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Pakistan Catastrophe – Lets be with them

19 August, 2010

By Zaheerul Hassan


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More than 1,700 people confirmed dead and over 20 million made homeless in the ongoing catastrophe of Pakistan. The country is reeling from the scale of the disaster wrought by torrential monsoon rains. The Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said Pakistan now faced challenges similar to those during the 1947 partition of the subcontinent when as many as 500,000 people were killed. Flood 2010 so far is one of the major natural disasters of history of Pakistan. Consequently, enormous loss of life, massive destruction to property, ruining towns and villages, smashing industrial machinery and shattering power plants made the country’s functions freeze. The latest UN briefing presented the distribution of affected population as follows: Punjab (8 million), Khyber Pakhthunkhwa (4.7 million), Sindh (1 million), Balochistan (273,000), other (32,000). The figures are expected to be even higher as the assessment continues.

On August 15, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has arrived Pakistan to express solidarity with flood-affected people those are experiencing the worst ever floods in the country`s history. Shortly after his arrival, he held a meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani. He also called on President Asif Ali Zardari and with him carried out an aerial view of the flood- affected areas in southern Punjab province. According to UN Chief, the purpose of his visit was to fully mobilize all possible resources to help and send a message world over of gravity of situation in Pakistan. Ms. Nicki Beunet UN spokeswomen for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that biggest relief operation in UN history is needed in Pakistan.

Pakistan Armed Forces evacuated over 30000 people, established many medical camps, dropped over 20000 ton rations (include their own ration), constructed temporary bridges over rivers and also all ranks donated one day pay to the victims of their countrymen. Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervaiz kayani is continuously supervising the flood relief operation. While talking to the media during his visit to flood ruined areas, he said that Pakistan Army is doing what she can do. Commander Peshawar Corps, Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik visited various parts of flood affected areas of District Charsada, Peshawar and Nowshera and witnessed ongoing rescue and relief activities. Generally masses are satisfied over Pakistan Army role during natural calamities and same has been acknowledged by the public in the current tragedy too.

However, flood 2010 reminded me another flood of 1988 which left devastating effects both sides of River Sutlej. I happened to be one of the team member of flood relief squads which carried out rescued operations in 1973 (then I was a student) and 1988 (then as a Capt). I cannot forget my comrades, Lt Col (R) (Then Major) Sabir, Brig (then Capt) Naveed, Maj (then Lt) Ismail, Col (then Lt) Akhtar Nawaz, Maj (then Lt) Mazhar, along with the brave troops of my unit (“The Volunteers”), carried out flood relief operations continuously for hours and hours under the leadership of Brig(R) (then Lt Col) Muhammad Saleem Khan, SJ. We operated almost in more than 100 Sq Km and rescued thousands of individuals and their pets after untiring days and night’s efforts. We really never used to feel any fatigue, stress, lust, thirst and hunger while operating in the areas. It was normal practice that my comrades and troops used to give their own haversacks to the needy peoples.

Thus, my past experience dragged me in the resentful feelings of flood affected people once they lose their love ones, shelters, and spread hands in front of others for financial and martial assistances. I still remember that old lady who refused to ride in the motorboat without her domestic hen and goat. Thus, we used to make sure that poor individuals along with their pets were loaded on the boats. The government machinery was employed in coordination with the army and elaborative spirit has been shown by the nation too. However nation is yet to display spirit as that has been noticed in the floods of 1955, 1956, 1973, 1988 and earth quake of 2005. Multiple factors and reasons have put the adverse effects in mobilization of masses for fighting the natural calamity

In this context, media projection of unprecedented damages and miseries of deluge hit people created fear and anxiety among public. Extremely pathetic scenes presenting most awful situations of human were shown by media. Even one segment of electronic and print media became zardari centric and started criticizing the Govt for its slow and inadequate response to the flood disaster. In fact the magnitude of damage suggested that it was beyond the capacity of govt to conduct such a large scale relief operation. International donor agencies assistance is genuinely needed to help the flood victims but that too got reluctant to come in front because of negative media projection. The other reasons of poor public response could be that proper planning of fighting natural calamities has not been made so far. Moreover political parties are pulling each other legs for point scoring rather than physically motivating and mobilizing the masses.

We also know that Pakistan is a front line ally of the forces fighting global war on terror. It is quite evident extremists have a history of gaining local support in such like emergencies as they move in quickly to fill the vacuum created by Govt’s inadequate response. TTP spokesman Azam Tariq has recently offered $20 millions as aid to flood victims if govt stops accepting American Aids. In this connection Major Genral Athar Abbass categorically stated that no chance of Taliban to take over flood effected areas. Pakistan Army is already taking care of this effects and no chance for Taliban to regain the affected areas. The United States has so far donated the most to the relief effort, at least $70 million, and has sent military helicopters to rescue stranded people and drop off food and water. Washington hopes the assistance will help improve its image in the country. It’s the time for international donors to come forward and win over the hearts and minds of public while helping calamity hit areas. Moreover predatory efforts of extremists must be frustrated by offering help to flood victims.

On our national front, I would like to say that during the past few years electronic media has progressed well, almost 60 Channels are covering various aspects of the life. The issue of flood relief is rightly on the top of their agenda. Unfortunately, the national and international issues are being debated just to have an edge over other channels. Thus there is a need of framing some polices to guard national interests. The country is under going a very critical situation due to the war on terror, flood and poor economic conditions. Political top brass should get-together on one platform and displayed unity to fight the national disaster. They must stop criticizing the govt and set personal examples to donate from their own pockets. Some plans and contingencies should be prepared to fight back the natural calamites. As we have already knew that the most difficult phase would be rehabilitation phase of flood affected areas. The complete facts should be highlighted to the media; similarly media should also show responsibility while making any issue in the air.

Anyhow, media should counter anti state propaganda instead providing space for anti Pakistan writers in their publication to win the goodwill and making money at the cost of national integrity and security. At the end I would like to make an appeal to my nation to come out and join the hands of victims of flood for their rehabilitations. We can help the affected families while paying them the cost of one dish in Iftari, expenditures of Umra, cost of Eid’s cloths, amount of Zakaat and Fitran.

 

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