New Age Islam
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Current Affairs ( 11 Sept 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

The Poor Are Stuck In a Losing Battle against Mother Nature



By Mehr F. Husain

11 September 2014

Every year the floods come angrily sweeping through the region, immersing anything and everything in sight. And each year hundreds if not thousands sit by and watch as their entire lives - sometimes loved ones too - are swept away.

And each time the same promises of aid and rehabilitation are made. Every professional out there offers plans on what should have been done, what could be done and what would have been possible, followed by the tiresome 'if only'.

For some it's divine intervention, a way whereby the heavens finally say enough of the madness. For others it's a matter of how the country's never ending battle with itself and others around it has rendered it helpless, unable to provided or protect its most vulnerable in the face of the most needed but also the most destructive element of nature - water.

How the current destruction caused by the floods is interpreted often depends on the person's socio-economic background – for the poor the answer is likely to be "God's will".

Currently the country is disintegrating into becoming the world's biggest fight club with all political and non-political entities embroiled in one conflict or problem including the protesting party PTI taking on the ruling PML N; the military versus the Taliban; the media fighting for survival having taken on the military; civil society in opposition to itself; media outlet hounding another media outlet; parliamentarian arguing against parliamentarian.

All these boil down to power and influence, with democracy being shelved for the moment. Inevitably the squabbling between all groups and individuals is affecting regional relations as the angst spills over borders as seen by China pulling out of an official visit, rising Indo-Pak tension, and the deadly entry of IS into the country.

And then there is the humanitarian crisis. With the raging floods in the plains of Punjab destroying everything in sight, it appears that no matter who is in power, democracy or dictatorship, the one battle that Pakistan consistently loses year after year is the one against Mother Nature.

As images of the destruction flicker on TV screens and photos are published, it's almost as if time has stood still for the country - the same regions, the same Bastis, the same socio-economic groups are affected.

But the worst part is the realisation that despite the change of power, the country remains stuck in a time warp where it is impossible to get any work done which can ensure that damage caused by a natural disaster remains minimal or is dealt with effectively allowing for the least damage.

Such is the weak state of the country, so embroiled have our leaders been and so fragmented is our society, that year after year while there is talk of change and hope and people pour out screaming for freedom and revolution that any form of implementation of contingency planning or strategy development remain nothing more than fancy terms.

But it's not just about the physical destruction caused by the floods. It's what happens next. Yes trucks of aid will reach the victims. Yes, people will rally together to collect funds and perhaps the floods will be commercialised in the form of a charity drive. But the real issue is the question of identity.

Pakistan is a country where identity is derived from roots which are defined by regions. When displacement takes place sometimes it is impossible to return home because there may not even be anything to return to. What then?

The State, the military, donor agencies, religious organisations can all provide temporary relief. Then begins the blame game. As human after human succumbs to dengue, the blame is placed at the previous government's feet.





Impact: Mudslides and flooding have killed about 270 people in the central province of Punjab and parts of the Kashmir

As precious livestock emerges bloated and dead, blame the current government's lack of action. As photos of cold, wet and hungry children emerge; blame the elites for maintaining the status quo while the poor suffer.

Meanwhile the victims can't be blamed for a single thing except for looking towards the only entity that promises them actual, tangible results in the form of a roof, food and clothing.

Where their poverty cannot be used against them and instead it offers a form of salvation. Enter the religious right wing who sweeps in offering simple non-political solutions, silently replaces lost identities by the only label that matters - 'Muslim' - and ensures that flood victims are just a mere number.

Where the government fails, the military picks up. Where the military leaves it, the religious right wingers fill in the gaps. And each year, the floods come again.

Mehr F. Husain is a columnist based in Lahore