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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Floods are seasonal but debts are perennial!

Torrential monsoon rains triggered the most severe flooding in Pakistan’s recent history, washing away villages and leaving around 3.4 million children in need of assistance and at increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning and malnutrition.

Currently, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is drowning both in Floods and Debts which need to be addressed at the same time. According to estimates by the NDMA (National Disaster Management Agency) the damage caused by raging waters is around $ 20 billion while the republic is required to pay back $ 22 billion as debt payment next year. A financial collapse seems imminent unless an effective plan is formulated to deal with the dual challenges faced by the nation as the coffers of the state are empty. Mismanagement has been the order of the day in dealing with the raging waters and uncontrolled expenses. The world is ready to help provided there is an implementable game plan which is currently non-existent.

After the two major calamities in the current millennium (Earthquake 2005, Floods 2010) despite relief the rehabilitation and prevention measures have been grossly inadequate. Implementation remains a big challenge as the state apparatus is unable to deliver mainly due to corruption combined with incompetence and compounded with lack of accountability. There is a lack of will and direction. The Armed Forces do help in recovery and relief operations but re-building is not part of their charter.

Read more: Angelina Jolie writes a painful note on floods in Pakistan

Understanding the matter better

NDMA is merely a disaster reporting agency that collects and shares data leaving behind the on-ground rehabilitation efforts for the local administration to handle. At the end of the day, nothing much is achieved. The money is wasted and the people remain unprotected at the mercy of the flowing water that rages to reach the sea its final destination.

Debt is death for a nation as it results in internal bleeding. Important members of the current regime use terms like the country is on ‘Ventilators’ or in ‘ICU’ indicating that the disease is terminal which in fact it is not. Uncontrolled expenses are to be blamed. There is no concept of living within means. Till October 1958, Pakistan was debt free. Austerity and simplicity were the order of the day before the power game started by the dictators. It was under the first usurper that the republic started to borrow money for fast-track development of the few at the cost of many.

Since then there has been no looking back, even the sovereignty of the nation has been compromised. The political leadership lacks the courage to tighten the belt. The unholy alliance between the bureaucracy, armed forces and judiciary have stalled change. Important accountability clauses of the constitution (Article 212) have been removed to protect the corrupt. NAB (National Accountability Bureau) has been grounded by the recent amendments, it has been rendered toothless. The onus of proof has been shifted to the state involving cases of assets beyond means.

It is widely believed that individuals with immovable assets are sitting ducks that can be held accountable but no more in the land of the pure. El-Capone the infamous Mafia Boss of Chicago was nabbed for ‘Tax Evasion’ as his assets did not match his declared income. There is a simple correlation between assets/declared income/paid taxes by which corrupt practices can be easily exposed.

Fortunately, the people of the republic are very resilient and have learned to survive despite the concern of the state apparatus. After the flood waters receded in 2010, the rebuilding process was self-started by the affectees with minimum hand-holding by the state. The aid money that poured in was mostly squandered and misused. No preventive measures were adopted to avoid future calamities. The most publicized NDMA should highlight its performance indicators in the last twelve years (2010 to 2022) between the two massive inundations of the land. Today even our food security stands are seriously compromised.

Read more: Floods in Pakistan: Global response and responsibilities

Import of Wheat has already started while the ‘Farmers’ are protesting in the federal capital for better return of their labor. What could have been managed as a major resource has turned into a menace. In some areas of Sindh, there is no outlet for the water as natural channels of flow have been tampered with.

The father of the nation said; “No force on earth can undo Pakistan”, it is time to understand and modify his statement; “No external force can undo Pakistan” as the enemy is hidden within. There is a famous Punjabi saying; ” Munji Thalay Daang Pharna” (Before going to bed swing the ‘Rod’ underneath to make sure that nothing is hidden). Fortunately, it is the informal sector that sustains the economy by providing goods, services and employment otherwise it would have been all over by now, and the ‘Bed Bugs’ would have consumed us.

The use of ‘Daang’ (Rod) under the bed is urgently needed for a massive clean-up operation to start. We are well equipped to face the external threat but ill-prepared for the ‘Hidden Parasites’ under the couch where we sleep unaware of their fangs.

I remember the words of my old man; “One is usually taken for a ride by the people we rely on”. The state is fast losing its ‘Trust’, it has now reached to a point of being irrelevant and an unnecessary burden that we can no longer carry. In the words of my friend Shahid Kardar the pragmatic economist, “Shut down all non-performing departments/entities” with NDMA being one of them. Bring down the expenses of the state, retire the debt and prepare for the threat of approaching floods expected in the coming rainy season which is around the corner that is the only way forward for Pakistan.

A major course correction is required to clear the path for the flood to flow and the nation to grow, accumulated rainwater the gift of nature will soon recede leaving behind the man-made ‘Debt Trap’.



The writer is Ex-Chairman Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be reached at  fmaliks@hotmail.com. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.