By Iseult McLister
In the last few months some of the heaviest rains ever recorded put a fifth of Pakistan under water. They have affected over 17 million people and increased the number of those living below the poverty line from 33 percent of the population to 40 percent. Agriculture and transport links have been destroyed and there are grave fears about the winter months as snow is expected in many regions.
$300m have been donated because of a United Nations appeal for emergency relief but more is needed. There are, however, international concerns over how relief aid will be put to use by President Zardari, who has been accused of corruption in the past. A UN official said that “donors are worried over the possibility of large-scale corruption and want to see evidence of a very efficient utilisation of their funds before they step forward”.
Fears are that instability in Pakistan will lead to “spillover effects” in neighbouring Afghanistan where food prices have been adversely affected. It’s not just infrastructure which has been damaged – Pakistan’s “sphere of influence” has suffered.
One major government policy has been tackling Taliban militancy; however, this has inevitably been put on hold because the more urgent internal crisis has taken priority. For example, the army is leading the relief effort and although they maintain that the situation has not obstructed military actions on the borders, they rule out any new deployments against insurgents in the next few months.
Islamist charities with links to extremist groups have been helping with relief and they have filled a gap, in some cases, left by the state’s own rescue operations. These charities do not have the resources of the army, international donors or United Nations agencies but they are quick to respond and have much support amongst the people. Camps for the victims of flood damage could be open to extremist propaganda, where the desperate and homeless could be vulnerable to their ideology.
Pakistan may be facing a cultural and societal shift towards more strict orthodox Islam and perhaps in the wake of the flood damage a fertile breeding ground will be created for this as modernity and prosperity are washed away. The crisis was expected to stabilise after one month but as Neva Khan of Oxfam has said they are “still in phase one of an increasing catastrophe”.