Socialist Worker

Pakistan: rage grows as flood rescue fails

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2216

Despair is turning to anger in Pakistan as the flooding spreads and the government response continues to fail.

Ministers are now so scared of possible attack that they can only visit affected areas if accompanied by flanks of armed guards.

Last week, crowds of desperate victims attacked the armoured motorcade of Britain’s development minister Andrew Mitchell and Tory party chairman Baroness Warsi while they inspected destroyed villages outside the capital, Islamabad.

According to the Daily Telegraph, a large angry crowd surrounded the convoy of 4x4 vehicles and blocked the road.

Protesters threw rocks, shattering bullet-proof glass, and causing £60,000 worth of damage.

“Some of the crowd were armed with Molotov cocktails,” the newspaper reported. “The immediate cause of the demonstrations was the failure of power supplies caused by the flooding… Pakistan’s army had tried to quell the protests by firing shots that had killed two people, and as a result simply exacerbated tensions.”

Analysts expect protests to grow as flooding spreads from the north to devastate farms in the Punjab and Sind in the south.

The government is failing to provide even minimal relief to those whose houses and livelihoods have been washed away.

One statement by a Pakistani cabinet minister yesterday about the floods has revealed the way ordinary people’s lives are being sacrificed.

Health secretary Khushnood Lashari said the airbase at Jacobabad in Sindh province is controlled by US forces.

Flooding has hit Jacobabad’s 700,000 population hard. The airbase could have been used to save lives.

But, according to Lashari, “Health relief operations are not possible in the flood-affected areas of Jacobabad because the airbase is with the United States.”

There is also rising anger at the way some “development projects” have made matters worse.

In particular, Pakistan’s network of dams and barrages are thought to have contributed to the disaster. They are supposed to generate electricity, provide water for irrigation systems and prevent flooding.

Blocking the Indus River in this way was supposed to help create a vast fertile plain in the centre of the country. But as an unintended consequence the river now has much more sediment upstream, raising the riverbed and making swathes of previously dry land part of the flood plain.

Maps of the flooded Indus basin clearly show that the hardest-hit areas are behind or alongside dams or barrages.

Despite this, and the fact that dredging and maintenance of dams is costly and prone to human error, the World Bank continues to regard such projects as “prestigious”.

In 2004, it over-rode objections to grant the Pakistani government $144 million to rebuild a giant barrage in Taunsa, in the Punjab, claiming it was a vital flood defence.

Last week the river breached the barrage, triggering a new round of devastation.

Water rushed around the “defence”, inundating an irrigation network and a farming region that was supposed to have been made safe by civil engineering.

Local people had for years been warning of a dangerously large build-up of sediment upstream from the barrage—which the World Bank chose to ignore.

Pakistan government officials were set to meet the bank this week in a bid to agree a new multi-billion dollar loan package. Money to build new flood defences will doubtless be near the top of the government’s list.

But if the same logic leads to the building of still more of these “prestigious projects”, then further disaster cannot be far behind.

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Tue 24 Aug 2010, 17:30 BST
Issue No. 2216
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