A month after Pakistan’s worst flood in 80 years
, millions remain without access to food, clean water, or health care. Sohail Malik
, chairman of Innovative Strategies in Islamabad, joined academics and students on September 15th to discuss the humanitarian crisis at a Georgetown University panel event, “Monsoon Madness: Governance, Food Security, Environmental Sustainability, and Climate Change
.” The panelists discussed the failure on the part of the Pakistani government to address the crisis. “Everything that can be done wrong is being done wrong,” Malik said.
According to Reuters, the 10 million people displaced by the flooding have overwhelmed the Pakistani government’s disaster management efforts and fueled social unrest throughout the country. An estimated 15 million people currently lack access to clean water and 8 million lack food, explained Shannon Scribner, senior policy analyst at Oxfam America.
In addition, 21 percent of Pakistan’s GDP comes from the agricultural sector, which has been severely damaged by the flood waters. The international community’s response has, so far, failed to address the country’s needs. The UN recently issued its largest-ever natural disaster appeal – more than $2 billion – less than one fifth of which has been contributed so far.
Scribner attributed the reticence of international donors to the high level of corruption in the Pakistani government and its relatively young disaster management agency – the Pakistani National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), which was created in 2006 after the 2005 earthquake. Sadly, international donors have not stepped in to fill the void.
The slow response to the crisis has damaged the image of the government and the international community in the eyes of many Pakistanis. In response, said Malik, some have turned toward extremist groups, who were the first non-governmental groups to provide flood relief (although the United States and others disagree). The Pakistani military, which has provided the strongest government relief efforts, has had to divert some of their forces from fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda in order to respond to the floods.
Malik pointed out that the areas of Pakistan that are hotbeds of extremism also have the greatest food insecurity. Even before the flood, he said, 60 percent of rural Pakistanis were living at or below subsistence level (as of 2006, 24 percent live below the poverty line). Now, with millions more hungry and homeless, this is a “breeding ground for something that is about to explode if not addressed,” said Malik. “Addressing their hunger is really the best way to address the war on terror.”
Georgetown professor and former USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, who attended the event, said that the flood has the potential to spur a political upheaval. In his paper, “The Coming Food Coups,” Natsios explains why famines are historically linked with coups. Failed states such as Pakistan, he writes, have a high likelihood of experiencing political consequences from famine because they have little government accountability and weak feedback mechanisms that can provide political leaders with information about the state of their country.
While the international press has reported protests in urban areas of Pakistan, the rural population, who were most affected by the floods, have largely been absent from the media coverage. The rural people “do not have a voice,” said Malik. “How much more will these people endure before they come onto the streets?”
Sources: CIA, Reuters, UN, Washington Quarterly.
Photo Credit: “Pakistan floods,” courtesy of flickr user IRIN Photos.