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EDITORIAL: Meeting the challenge.

Pakistan, Aug. 13 -- The calamity of the scale that has hit Pakistan requires a corresponding response from the international community, our government and our citizens. It is very difficult to assess the exact figure of damage due to the massive flooding in the middle of the unfolding disaster and in the face of the forecast of more rain, but even the initial estimate of the material loss is expected to be billions of rupees in terms of damage to agriculture, property and infrastructure. The UN has issued an emergency aid appeal of $ 460 million for flood-affected people to provide immediate relief: shelter, clean drinking water, food and healthcare. The amount of money needed for reconstruction and rehabilitation will be in addition to and many times this initial appeal. Rehabilitation of the flood-hit communities in a disaster of this scale will be an uphill task, for which we need all the resources that can possibly be gathered. Reconstructing destroyed homes and infrastructure, reviving agriculture and the livelihoods of people may take years. Although the ongoing wave of floods in Pakistan, according to the UN, has surpassed all previous humanitarian crises, the response from both the public and the international community has been lukewarm at best. Compared to the over $ 5 billion worth of international aid received for relief and rehabilitation of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake victims, a little over $ 83 million has been received so far for the current crisis that has affected about 13.8 million people in all the four provinces. Domestically, barring a few commendable examples, particularly at the local level, very little mobilisation is being seen on the public level to meet this enormous challenge. Arguably, a series of natural disasters starting with the Asian tsunami - Haiti earthquake being the most recent - coupled with the global recession has induced donor fatigue. Also, doubts have been expressed about the Pakistan government's credibility and lack of transparency in utilisation of funds. While this is a genuine concern, delay in providing help to the affectees can cause starvation and diseases and hence more deaths. Lack of clean drinking water and hygienic food can spark off epidemics. Moreover, children, women and older people are most vulnerable, whose needs must be singled out and addressed on priority basis.

News reports suggest that the government is considering imposition of a new tax on imports, production and services to raise Rs 100 billion to meet this challenge. While the suggestion may look rosy on paper, in reality it is more likely to accelerate galloping inflation in the aftermath of these floods. Crop devastation will skyrocket the already high food inflation, which is the core factor in inflationary trends. Governments in such crises exempt taxes to help the wrecked people, not impose new ones, which are likely to further erode their purchasing power and exacerbate the situation instead of easing it. It is probable that the development budget will have to be recast and funds diverted to reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. In this regard, cutting down government expenditure would provide crucial help. However, there has been little proof other than lip service that our politicians and officialdom are ready to give up their extravagant lifestyles to chip in to help overcome this human calamity. This will only further erode the rather weak credibility of the political class as a whole; about the bureaucracy, the less said the better. Last but not least, the Pakistani public has always shown great philanthropic instinct to help the needy. Conceding concerns for the government's credibility in utilising relief funds, the public can mobilise material and human resources and deliver aid to the victims themselves or through reliable organisations. We must all do whatever is in our power to help the affectees. *

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