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Parts of district Rajanpur still await attention and help from the state and civil society

Turning disasters into opportunities may have been a successful experience in the lives of some Pakistanis but for the people of hill-torrents affected areas on the western part of district Rajanpur, bordering Balochistan, it seems a distant reality.

The unprecedented 2010 floods were disastrous in all respects for the poor people but the subsequent problems, involving poor response of the government and civil society, have added more miseries to people’s sufferings and sense of exploitation.

District Rajanpur lies west of the Indus River. It has a narrow strip of land sandwiched between the river Indus on the east and Suleman Mountains on the west. District Rajanpur in general, and areas commonly known as Ilaqa Pachadh adjacent to Suleman mountain ranges in particular, have been victim of State’s persistent neglect. The area presents poor human development indicators, abysmal socio-economic conditions and appalling development with a majority of population suffering with illiteracy, malnourishment, unemployment and a growing sense of deprivation.

Hill torrents commonly known as ‘Rod-Kohi’ emanating from Balochistan as well as Suleman Ranges cause flash floods and massive destruction every other year. The speedy waters of mainly Kaha Sultan, Chachar, Baga Khosra and Kala Khosra pass through a number of areas and finally culminate in vast areas of Harrand, Hajipur, Fazilpur, Muhammad Pur Dewan, Dajal and Rajanpur and lead to destruction to humans, agriculture, and infrastructure. The affected people, unfortunately, receive either no or very little response by the state and civil society.

According to a pre-flood 2010 report, ‘Food Insecurity in Pakistan 2009’ jointly published by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), World Food Programme (WFP), and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Rajanpur is ranked at 59th food insecure district among 131 districts of Pakistan whereas 55.3 percent population of the district is food insecure.

The western part of the district, particularly union councils in Mat Kund, Harrand, Tibi Lundan and Wah Lishari, border Balochistan and more specifically district Dera Bugti which, according to the report, is the number one food insecure district in Pakistan. The human development and socio-economic conditions in these union councils are more or less similar to neighbouring Balochistan.

People affected by hill torrents have a growing sense of resentment. They say they have been either ignored altogether or have not been taken care of properly. In fact, the focus of district administration, provincial government, NGOs and INGOs, and media have been on areas affected by floods on the eastern side of the district. After the floods, people affected by hill torrents feel neglected to this day.

Last year’s unprecedented hill torrents broke all previous records of destruction. The hill torrent flood channels had been designed for the discharge of 4,000-10,000 cusecs while the flow of the Kaha hill torrent alone was recorded at 10, 0000 cusecs coupled with persistence of rains and floods for weeks.

The violent flash floods damaged property, standing crops, local infrastructure, livestock, and drinking water systems, etc.

The dilapidated link roads made the life of affected people miserable. Public transport was suspended on most routes for weeks while people had to pay high prices for their daily food items during and after the floods. According to World Food Programme (WFP), 15-25 percent increase in price hike has been observed in the country after floods. However, there was uncontrolled inflation as flood-affected people had to pay Rs200 rupees for one kilogram of potato what to talk of other essentials.

Most of the farmers had to take loans from the agriculture bank, and other commercial banks, selling out their valuables for buying agricultural inputs. People sowed seeds while investing additional agriculture inputs for the cultivation of next crops but every investment was a waste due to persistence of floods and rains. Floodwater has also damaged tube-wells of many. According to an early assessment of Punjab Flood Relief and Rehabilitation department, the district suffered with Rs11.37 billion losses with Rs4.03 billion losses to infrastructure, Rs3.30 billion damage to the education sector. However, it is not clear if the areas affected by hill torrents are included in this assessment or not. Various assessment reports of relief and humanitarian organisations give an alarming account of destruction in these areas, quite contrary to government’s vague assessments.

Affected people have also complaints about influential people. They have a sense that plans and decisions are made without involving the affected communities. They have serious concerns and resentment over discriminatory distribution of Watan Cards. The district administration enjoyed an unchallenged discretionary powers to declare villages as calamity-hit or not-affected.

Villages which faced less than 40 percent household destruction were not declared eligible for Watan Cards at all which subsequently left out genuinely affected.

Interestingly, the government had declared all villages of these areas as calamity-hit but, subsequently, most of the villages were de-notified, thus depriving the genuinely-affected people of their due right. Even some of those populations were issued Watan Cards which were hardly affected by the floods.

Now, over six thousand heads of households have got together and are preparing to file their case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan under public interest litigation to get their issues addressed.

Like partial success of Watan Cards, the government took the one-off initiative of provision of seeds and fertilizers to affected people for wheat cultivation but this process also included a number of serious issues of coverage and distribution mechanisms.

Even today, there is an urgent need of a detailed assessment as well as a comprehensive response to rehabilitate and reconstruct peoples’ lives, property, and infrastructure.

The state of Pakistan has been investing so much in arms and guns to ensure the security of state, but the security of the state can only be ensured if it strikes a balance with investment into human beings and weapons.

This article was originally published at: The News

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.