killer of young children.  Preventable diseases such as cholera and gastroenteritis are being reported in many regions.  In Sindh alone there are over 10,000 reported cases of Malaria.

The international community needs to provide urgent assistance to the flood affected people of Pakistan in order not only to relieve the suffering, but also crucially to ensure the longer-term security of the nation.  According to many media reports and speculation, aid relief has been slow because of the negative press about Pakistan and the spectre of a corrupt government.

It is now time for the international community, which has always demanded that Pakistan ‘do more’ to tackle terrorism, to stand united with and support its people. At this critical juncture, we have a responsibility to shoulder the sorrows and pains of our Pakistani brothers and sisters.  This is now the time to rise and work with them.

Australians should know that donations made directly to international humanitarian organizations like Oxfam, Save The Children and UNICEF do help improve lives.  These agencies have a long and good reputation in my home country.

Ignoring these peoples’ plight invites grave risks.  It could lead to the loss of confidence and trust of an entire generation of young, talented and aspiring Pakistanis who aspire to bring peace in South Asia, and the wider world in the spirit of the international community.

This article was originally published in the September edition of the Monthly Access newsletter, published by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, AIIA.

* Mehroz Siraj is an International student from Pakistan at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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Posted in: South Asia