WASHINGTON – In an earlier piece I had expressed deep skepticism about the possible impact of a large (8 billion dollar), multiyear US development assistance package for Pakistan. A substantial bundle of money, yes; but not large enough to make a big difference in a huge country with a mostly poor, illiterate population of more than 170 million, (this is more than half the whole of the United States).
Needs greater than what the US can provide
Pakistan’s inefficient government, embattled in a difficult and murky counterinsurgency against domestic and foreign Islamic radicals, (too many questions as to which side at least some elements within the Pakistani security services are really on), is not well positioned to effectively manage economic and social development. US assistance may help some, but not that much.
Nature conspiring against Pakistan
Since then, it would appear that nature conspired to make things a lot worse. The worst floods in recent memory have caused untold damage and the displacement of at least 14 million people who lived in some of the poorest and least developed parts of the country’s North West. As events are still unfolding, impossible at this time to assess the actual extent of the damage. For sure, the country is ill equipped to deal with the inevitable consequences of lack of food and contaminated water. Diarrhea related deaths are exploding and there is concern about cholera outbreaks. International disaster relief assistance is coming in; but, as always, it will not be able to contain the enormous damage to people and property.
Human actions made things a lot worse
So, an already troubling picture has turned into really bad. But, sadly enough, it would appear that this natural disaster has been aided by human carelessness, in the form of inexistent flood prevention plans coupled with unwise deforestation. See this excerpt from the Op-Ed piece, “Sixty-three and down on our knees“, by Ardeshir Cowasjee , published in the leading Pakistani daily Dawn, Sunday, 15 Aug, 2010:
“The true number of persons killed, displaced and affected by these tumultuous floods is not known. But it can safely be said that man in the form of the Pakistani has most ably assisted the wrath of nature. None amongst the provinces [affected by the flood] has been able to agree on whether dams should or should not be constructed and so for years the possibility of massive flooding has been on the cards and kept in abeyance.
Hillsides have been illegally denuded by various ministerial and timber mafias, forests have been chopped down, development has been shoddy — in short corruption, graft and greed have all played their part in what is happening along the banks of the great River Indus, and other rivers — today.
We must all of us bear some responsibility for the death and destruction now visited upon us. We have cast our ballots, we have brought in and acquiesced with corrupt and inept governments, we have welcomed in military ‘great redeemers’ with flowers and ladoos [traditional sweets] and then seen them off with scorn, as we have the politicians. We, all of us, are not worthy of being citizens of Pakistan — because Pakistan was never meant to be what it now is”.