Pakistan floods: Cloudbursts, landslides and floods have caused widespread havoc in nearly one-third of Pakistan, with the death toll crossing 1,100 and over 1,600 people injured. Reports are yet to come from areas that have become inaccessible due to floods.
A large portion of Balochistan has been cut off from the rest of the country. Over 3.33 crore people have been affected by this natural disaster. On Tuesday, the United Nations gave a flash appeal to all countries to donate at least 35 billion US dollars to help flood victims. On Wednesday, the United States announced $ 30 million in humanitarian aid, while UK, Canada, Turkey, Iran, China and several other countries have also announced assistance.
More than a million homes have been either damaged or destroyed by floods and heavy rains, and nearly 7,35,000 livestock have perished. Sindh province, said to be the granary of Pakistan, is staring at a bleak future with all its crops washed away in floods. Homes, shops, crops, villages and several towns have been submerged in floods.
Pakistan Finance Minister Miftah Ismail called for opening land border with India to import vegetables and foodgrains, but on Tuesday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, while addressing the foreign media in Islamabad, ruled out reopening of bilateral trade with India, till the Kashmir situation is not addressed.Pakistan has decided to import onions and tomatoes from Iran and Afghanistan, and wheat from Russia.
Pakistan Prime Minister's assertion is totally different from what his Finance Minister said on Monday. Miftah Ismail had said, vegetables and other edible items can be imported from India to help the Pakistani people in the wake of widespread destruction of standing crops.
Miftah Ismail's remarks came on the same day Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his tweet expressed sadness over the devastation caused by floods in Pakistan. He tweeted: "Saddened to see the devastation caused by the floods in Pakistan. We extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims, the injured and all those affected by this natural calamity and hope for an early restoration of normalcy.
The situation in Pakistan is extremely bleak. Those who have survived are facing shortage of food, as prices of food items and vegetables have skyrocketed. Visuals of huge waves of river currents from hill tops swept away homes, hotels and even large boulders leaving devastation in its wake. All the four provinces - Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa have witnessed devastation caused by floods and landslides.
According to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Agency, more than 3,500 km long roads and 157 bridges were washed away, and nearly half the railway network is now under water. More than 20 lakh acres of land has been submerged in floods. Tomatoes and onions are being sold at Rs 350-400 per kg.
People, who were already bearing the onslaught of inflation, are now being forced to shell out more for food items and vegetables. It was in this context that the Pakistan Finance Minister said that the country should not hesitate from seeking help from neighbouring India in this hour of disaster. "Our focus should be on providing food to the people. We need vegetables from India", he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is willing to provide assistance to Pakistan, but till now, the neighbouring country has not sent any formal request to India. Army, civil administration and NGOs in Pakistan are unable to provide relief to the flood-hit people. More than one crore people are caught in floods and unable to move to safer places. Corpses are lying unattended at many places, and even burial ground is not available for those who have died.
More than 10 lakh homes have been destroyed, but the Pakistan government has managed to shift only five lakh people to relief camps. The Pakistani Army and Air Force are carrying out rescue operations. On Tuesday, Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Swat valley to oversee relief and rescue operations. He said, looking at the extent of devastation, it seems it will take at least one decade to rehabilitate the flood survivors.
Normally, these are words not spoken by an Army Chief, but his remarks underline the enormity of the crisis. Nearly 40 per cent infrastructure has been destroyed across Pakistan. The people of Pakistan are looking at India for help, but the Pakistani government is yet to make up its mind.
As of now, at least 3.5 crore people in Pakistan need food on a daily basis, apart from tents, clothes and medicines. But the government lacks the resources, both financial and material. Military planes from Turkey and China have landed carrying relief material, but these are mere drops in an ocean.
Pakistani politicians are caught in the dilemma of domestic politics, where seeking aid from India is considered taboo. Last year, the then PM Imran Khan sacked his Finance Minister when he hinted at restarting border trade with India. And now, PM Shehbaz Sharif's Finance Minister has done the same.
Pakistan is staring at financial bankruptcy. Its PM has been dialling up the leaders of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other countries for help. The International Monetary Fund has agreed to release $1.1 billion loan to Pakistan, though the latter had sought $10 billion.
With the situation turning precarious, most of the people in Pakistan are looking towards humanitarian help from India, because it is its biggest neighbour. India should help Pakistan in its hour of crisis. It has held Pakistan during crises in the past too. During the 2005 earthquake in Pak Occupied Kashmir, India had sent relief items and had provided two crore dollars to Pakistan.
During the floods in 2010, India was the first to send relief items and had given 2.5 crore dollars to Pakistan. Union Minister Hardip Singh Puri, who was then India's Representative in UN, had handed over $2 crore cheque to the Pakistani Foreign Minister in New York in the presence of then UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon.
While the people of Pakistan are looking towards India, I personally feel, the government and Army establishment in Pakistan should change its mindset towards India in this hour of crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's track record during natural disasters has been exemplary.
Last year, when the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan appealed for help, Modi sent relief materials on an emergency basis. At that time, Pakistan refused to open its land route for supply of Indian relief material to Afghanistan. It is now time that the Pakistan government should change its outlook and send a formal request to India for humanitarian assistance. I fully believe, Prime Minister Modi will not hesitate in accepting the request.
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