At the start of this month I got a chance to travel to the lower Punjab of Pakistan. This trip was part of the flood relief program of an independent organization, The Eisaar Trust (http://www.theeisaartrust.org). An organization run by doctors & this specific visit was focused on running a free medical dispensary; I jumped in as a volunteer to do the random statistical jobs for the team.
The exact locations of our visit were Sanawa & Kot Addu. As this was my first visit to the plains it was a whole new experience. The immense diversity of lower Punjab came as a surprise. Even the landscape struck me by surprise.
Our hosts who were flood effectees themselves left no stone of hospitality unturned. The point that stood out was that we were thought of as underfed (& by no standard any of us can be called that) & were overfed all that desi stuff that was available.
However, the relief situation was where the depression takes over. Seeing is believing as they say. The impact that one perceives with the naked eye can never be considered an equal of what we can see on the screen irrespective of the media coverage & other technological sources.
For one & that too without much of shock, there was no sign of the government’s presence. And when I say this I am referring to the practical working & its output not the protocol visits which are quite frequent.
Moving around & talking to the locals, their frustration was too obvious. No one can blame them & the hardest part is that you don’t find the appropriate words for consolation. How is one supposed to console someone who has lost their sole worldly possession, their homes? I for one failed at this. The lands they had or worked on will take months to dry up & cultivatable, for the next crop. Then there are people who are sitting on the rubble which was once their home.
However, even in such desperate times the dirty game of politics is the first priority of the powers to be. There is selective distribution of food supplies. Areas that are not the voting areas of the ruling group are not entitled for any relief benefits.
The private groups & individuals too missed out on a managerial point that is co-ordination. According to the locals the trucks came & unloaded themselves on the main roads thus were not able to evenly conduct the distribution. The people who were never able to reach those areas because they had to protect what was left of their homes & people who did not have the physical strength to be part of that chaos were left out. A better way of doing all this was to involve a local in your team who could point out the areas & ensure that the aid is distributed to the truly deserving.
Good & evil exists hand in hand always. While at one hand you will come across people who are working selflessly, like a local doctor we have in our team who is working for the relief all day long along with keeping his duties (both the shifts, day & night) at the hospital in Multan & travelling to & forth daily. On the other hand there are local politicians or their associates who are busy sweeping the relief supplies. Likewise, we have the truly deserving at one hand & the professional beggars for whom such events turn out to be a golden opportunity at the other. Differentiating between the two is important because otherwise the ones who will never come up to you & ask for help will never be reached.
The distribution of Watan cards is another joke. Number of cards distributed in a specific area, don’t even cover the quarter of the population. People narrated that even from that percentage the majority of the cards are presented to the local authority & tit bit is distributed & even worse those cards distributed are not even working in most of the cases. Being a business student I was tempted to do a vague cost-benefit analysis & shivered at the thought of the level of analysis or rather the lack of it our decision makers have. The cost that was spent on producing those useless cards could have been spent in more effective manner on the people but then there are always loads of “buts & coulds” when it comes to our administration.
Wrong embankments were deliberately broken in an attempt to secure the lands of the major landowners. Hina Rabbani Khar’s drama in the parliament over her treatment in her constituency, don’t think attracted much sympathy anyways but after moving amidst the people, I for one would have been glad if her car was successfully pushed over. Maybe, the others would have learnt some lesson because as it is apparent they all are blind to the writings on the wall. They haven’t learnt anything from the already existing examples that clearly show that if the justice system fails the people, nature does not.
For how long they think they will be able to fool their people? In the end even their deliberate attempt of not opening schools in their areas & keeping generations uneducated will fail because my observation tells me that the people have started to see through such tricks. For how long these cosmetic Pirs like our PM will be able to pocket votes as people fear that if they don’t vote for them their cows would stop giving milk (their main source of income). They are testing some real hot waters.
In past few months among all the various crisis that were dumped on us, the sugar crisis took up a lot of heat. But was there really a natural crisis? Hell NO!! We never were short of sugar or the raw material required for its production; it was all a farce created by the oligarchy which in intervened with our political system. Not only the sugar cane crop was in abundance but even after the devastating floods more than enough crop has survived & as always we just need some honest management. So next time they try to sell this sugar crisis or a similar one please lets scream bloody murder about it.
I would love to spoil it for all those who think that rehabilitation of these people is not our responsibility. It should be our priority because for crying out loud people who feed us are the ones who have been hit; people who are at the bottom of our food chain. They are the people who provide us with milk but can’t even take one cup of milk for themselves & are malnourished in normal circumstances & we are dealing with a disaster situation at the moment.
The focus should also be on rehabilitation now. They are the people who have lived their lives through hard work, let’s not turn them into beggars. The men should be provided with material so that they start rebuilding their homes. Some of the people we met had started to collect the reusable material from their rubble with which they plan to rebuild their homes. Meanwhile, their source of income can be shifted to the sale of the special handicrafts made by the women of these areas. Later this can be turned into a well established cottage industry sorts.
Rehabilitating them is in the interest of us all so let’s for a change think on a long term plan.