Three Gorges Probe

Bad development policies and centralized political control behind the severity of Pakistan’s floods

(August 26, 2010) Brady Yauch writes that a number of critics say the real story about the recent floods in Pakistan is one unaccountable development, centralized political control and mismanagement of the country’s Indus River system.

Behind the headlines and images of the more than 17-million Pakistani citizens that have been displaced or affected by recent floods is the story of unaccountable development, centralized political control and mismanagement of the country’s Indus River system. Had development along the Indus—a vital part of Pakistan’s agriculture—been decentralized and based on the capabilities and rights of the local citizens, the unfolding disaster could have been mitigated, say members of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in a recent statement.

“The people who know the river—from its northern reaches in Gilgit-Baltistan to its delta in Sindh—have not been able to exercise control over it,” say the group, including the self-described nations of Sindh, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Blame, the group contends, lays squarely on officials in the country’s capital, Islamabad, and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and the OECD, which have encouraged and financed a series of mega-dams along the Indus river, causing harm to the environment of the Indus River basin.

Humaira Rahman, General Secretary of the World Sindhi Institute and a signatory says that, with the dams, the canals silted up, the floodplains dried out, the poor were forced to eke out a living in degraded river beds while stripping hillsides and forested areas of vegetation. The effect was that the rains could not be absorbed and instead ripped through the heavily populated Indus basin. Had the river basin been managed properly—by protecting the embankments, de-silting and lining canals—it would have cost less and, says the group, stemmed the current devastation.

Officials, the national minorities maintain, have used the dams as a means to centralize power.

“Little remains of that power now, with only broken promises, feeble assurances, and a political space being successfully encroached by militant groups.”

The signatories to the statement say the best solution is a “genuine political federalism” for the people living in the Indus valley.

The group’s remarks comes as Pakistan officials faces intense pressure from both the international community and their own citizens regarding their ability to effectively manage aid funds. According to a recent report, the Pakistan government has had to answer allegations that in the last humanitarian crisis—the Kashmir earthquake in 2005—corrupt officials diverted hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid to other unidentified government expenditures.

Little wonder then that during this year’s floods, donors have been reluctant to hand over millions more to a country where one critic says the “weakness of the state has reached extraordinary levels.”

The signatories concur: “the lack of adequate material support from people all over the globe has illustrated the lack of trust and credibility in the Government of Pakistan (Civilian and Military Establishment).”

Instead, the signatories are urging the National Disaster Management Authority “to overturn without delay their ban on international donor agencies, aid organisations and non-government organisations from directly assisting the flood-affected people of Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Sindh.”

“Similarly, the Pakistan and United States military authorities must open Jacobabad airport in northern Sindh to humanitarian aid flights if assistance is to reach 700,000 desperate flood victims in time,” they add.

Brady Yauch, Probe International, August 26, 2010

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