Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Balochistan's flood victims await relief

QUETTA: In what appears to be a tug of war of interests between the provincial government and non-government organisations (NGOs) over the collection and distribution of relief supplies, around 0.1 million victims of the recent floods in Balochistan are still awaiting assistance ten days after disaster struck.

On September 9, the floods that hit the region washed away 90 percent of the areas in the Naseerabad and Jafferabad districts of Balochistan.Despite the scale of the disaster, the provincial government has restricted NGOs from intervening in the emergency flood response, but has provided only Rs2, 000,000 and 200 tents to the district administration of Naseerabad to help the desperate flood victims. “I don’t understand why they are not allowing the NGOs. I mean the number of those affected is huge and it’s beyond the government’s capacity to cope with it. What will I do with Rs2 million and 200 tents? Just look at the number of victims,” said Ayaz Mandokhel, the top district official in Naseerabad.

Sitting in Mandokhel’s office was an NGO official with a request letter to the deputy commissioner to grant his organisation permission to provide relief supplies to the victims. “This request letter is from the Poverty Alleviation Organisation, Balochistan. What justification have I got not to give them permission? They just want to help the people, after all. But I can’t because I have to follow the PDMA’s orders,” said Mandokhel, showing me the NGO’s request letter.

Many suspect that the provincial government’s insistence on executing the relief work is an attempt to get hold of the funds and supplies to be provided by the international and national aid agencies. “They want the funds for their own”, said another district official on condition of anonymity. “The government doesn’t even have the resources to distribute the supplies to so many flood victims.” Sheltering under their charpoys to escape the scorching heat, the flood victims have been taking refuge on the banks of the Rabi and Pat Feeder canals, which overflowed on September 9 submerging the populated and agricultural parts of the district. According to Assistant Commissioner Naseerabad Abdul Jabbar, some 100 people have died, most of them swept away by the floodwaters.

The victims approach every new face that reaches their makeshift camp with the hope that someone has finally come to their rescue. “What will you give us, “a man with a twirling moustache desperately asked me as I approached him to inquire about their situation.

In a province riven with massive corruption, sectarian violence, a separatist insurgency, enforced disappearances, discoveries of mutilated bodies, Talibanisation and kidnappings for ransom, the inability to mobilise an effective response to the floods epitomises the failure of the provincial government. Displaced by the nationalist insurgency from Dera Bugti in 2005, thousands of Bugtis had taken refuge on the outskirts of Naseerabad, near the Rabi and Pat Feeder canals. Since then, they get dislocated every year after the floods. “I don’t know where this trail of misery is going to lead. I’m uncertain of our final destination,” said Shamsher Bugti, who talked to this scribe from under his charpoy.

Despite the top district official’s claim that 90 percent of the area has been washed away by floods, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority took 11 days to declare an emergency in Naseerabad on the ground that they had not received the assessment report from the district government. “I just assumed charge of office. I’ll get the assessment report prepared as soon as possible,” was Mandokhel’s response.

There is a general perception in the area that the poor and NGOs pray for floods to come every year. The poor will get enough to eat after the floods, thanks to NGOs that spend no more than half of the relief funds provided by international aid agencies.

Both, the NGOs and the poor flood affectees, seem disappointed this year. “After last year’s flood, we had to force them (the flood victims) out of the camps. They had refused to go back to their homes months after the floodwater had receded because they were getting ration at the camp,” said Jabbar, Assistant Commissioner Naseerabad.

However, NGOs, while admitting corruption within their own ranks, claim they do provide some relief, because they say they are accountable to their donors. “We were the first to contact the district administration to get an NOC (No-Objection Certificate). We have told them we have enough supplies in stock to help at least 5,000 victims. We just want to use our own stocks to help. What’s wrong with that?” said Sharaf-ud-Din Zehri, head of a local NGO.

This article was originally published in The News on September 21, 2012.

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