The devastation wreaked by floods in large parts of Pakistan will spare no one – not even those who have been lucky to avoid being directly impacted by the worst of the disaster unleashed by this year’s unseasonably heavy rains.
A formal assessment of the extent of damages has yet to be done, but the situation already looks quite grim. Vast tracts of farmland across the country are now submerged under water, which means many standing crops have been completely destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of livestock heads have additionally been lost to the floods. Transportation and communication networks have either been disrupted or completely destroyed in many areas, meaning it is no longer easy to move goods from one place to another.
Meanwhile, the people residing in the worst-affected areas do not have enough food to eat or clean water to drink. There are reports that many are suffering from starvation.
According to a report in this newspaper, citizens in Dera Ghazi Khan had mobbed a food distribution truck out of desperation to feed themselves and their families. Those heart-wrenching scenes are expected to be repeated elsewhere as the relief response has been slow and mainly focused so far on saving lives that may otherwise be lost to the floods.
Given the extent of damage caused to crops and livestock and the disruption in transportation networks connecting farming areas to urban settlements, there are bound to be food shortages in the coming months, which will drive up food inflation even further.
Not only that, reports of widespread devastation in cotton plantations means industrial activity will be severely affected. With textiles contributing a major chunk of export earnings, the impact will reverberate throughout the economy.
The federal and provincial governments face an uphill battle in ensuring food security over the coming months, as importing foodstuff to make up for domestic shortages is unlikely to be an easy option because of the upheaval in global markets as well as Pakistan’s considerably weakened external position.
It is imperative, therefore, for the nation to come together to contribute towards relief and rehabilitation efforts. It is not only a moral obligation but also a practical need.
Farming communities form the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, and their suffering will directly affect the entire country if it is not alleviated quickly. There needs to be a coordinated effort to rebuild and restore as soon as the rains subside and the floodwaters recede.
Meanwhile, the government needs to set up a centralised crisis response task force so that it has better control of the situation and can address urgent needs like getting sufficient food and shelter to the displaced people. All federating units need to be a part of this task force to ensure there are no slippages in service delivery.
Management of this crisis should henceforth be our number one national priority.
This article first appeared in Dawn.