EDITORIAL: Joining forces against the floods - Monday, August 16, 2010

Source : www.dailytimes.com

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have joined forces to “set up an independent commission, comprising impartial, non-controversial and principled individuals to raise funds for rehabilitation of flood victims and to monitor the damage assessment process for judicious distribution of resources to the provinces”. This is indeed a welcome development given the situation on the ground. Pakistan has been hit by the worst-ever floods in living memory with more than 14 million people affected according to UN estimates while Prime Minister Gilani said that the floods have “affected some 20 million people, destroyed standing crops and food storages worth billions of dollars, causing a colossal loss to the national economy”. Mr Gilani might be right and the toll could actually be around 20 million given the fact that a lot of villages have been wiped off the face of the earth and we may never know how many people have lost their lives until the floods subside and a thorough survey is then conducted. The situation looks grim and one cannot help feeling helpless under the circumstances.

The response of the government, army, local people and international community has not been as good as it could have been but slowly and surely it has dawned on everyone how grave these floods are. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in Pakistan to appeal for more aid from the world. No province has been left unaffected; after Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Punjab, there have been fresh floods in Balochistan. What the world community now needs to do is rise to the occasion and help Pakistan in this critical time. There has been a swirling storm of suspicion about the transparency of aid given for the flood victims, which may be one of the reasons the international community as well as the domestic audience has not opened their purse strings till now. Thus, PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif’s idea to set up an independent and credible body to raise funds for the flood affectees is commendable. Prime Minister Gilani has shown wisdom by accepting Mr Sharif’s proposal. A credible commission would ensure that the aid reaches the flood victims and there is no corruption while distributing the aid money and relief goods. The huge damage to the infrastructure, crops and livestock cannot even be imagined. Food security is an issue that would have to be looked at seriously given the fact that most of the crops have been destroyed. The number of displaced people runs into the millions. To relocate them and later on send them back to their native places will take months, but till then they have to be taken care of with as much resilience as possible. Malnutrition and water-borne diseases would lead to more deaths in the coming months, thus we must be prepared to cope with both issues on a war-footing.

Having said that, deciding to set up a credible body will not end all our problems. Much thought has to go into how the commission will function and deal with the issues at hand. The commission must maintain its credibility because unless that is done, citizens or the international community would not be willing to pitch in. These floods may have been unprecedented but we must not let the huge relief and rescue operations discourage us. Millions of people are looking for our help and we must not let them down. *

SECOND EDITORIAL: Drowning our debt

A press conference at the Lahore Press Club the other day sent a strong and decisive message to the government on how to make the best of this bleakest of situations. Under the umbrella of the Labour Relief Campaign, three forward-thinking organisations — the Campaign for the Abolition of Third World Debt, the Labour Party of Pakistan and the National Labour Federation — came together to urge the PPP-led government to seriously take stock of the flood situation and demand the international community write off the enormous external debt owed by Pakistan. Our debt currently stands at $ 54 billion, with the country having to pay $ 3 billion in annual instalments.

Considering the emergency state of crisis Pakistan is deeply submerged in, a complete repudiation of loans ought to be on the cards. If some of the aid coming in to Pakistan at this time of need is in the form of loans, we will be in even deeper water. A case in point is February’s write off of debt owed by Haiti by the rich G-7 bloc of countries in the wake of the Haitian earthquake. If it is recognised that a “nation covered in rubble must not also be covered in debt”, what makes a nation covered in water any different? In 2005, the G-8 Summit cancelled some $ 40 billion of African debt, urging the industrialised nations to spare a thought for the poor.

Pakistan is not just poor; it has been ravaged. Floods, political instability, military interventions, economic downturns and standing tight as the front-line state in the war on terror have crushed the nation. The fact that we are diverting so much of our funds and budget to a war largely based on the US’ directives ought to have served as reason enough to, if not cancel our loans, then at very least reschedule them.

Our leaders are terrible negotiators. The past nine years have given them ample time and opportunity to shake off this terrible monetary burden. Now that Pakistan is drowning under the weight of its own mistakes, it is time the government made this argument strongly to lending countries and institutions, so that we can look forward to rebuilding a devastated Pakistan without fear of sinking further into debt.

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