Slow Flood Response in Pakistan Creates Resurgence Opportunities for Militants

In July, following monsoon rains of unprecedented intensity, Pakistan suffered one of the worst floods in its history. To date over 2000 people have died and the UN estimates that 21 million people have been injured or are homeless due to flooding. Damage to structures and crops is estimated at $4.5 billion. In the longer term, officials estimate a $43 billion loss to the Pakistani economy. At its height, the flood had submerged one-fifth of Pakistan’s land mass under water.

Pakistan is a semi-industrialized country and not a rich one. Per capita, the nation’s gross domestic product is about one-tenth of Canada’s. As a result, the government has been relatively slow in mounting a response to the disaster, and their efforts have been criticised as sluggish and scattershot.

The Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), the United Nations and other groups have been working now for months now to mitigate the effects of the flood.  Since the NDMA does not have a large pool of personnel, it has been using military labour to carry out many of its functions. The wrinkle here is that the military they are using was already busy containing the Taliban on the country’s northern border with Afghanistan.

The speed of the reconstruction efforts will decide whether flood victims side with the government or Islamist militants.

The reallocation does make some sense: it’s a common tactic for Islamist militants to try to win popular support from local residents by usurping government relief roles in disaster areas. Already the Taliban has issued a statement to Islamabad promising $20 million in aid if they will reject help from the western “Christians and Jews”, a laughable amount considering the UN estimates  Pakistan’s requirements for emergency relief alone total almost half a billion. But the tactic may gain traction nonetheless. Locals have seen response efforts in Pakistan as grindingly slow; already there have been raids and looting of aid convoys by the displaced and the hungry. If the government does not sufficiently establish its presence and its capacity to quickly rebuild in the flooded areas, the effects of the resulting discontent will likely ripple across the border to Afghanistan and throughout the region.

Two weeks ago, a girls’ school in Kalam in the Swat river valley –a former Taliban stronghold– was bombed. Major General Javed Iqbal Ramday says Pakistan’s military is determined to hold the ground it fought so hard for last year. But he acknowledges that the army will not be able keep its advantage without the local population on its side saying, “The people of this area are going to have to make a decision with regard to not providing them [the Taliban] the space.” Deputy Mayor of Kalam Amir Saeed said his town was “well organized to take on the Taliban, we have organized defence committees and volunteers at every village level,”  but that future attacks could never be ruled out. CNN

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