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COMMENT: Life in the post-flood scenario -Naqib Hamid.

Pakistan, Aug. 13 -- It is essential to consider the relationship between deprivation and extremism seriously, since life for millions of victims in the post-flood scenario will be based on feelings and emotions of loss, deficiency and resentment

The present flood season has brought unprecedented destruction in the country and it is essential that proper consideration be given to the challenges that our society shall have to face in the post-flood scenario. This article seeks to analyse the fact that the sense of deprivation felt by the flood victims will not only increase the propensity of these individuals and groups towards crime, but may also easily translate into various forms of violence and extremism, if sufficient steps are not taken to address this issue.

The apathy shown by the government in handling the flood relief operations has raised serious question marks over Pakistan's long-term future, exposing the clear lack of capacity and vision of our authorities. Peoples' expectations from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) were also not effectively met, since the torrential rains and floods had been forecast well in time by the meteorological department. With news of more rains and floods, and scenes of helpless families clinging to barbed wire for safety, this matter has clearly become an emotional issue for our people, especially when the nation has yet to recover from the catastrophic pain caused by the Air Blue flight disaster.

Various sociologists have shown how groups hit hard by deprivation of various kinds, especially economic deprivation, "come to view violence as a plausible concomitant of economic depression". It has been shown how various types of deprivation existing among members of any society can manifest into extreme forms of socio-religious behaviour. It is essential to consider this relationship between deprivation and extremism seriously, since life for millions of victims in the post-flood scenario will be based on feelings and emotions of loss, deficiency and resentment.

The flood victims will first experience great economic deprivation and it has been shown how such a feeling, once experienced intensely, "tends to be expressed in an ideology which rejects and radically devalues society", hence extremism. Also related is social deprivation, owing to the loss of social standing and lack of opportunities for future participation in society. In a society like Pakistan that already provides few opportunities for upward social mobility and lacks organisational resolution for relief from such kind of deprivation, this may easily translate into violent attitudes and behaviour.

More strongly felt will be ethical deprivation, the feeling of loss felt as a result of inconsistencies between ideals and realities in a society. It is likely that this will be felt at entire community levels, among people who believe they were deserted and disowned by their government, despite being equal and precious citizens of their country, thereby expressing open distrust in ideas like democracy and hope for a better future. Such deprivation exists very deeply in the already marginalised as well as worst hit areas of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, rural Sindh as well as lower Punjab and the floods aftermath will only heighten it, increasing the bitterness experienced by such groups, who are already finding justifications for their cause of radicalism. Historically, forms of ethical deprivation have resulted in religious upheavals or calls for major societal reform, both being the key features of the current jihadist movements that we are witnessing today.

Of critical importance is also to consider psychic deprivation among our calamity victims that occurs as a result of "a loss of [a] meaningful system of values by which to interpret and organise life". This causes people to lose any commitment to existing values of society, and engage in an active search for new values. Such people are most vulnerable to being recruited in religious movements based on extremist ideologies, which seek to radically transform the entire social system once and for all.

The intricate linkage between destruction, deprivation and extremism becomes all the more important to be given sufficient attention because of another reason. Many NGOs and charities that are very active in disaster relief operations in Pakistan are actually the welfare and medical units of the bigger jihadi organisations. For people who are undergoing organic deprivation, resulting from post-flood physiological or psychological ailments and disabilities, such welfare units provide the much-needed support. These outfits provide more than doctors to people; they indoctrinate the people. They leave deep ideological impressions on those whom they help, including motivation for engaging in an active struggle against the social order. As a result, emotional and aggressive people, particularly the youth, find their ideas about revolution and a utopian ideal attractive and many find refuge in such ideas.

Therefore, it can be seen how all the short-term and long-term factors related to handling this crisis are deeply related. Given this thesis that links destruction and deprivation to further extremism in society, will we see a positive change in the government's current attitude of apathy towards its people in the coming days? How will the current inadequate relief efforts be strengthened, and would the authorities seriously and religiously plan the effective rehabilitation of the victims? Will those who underwent trauma get psychosocial and emotional support, along with the characteristic cash cheques, and would we witness a holistic campaign by the authorities to successfully reintegrate the affectees into mainstream society? The implications of not doing enough in this case may have far-reaching consequences for Pakistan.

Naqib Hamid teaches sociology at the University College Lahore (UCL). He can be reached at

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Publication:Daily Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Aug 13, 2010
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