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The floods of 2022 have affected over 33 Million people in Pakistan. Many parts of the country look like the sea instead of a portion of land. Around 1500 are dead and the numbers are expected to rise. Saving lives is a race against time. Diseases like Malaria, Dengue, Cholera and malnutrition are menaces that need to be dealt with before anything else. In terms of finances, a total of 40 Billion Dollar worth of land, households, roads, bridges, livestock, crops and properties have been destroyed. It is a catastrophe that Pakistan has never seen before. In the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations, “I have never seen a climate change disaster of this scale”. The effects of this flood are not over, rather they have just begun to show themselves. As per the government estimate, a GDP loss of around 3.4% will be seen. Exports will drop considerably. Jobs will be lost. Food shortage will be there and then there is the risk of default on external payments. It looks like a perfect storm at the worst of times. Now is the time to unite and set things in perspective, through such times, great nations are forged.
Before we can consider the methodologies that must be put in place to deal with flood devastation, it is essential to look at the root causes of this flood. Pakistan received 400% more water than the last 5 years average and rainfall of around 150% more than last year. The March and April heat waves melted the glaciers in the North and gave rise to massive flooding. Glacier lakes got filled and there were no watersheds, no dams and no storage techniques and so when the excess water came, it spilled into urban, suburban, agriculture and villages. Global climate change is definitely a large factor in this crisis. Pakistan is paying the price for global carbon emissions and the raise in temperature. Climate change is now. All theories and doubts can be cast aside, developing nations have begun to pay the price for the industrialization and carbon emissions that have been benefitted the rich nations only and it is going to get worse.
But global warming is not the only factor involved. Pakistan has failed to build a robust system to manage floods, mitigate disasters and save lives. Since the 2010 floods, no strategy has been put in place. There have been inferior construction plans. Minimal dams and water storage have been made. Corruption is a key feature of all irrigation projects. The political debate around building dams and spending revenue on fruitless projects. The Government of Pakistan has failed to perform its duty and the people of Pakistan have suffered for choosing the wrong leaders for many decades.
Pakistan is now in a war-like situation. There is a looming risk of default. People are dying of diseases, there are meagre resources for reconstruction and there is a probability of food shortage very soon. At this time, Government and the people need to come together. This crisis cannot be handled by Government alone. All resources, talents, means and strategies need to be deployed together keeping in view the multi-faceted challenge.
First and foremost, Pakistan needs breathing space in terms of finances. For this, Pakistan has already approached World Bank, UN, IMF and Asian Development Bank for loans, payment deferrals and aid. It has been met with some success as financial aid programs have been initiated. The UN is managing the provision of funds and relief supplies. The World Bank has also announced relief in debt payments. Due to this Mr Miftah Ismail came out with a comment, “Pakistan will not default, absolutely.” Further, friendly countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have pledged to invest in Pakistan to increase its liquidity position. These payments will stabilize Pakistan’s balance of payment while the attention of the Government should be on an innovative domestic solution.
The most abundant resource in Pakistan is human resources. With a population that is the 6th largest youth population per 1000, this is the time to mobilize this resource. As in the case of the Earthquake, the Government should unveil a comprehensive plan as a collaboration between the private sector with a special focus on multinational and corporate companies and the unemployed youth. It could be termed the “Pakistan Razakaar-Rozgar Plan” where the students and unemployed youth are provided basic training in volunteer and relief work by training institutes like NAVTEC, TEVTA and private training institutes on an emergency basis. Post-training, these young boys and girls should be attached to private sector companies that are affluent and making considerable profits in the stock market and as per their financial statements. Many of these organizations are already contributing to the relief efforts but right now there is a need of hands on the ground. These volunteer teams while gaining experience and being paid by private companies and Government owned organizations are to be sent with relief goods and as rescuers in the remote regions of Pakistan that are worst affected by floods. A section of these youth should be engaged in marketing and gathering funds and relief goods for flood affected while another section should be engaged with logistics and another with providing these relief efforts. Special teams can be made from engineering universities spread across Pakistan to engage labour in collaboration with District Governments and initiate the reconstruction of small houses, tents and facilities damaged by the floods. Similarly, medical universities can launch comprehensive programs where under-training and available doctors are spread across flood-affected areas. Their lodging and maintenance are to be borne by the Government the Chambers of Commerce of Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore. This is the shortest and the most convenient method to mobilize an abundant source, coming together for a common cause. On its own, the Government will be overwhelmed and thousands of lives can be lost to the flood and disease epidemics.
Similarly, the Government should another a tax-incentives combined with an amnesty scheme across Pakistan and for overseas Pakistanis to invest in Pakistan's banking system for coming out of the Dollar liquidity crisis and funding for flood affected areas. It is estimated by FATF that over 1 Trillion Dollars owned by Pakistan nationality holders are parked outside Pakistan. The Government must come up with an incentive plan to bring a large portion of this back into Pakistan. Mostly, these resources are available in UAE, United Kingdom, United States of America and Canada. The Government should also announce incentives for the construction sector to build low-cost housing for flood affected people, which will lessen the burden on the Government. Finally, a consolidation of incentives for remittances and a new plan for overseas employment for low to medium-skilled workers are required for increasing remittances. This will boost foreign reserves and make up for the loss of exports in the next year.
Further, there are notable NGOs working for the flood affected people but they are working in silos with little or no support from Government. There should be an incentive and support package for all NGOs working in flood-hit areas and this should include social responsibility measures of the corporate bodies, both domestic and foreign. The Government should finally ensure transparency in the utilization of aid and funds for flood-affected people and ensure timely implementation of projects under the support of civil and armed security and relief agencies. This is a time of emergency and a time to act, through such times and pressures, coal is converted into diamonds, perhaps, this is out to transform into what we were meant to be…