Mon, Aug 01, 2011 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Anger still raw a year after floods devastate Pakistan


A woman walks near a door placed at a construction site for a new house in the village of Ramli Khoso in Sindh Province, Pakistan, on Saturday. Ramli Khoso was devastated by last year’s floods, which left one-fifth of Pakistan submerged.

Photo: Reuters

A year after deadly floods swept through the Pakistani town of Nowshera, resident Imtiaz Ali is seething with anger as he struggles to rebuild his life with almost no help from the government.

Nowshera was one of the hardest hit towns in Pakistan’s mountainous northwest, where flash floods wiped out entire villages leaving behind tangled branches, mud and many thousands of people needing help.

Ali and his family, who has been living in tents since the flood seriously damaged their home, say they have only just got a little assistance.

“We have just received 20,000 rupees [US$230] and are building a room to live in,” Ali said as his 14-year-old son slopped cement on a wall of the room. “No politician visited us throughout the year to see how we were living ... They may have gone to influential and rich people and given money to them, but we just got the 20,000 rupees, nothing else.”

It’s a refrain heard all over Pakistan a year after the floods were triggered by several days of torrential rain over denuded, over-grazed mountains.

Muddy torrents raged down valleys in the upper Indus River basin, destroying almost everything in their path, then spread out in a glassy sea that flowed south for weeks, inundating expanses of Punjab and later Sindh provinces.

About 2,000 people were killed and 11 million left homeless. In all, more people were affected — 18 million — than in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and last year’s Haiti earthquake combined.

The country suffered more than US$10 billion in damage to infrastructure, irrigation systems, bridges, houses and roads.

More than 800,000 families remain without permanent shelter, according to the aid group Oxfam, and more than 1 million people need food assistance.

Fears that hungry, angry hordes up and down the Indus River basin would rise up in revolution or throw their lot in with Islamist insurgents have proved unfounded.

However, with so many struggling to rebuild their lives, the impact of the floods has yet to play out and bitterness might still undermine a fragile civilian government.

“Hina Rabbani Khar came here about a week after the flooding, but she did not visit the flooded area,” said Rana Farmanullah, 28, of Mehmood Kot, a badly hit village in Punjab Province, referring to a senior government politician who is now Pakistani foreign minister. “We’re not going to vote for her in the next election.”

The disaster certainly hasn’t helped those Pakistanis striving to shore up the shaky foundations of civilian democracy in a country where the army has ruled for more than half its 64-year history.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari came under withering criticism for pressing on with a European visit and refusing to fly home as the disaster unfolded.

Widespread perceptions of a tardy, bumbling response to the disaster has compounded dissatisfaction over a range of issues for a government hoping to become Pakistan’s first to serve out a full term, due to end in 2013.

Only 28 percent of Pakistanis express any confidence in their government, a recent poll by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center found. Only 19 percent approve of leaders, such as Zardari and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who head the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition.

The military, on the other hand, which led flood rescue efforts as government officials dithered, is much more favorably viewed, with 78 percent having confidence in it.

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