LPP Karachi Statement on Flooding

August 20, 2010 § 2 Comments

Labour Party Pakistan in Karachi has released this statement on the flooding. A parallel initiative is being launched in Islamabad and Karachi by LPP and Workers’ Party Pakistan, among others, all with the aim of calling attention to the political dimensions of the crisis.

August 20, 2010

The Disaster, and the Way Out

Labour Party Pakistan (Karachi), National Trade Union Federation

Contact: ntufpak@gmail.com

The recent floods represent the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history. The country has been devastated from the Northern Areas to its Southern tip. The State, stripped of its capacity to meet peoples’ needs by neoliberalism and militarism alike, has been found wanting—both in its longstanding failure to maintain existing infrastructure, and in its response to the calamity.

The grassroots relief efforts that have emerged across the country are heartening, but a crisis of this magnitude can only be handled by an institution with the resources and reach of the federal government. As in all disasters, the assistance of the military will be necessary—but this must be subject to civilian oversight, and must not be exploited to glorify the Army at the expense of the government. The military’s relative strength is a direct legacy of pro-Army federal budgets, and we remember too well the failures of the Musharraf government in 2005.

Reconstruction costs have been provisionally estimated at $15 billion—a mammoth 46% of the total federal budget for the forthcoming fiscal year.  It is critical, therefore, that the political and structural roots of the crisis be urgently addressed.

As of July 2010, Pakistan’s total external debt stood at $54.5 billion. A great majority of the debt is owed to multilateral institutions, the Paris Club donors, and the IMF, all of which can be written-off if the political will is found. Servicing on the public or publicly-guaranteed portion of the external debt in FY 2010 amounted to roughly $3.4 billion—an amount seven times larger than the UN’s initial aid target of $450 million. The State should not be sending this kind of revenue overseas while people die of hunger and disease at home.

The budget must be revisited, with the intention of cutting all excess expenditure and redirecting money towards relief and rehabilitation. Current discussion around revising the budget calls for cuts to development spending, when it is fact the military budget that must be targeted. The Rs 442.2 billion allocated to defence in the current federal budget is up 13% from FY 2010. Resources saved must be urgently redirected towards the relief and rehabilitation efforts.

International governments must radically increase their assistance to Pakistan. The amount thus far collected is miniscule relative to what the moment demands. The assistance offered by the ADB and the World Bank are loans, and will have to be repaid—a fate that Pakistan’s poor are unlikely to be able to afford at any stage in the immediate future. Assistance to the Pakistani government must be made as grants.

We further call on the international community—specifically the antiwar movement—to redouble its efforts to expose and redirect the enormous resources wasted on the criminal wars in Iraq and Af-Pak. The US spends around $12.2 billion on the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan every month—the cost of the Afghan surge alone was $33 billion, roughly 220 times greater than the amount the US has pledged for flood relief in Pakistan.

Evidence is also emerging that links these floods to rising atmospheric temperatures, and thus to climate change. Three-quarters of all carbon emissions have been produced by only 20% of the world’s population, and it is the poor in the developing world who are bearing the brunt of the resulting environmental degradation. The rich countries ought to offer urgent reparations to Pakistan as compensation for suffering the costs of others’ industrialization.

Finally, after the corruption that marked earthquake relief efforts, we recognize the importance of the aid being distributed in a transparent and democratic manner. We support the creation of a separate national commission to oversee reconstruction spending, provided it fulfills its mandate and is made entirely open to public scrutiny. All relevant authorities, like the NDMA, should further be brought under civilian control.

Recognizing all this, we call urgently for action based around the following demands. Only the pressure of a popular movement can force the hand of the government and international community.

1. CANCEL THE DEBT

2. CUT DEFENCE EXPENDITURE

3. INTERNAIONAL ASSISTANCE IN GRANTS, NOT LOANS

4. REDIRECT AMERICAN MILITARY SPENDING

5. REPARATIONS FOR CLIMATE CHANGE

6. DEMOCRATIC AND TRANSPARENT RECONSTRUCTION

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Update from Sukkur

August 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

Saqib sends this harrowing update on a week of relief work in Sindh (updated)

I have been trying to write about my time in Sukker but didn’t quite know how. I am here in the middle of it but it is tough to express in terms of straightforward reporting. There is misery and then there is news of things getting worse. So I am taking the easier way out and writing about my time here.

Its been a draining week. I have been in Sukkur for about 7 days now. The first few were spent in the office and the last 3 in the warehouse. Through a WFP program, SRSO is targeting to deliver 1 month ration to about 42,000+ families in 5 districts: Kashmore, Ghotki, Shikarpur, Khairpur and Sukkur. In about 5 days now since we started, hundreds of trucks have been in and out of the warehouse and food has been dispatched for close to 11,000 families.

The first few days here were hard, seeing and hearing about people being homeless, children taking shelter under little sheets of plastics, people crowded into petrol stations for want of light and bathrooms. I visited camps in Sukkur and some in Kashmore, where government provides them water from a tanker once a day but not much else. Camps need drinking water supply, latrines and food supplies – the very basics, which are somehow missed by our government. SRSO has been going around installing hand pumps for water and dry latrines. Hand pumps can apparently be set up in a couple of hours, provided there is ground water (and there is ground water these days) and dry latrines. The last camp I saw had a water pump with the water slightly brackish but drinkable. Dry latrines are a 3 or 4 feet hole in the ground with a squat toilet attached on a wooden frame that sits on top of the hole. A green sheet goes around for privacy.

The desperation and need is so strong here that after a while I did not want to see it anymore. Somehow then I ended up doing warehousing for the WFP/SRSO project. The warehouse is a world of its own, four walls, huge compound, small offices with intermittent electricity, lot of people doing labor, drivers, contractors, trucks and rations. There are characters here, H the 22 year old who suddenly found himself to be “the logistics guy”, NP the guy who is actually supposed to be in-charge of logistics but does not quite know what it means, the 2 guys doing ration counts on and off the trucks who seem to be always together and then there is the contractor, B. B is big, and he is the contractor for trucks and labor, and also president of transport for Sukkur. An admin told me that he is also a part-time kidnapper, has slapped a politician and not someone to mess with. B laughs and gets pissed off at people in about equal measure and told SRSO the first day they would not be able to mobilize 5 trucks without him. I don’t know how the contract negotiations went but there are 45 trucks at our disposal running round the clock and B is present at the warehouse 24/7, where his chelas do malish as he lolls about on the charpai at night.

Sukkur is hot but it’s the humidity that gets you. Its like a sauna room without the shade. You sweat all the time and in the sun you sweat profusely. I noticed for 2 days running now that I don’t use the bathroom all day although I try to drink a fair amount of water. Its all sweated out which I think explains the constant headache that is immune to Ponstons. In this heat the labor works all day and night, loading and unloading trucks. Over five days they have handled over 1000 tons of ration. My estimate is that about 30 to 40 people are rotating so that’s about 5 to 7 tons per person per day of lifting, moving, loading. Then the drivers, who drive non-stop, all the way to places like Kashmore, normally 2 hours from Sukkur but now about 6 to 8 because the shorter routes are cut off by water. Poor in Pakistan work very hard for very little – the poorer you are the harder you work for a pittance.  The office staff at the warehouse is working on next to no sleep because trucks are leaving at bizarre times. I came back at 11pm and 10 loaded trucks were getting ready to leave while another 5 were being loaded and will leave sometime in the very early morning. The staff got a break last night and got about 6 hours of sleep in the small office of the warehouse after going almost 48 hours without any. The generator in the warehouse is attached to the godowns but not to the office so we are usually sweating away even when inside.

The roads are getting worse all the time. As you near Kashmore there is now apparently a patch (long one by all accounts) which is overrun by water. The police allow only one truck to pass at a time because weight and water supposedly make roads sink. This creates a bottleneck which can be as long as 40 to 50 trucks all lined up for hours. Food delivery is getting more precarious in places like Kashmore and Shikarpur because trucks get attacked by people who have not eaten for days. A government truck got looted on the Guddu barrage and they got some rations from one of our trucks which were right behind. Last night, we lost 6 bags of flour and 1 cooking-oil can at the Sukkur toll plaza traffic jam. We have figured out that not only transportation but the actual delivery at camps is safer in the dead of night or very early morning when people are sleeping or sleepy and the roads empty. Yesterday there were 3 to 4 women at the warehouse gate with about 8 to 9 young children around them begging for a bag for flour and it felt horrible not to give them one. They pleaded with the guard for over 1.5 hour.

Dr. Sono, the SRSO CEO, came back from Jacobabad today and I went to pick him up from Panu Aqil Cantonment where he returning in a helicopter because Jacobabad city is water locked. Fortunately for most of the people there, the town was evacuated before the floods hit but unfortunately not everyone got out. The DCO and the air force with a small number of police are the only government left in the city. According to the DCO there are about 10,000 families still stuck there with no food, no shops, nothing. Dr. Sono said thousands of people were lined up on the roads and were attacking every car (he had the air force/police escort) and about 200 showed up at the building where he was meeting the DCO. They were demanding that the people inside give them the food that they believed was being hidden in the building. These people have not eaten for at least 4 days and when the DCO tried to distribute the little food that was brought on the helicopter, he was mobbed and his clothes torn. 10,000 families (x 7 people) locked in a town, hungry and nowhere to go.  Government has been trying to run airlifts but how do you get so many people out? How do you figure out who goes first? Dr. Sono thinks food needs to get in before you can even think about organizing anything sane because people there are going crazy from hunger quite literally. Someone needs to figure out some kind of land access if this many people are to come out but I don’t really know what the water situation is like and if its even possible.

In other news the bridge between Moro and Dadu got damaged by water and the towns are cut off from each other. I also heard of more breaches in bunds but I forget where. This situation will take a long time to fix unless massive amounts of aid, with proper organization and political will come into play. Considering its Pakistan we are likely to be 0 on all three counts and will go through this time without epidurals. Where this all ends up is anybody’s guess but I don’t think this country is going to be the same ever again. This is a major turning point and its for the worse.

I fly back tomorrow morning and I will sleep for a few days after this. Next week if things align I will be back in Sukkur.

Pakistan Floods: A Ground Report

August 14, 2010 § 3 Comments

One of our comrades, Saqib Khan, has been out in Sukkur for days now working on flood relief. He sends this update:

So I have been in Sukkur these past 4 days with SRSO. The overall picture is pretty dismal here and as usual the government is largely missing from the picture. There are some tents (shamyana) etc. but they are not really providing any services except water once a day. SRSO is estimating 300,000+ in 2000+ villages affected but I think nobody really has a handle on how many (and that est. was 3 days ago). The actual numbers are probably much higher.
I have now heard of 3 different instances of breaches in bund walls to divert water because some minister was trying to save his crops (or even more cynically trying to drown a rival party member’s fields). The breach near Guddu barrage was deliberate though to try and save Sukkur barrage but our irrigation department really had no idea what they were doing. Entire southern part of Kashmor district was inundated and the water has now flooded through Jacobabad. We are expecting more of that flood to reach Sukkur sometime in the morning.
The number of dead in newspapers I think are gross understatements. I spent a day with WFP worker from Swat who was really pissed that the media is saying 1700 dead in Kyber Pakhtoon. He said its probably closer to 170,000. I think its similar here that no one really knows how many are dead or missing.
SRSO is trying to do relief work here with WFP, USAID and UNICEF. So far they are targeting about 63000 families in 5 districts: Sukkur, Kashmor, Shikarpur, Ghotki and Kairpur, places on both sides of the Indus. They will likely add Jacobabad now. The work is mainly 1 months food supply per family but since there are no designated areas for people to gather, its hard to organize. People have just gathered wherever they are able to. I have no idea how the rehab work will take place because water is everywhere and disease is going to be rampant. This is going to take at least 7 to 8 months before things will start to normalize.
You can check out SRSO web page for more information: http://www.srso.com.pk/ and I do believe they have something for donations up there too. I have also heard that the Sindh government has been running trains from here to Karachi and camps are being set up there – so I think Edhi and the usual/major donation centers are also a good place to give.

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