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Posts Tagged ‘Red Crescent

Pakistan, India and people’s responsibility

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Relief work in the districts of Jaffarabad and Nasirabad in Balochistan. Photo: UNOCHA

Relief work in the districts of Jaffarabad and Nasirabad in Balochistan. Photo: UNOCHA

For a month the government of India, aided by its media and propaganda units (urban-centric English language dailies and magazines, and a dangerously partisan group of television channels) has bombarded the Indian public with its view of Pakistan.

This is a view that is full of threat and anger. There is in no communication of the government of India (not from the office of the prime minister of India, not from the cabinet, not from Parliament, not from its major ministries which share concerns, such as water and food, and not from its paid servants, a wastrel gaggle of self-important think-tanks) that says, in effect, yes we understand the troubles your peoples have, for we have the same, and let us find ways to aid one another.

There is plenty of reason to do so.

Let us look first at floods and natural disasters, which India has a great deal of experience in dealing with, both through those government agencies that possess an iota of integrity and through voluntary groups and NGOs. Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by September monsoon flooding in Pakistan have not yet moved back into their homes, according to aid groups. Three of Pakistan’s four provinces were hit, affecting over 4.8 million people and damaging over 630,000 houses, according to the latest situation report by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

Humanitarian Snapshot Pakistan - Complex Emergency and Floods 2012 (as of 18 December 2012). The 2012 monsoon floods affected 4.8 million people, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Western Balochistan, southern Punjab and northern Sindh provinces were the worst affected. As of 18 December, more than 774,594 people remain displaced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to a complex emergency that has affected region since 2008. Moreover, 1.7 million refugees require assistance as do many of the 1.3 million people who returned to FATA since 2010. Source: UNOCHA

Humanitarian Snapshot Pakistan – Complex Emergency and Floods 2012 (as of 18 December 2012). The 2012 monsoon floods affected 4.8 million people, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). Western Balochistan, southern Punjab and northern Sindh provinces were the worst affected. As of 18 December, more than 774,594 people remain displaced in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to a complex emergency that has affected region since 2008. Moreover, 1.7 million refugees require assistance as do many of the 1.3 million people who returned to FATA since 2010. Source: UNOCHA

Three months after the floods, 97 percent of those displaced have returned to their towns and villages. Nearly all of them, however, continue to live in makeshift shelters next to damaged homes. Aid groups and government officials say they still need critical assistance to help them through the winter. In the absence of adequate shelter and provisions, aid workers say, the cold weather in flood-hit areas is likely to put the affected population under more stress. [You can download a full-sized version of the Humanitarian Snapshot map above, from here (png, 1.8MB).]

Next is the matter of population, economic support for a growing population and sustainable alternatives to the ‘growth is best’ nonsense that South Asian ruling cliques foster with the help of their industrialist compradors. Internal pressures in the country with the world’s sixth largest population are likely to get worse before they get better: At 2.03 percent Pakistan has the highest population growth rate in South Asia, and its total fertility rate, or the number of children born per woman, is also the highest in the region, at 3.5 percent. By 2030, the government projects that Pakistan’s population will exceed 242 million.

“The failure to adequately manage demographic growth puts further pressure on the current population, who already lack widespread basic services and social development,” said the IRIN analysis. Pakistan’s health and education infrastructures are poorly funded, and experts have questioned the quality of what is being provided with existing budgets. With a weak economy and low growth, food insecurity and unemployment present further challenges. “The problem is that if you have a population that is illiterate and does not have proper training, a large segment cannot participate meaningfully in the economy,” IRIN quoted economist Shahid Kardar, a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, as having said.

A polio worker on the outskirts of Peshawar in Pakistan delivers vaccine drops, but many workers are now too scared to go into the field. Photo: IRIN, Tariq Saeed

A polio worker on the outskirts of Peshawar in Pakistan delivers vaccine drops, but many workers are now too scared to go into the field. Photo: IRIN, Tariq Saeed

And then there is the very worrisome aspect of violence, against the poor and vulnerable as much as against women. I find it a macabre coincidence that during the weeks when polio workers in Pakistan were being shot at and killed, women in various parts of India were being gang-raped and murdered.

Over the past few weeks there has been an upsurge in attacks on aid workers in Pakistan, many of them linked to a national polio eradication campaign in one of the world’s last three countries where the disease remains endemic. In December 2012 the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) suspended their anti-polio vaccination campaign after nine workers were killed in attacks in Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Polio workers, including those working for the UN, were also targeted earlier in 2012. Beyond the polio campaign, aid workers in general are starting to feel more hostility to their work. In an attack on 5 January, two aid workers with Al-Khidmat Foundation, an NGO working in education, were shot dead in the northwestern city of Charsadda. There was similarly no warning when gunmen killed seven aid workers with local NGO Support With Working Solution (SWWS) in the Swabi District of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province on 1 January.

And still the same old tiresome drums continued to beat, as they still do, Look at the reactions from India (and the jingoistic treatment given them by a rabid media):

India Today – “Military encounter on the LoC last week is threatening to erode the hard-fought gains in relaxing trade and visa regimes by India and Pakistan in recent times. The rhetoric is shrill in India, which claims it has been grievously wronged.”

Economic Times“India has ruled out high-level talks with Pakistan to de-escalate hostilities and normalise bilateral relations, people familiar with the situation said. The position is in line with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement…”

Times of India“India will maintain a tough outlook on Pakistan even as the LoC quietened after a fortnight of bruising skirmishes. At a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on Thursday, it was agreed that India would not respond immediately…”

BBC“India’s foreign minister says he will “not rush” into talks with his Pakistani counterpart to defuse military tensions in Kashmir. Salman Khurshid’s remarks came after Hina Rabbani Khar’s call for a dialogue between the two ministers.”

DNA“India’s army chief threatened to retaliate against Pakistan for the killing of two soldiers in fighting near the border of the disputed region of Kashmir, saying he had asked his commanders there to be aggressive in the face of provocation.”

Lost altogether in this teeth-gnashing mêlée of trouble-making are the efforts made by Pakistani and Indian people, such as the India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative (IPSI) for peace when they met at the Pakistan Red Crescent Society offices in Pakistan. Peace between the peoples of Pakistan and India that has nothing to do with the red-eyed posturing over the Line of Control and over Jammu and Kashmir will be our own responsibility.

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Pakistan floods, six months later

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A young girl in Azimabad waits at a flour distribution centre. After the floods, she returned with other residents of her village to discover that entire walls of houses had been washed away. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

A young girl in Azimabad waits at a flour distribution centre. After the floods, she returned with other residents of her village to discover that entire walls of houses had been washed away. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

AlertNet has reported that six months after the rains and disastrous floods in Pakistan, hundreds of thousands remain in camps and thousands are living in tents beside their destroyed homes. Sub-zero winter temperatures have increased the incidence of chest infections including influenza and pneumonia, with over 200,000 cases reported in the second week of January alone. In the south, swathes of land – both homesteads and agricultural – remain under contaminated water and there are concerns that already worrying pre-flood malnutrition rates have risen.

The crisis in Pakistan is far from over and could get worse, warned Oxfam, the international aid agency and AlertNet partner Oxfam. In a report, ‘Six months into the floods’ the agency warned that millions of people were still in dire need and that the situation could deteriorate further. The report [get pdf here] says that although the aid effort has reached millions, it has struggled to match the immense scale of human need. Oxfam says that although Pakistan’s floods are the biggest emergency of recent times with more than 18 million people affected, the funding for the response has been woefully slow. The UN appeal for $2bn to rebuild Pakistan remains only 56 percent funded.

A girl collects contaminated water from a well in Sabjuzat, Punjab. Agricultural land around Sabjuzat was damaged by the floodwater. Crops like cotton were affected by rising salt levels in the soil. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

A girl collects contaminated water from a well in Sabjuzat, Punjab. Agricultural land around Sabjuzat was damaged by the floodwater. Crops like cotton were affected by rising salt levels in the soil. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

Neva Khan, head of Oxfam in Pakistan, said: “Six months on millions of people are still facing flood water, shivering in temporary shelters and struggling to find food. Oxfam is currently helping nearly 1.9 million people – one of our biggest programmes worldwide – but this is dwarfed by the number of people who are in need. The aid community has done a tremendous amount – but given the immense scale of this disaster we have only scratched the surface of human need.” Oxfam is urging the government of Pakistan to extend the emergency period until peoples’ needs are met. The Pakistan government is due to stop emergency relief operations in most areas from 31st January 2011, but Oxfam warned that this could put at risk large numbers of people who still need assistance.

In a related report, AlertNet has emphasised a continuing concern of the International Committee of the Red Cross – the persistent lack of security which affects people. Those displaced by the fighting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, including those who have commenced the process of returning to their homes in Orakzai Agency and South Waziristan, are still in need of assistance.

A young boy named Abbas visits the river that brought destruction to his home in Muslimabad, Nowshera. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

A young boy named Abbas visits the river that brought destruction to his home in Muslimabad, Nowshera. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

In addition to bringing aid to flood victims, the ICRC has provided more than two million one-month food rations over the past 10 months for people displaced by fighting and has also vigorously engaged in many other humanitarian activities. “We have been doing more than merely providing food aid,” said Pascal Cuttat, the head of the ICRC delegation in Islamabad. “The ICRC surgical hospital for weapon-wounded patients in Peshawar has been operating at close to full capacity for several months. In 2010 it admitted more than 1,000 patients and performed more than 3,800 surgical procedures.” Patients with serious weapon-related injuries are frequently referred to the hospital, which is staffed by highly experienced Pakistani and international surgeons.

Nearly six months after monsoon rains caused severe flooding across much of the country, people are trying to rebuild their shattered lives.

As the floods receded in October, a Quran remained open in a Punjab mosque that had been inundated by water. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

As the floods receded in October, a Quran remained open in a Punjab mosque that had been inundated by water. Photo: Al Jazeera/Islamic Relief

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Pakistan flood situation map, 2011 January 25

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Pakistan flood situation map, 2011 January 25

In parts of the province of Sindh, progress is painfully slow. Tens of thousands of northern Sindh residents live in a squalid, watery wasteland where stagnant floodwaters still covering fields are a serious health concern and make subsistence cropping impossible. ICRC staff from Jacobabad, working together with the Pakistan Red Crescent, have given one-month food rations to nearly 280,000 people in the province, where the ICRC will continue to provide relief for the foreseeable future.

The Oxfam report, ‘Six months into the floods’, commented: “The huge floods that began in July 2010 have been unprecedented. The people of Pakistan have shown resilience, strength and generosity of spirit against remarkable challenges. Now more than ever, the needs of the people must be put at the heart of the recovery.

“Building on the current humanitarian response, a nationally-led, pro-poor reconstruction and development plan must lead the way. By resetting priorities to tackle underlying inequities that keep so many people poor and vulnerable, the disaster can be turned into a transformative moment for Pakistan. It is time to get down to business: steering the trajectory of Pakistan towards sustainable, comprehensive pro-poor development and growth.”