Pakistan: Flood disaster in Sindh ‑ a revolutionary struggle for Rescue and Relief

Where local landlords and bourgeois politicians have tried to defend their economic interests at the expense of the flood victims, the comrades of the PTUDC have given a lead in organising the masses in committees to run the relief effort themselves. This shows what is possible when a revolutionary lead is given.

The recent flood is one of the worst seen in the history of subcontinent, displacing more than two million people directly throughout Pakistan, destroying millions of acres of cultivated lands, demolishing millions of homes, rendering half a million people unemployed. Disease, misery and death are on the order of the day. Apart from the immediate catastrophe produced by the flooding, life threatening infections have spread like wildfire in makeshift camps. The lives of hundreds of thousands of children are at risk; they can die at any time if there is no proper intervention. Hunger has also put life at further risk.

The majority of pregnant women are without nutritional support required in the ante-natal period, and they are at risk of developing malnutrition ending in fatal consequences for the fetus and themselves alike.

Most of the people, under the scorching sun, are without even make-shift tents, proper food, clothing or sanitation facilities. Such are the conditions in all the camps set up for the flood victims. More than one million people are settled in camps and about the same number, in the hope of returning to their destroyed homes, are staying on the roads of Sindh from Kashmore to Karachi without any basic facilities. Men women and children under the open sky, in the burning hot weather, depend on the only assistance available, that of their working brothers and sisters who are providing food, clothes and shelter, within the limits of what they can provide.

The government has failed to provide adequate relief to these poor victims. In spite of all the pledges from international and national donors, little has materialised and even less has trickled down to the real victims. The rot of the state machinery has been exposed as has the callous indifference of the rulers. Different representatives of the elite are doing photo sessions and wrangling over the disaster management. But the real faces of these puppets of imperialism will be exposed further as time goes by and the situation worsens. The floods have destroyed the already weak infrastructure. Major cities have lost their means of communication. This has added further to the misery of the people.

Capitalism is showing its ugly face in Pakistan; the utter failure of this system has compelled millions of people to live in hell-like conditions. Floods have further exposed the inability of this profit driven system to deal with such disasters. Despite warnings of flooding a month ago, no preventive measures were taken to save the people. Despite knowing the weakness of the safety dykes no repair work was initiated. The disaster management authority has been dysfunctional for years and exists only on paper. It was not made functional as a precautionary measure.

When the water entered Sindh from the Sukkur barrage, the safety dyke known as Torri was broken, instead of the Ali Wahan which was the one to be broken to give safe passage to the water away from the populated areas. But the reason why Ali Wahan was not broken was to save thousands of acres of land belonging to people at the top in the ministries and the army officers. The decision to cut the Torri dyke provoked endless havoc which still continues. The water flow directions became unnatural and out of control.

After issuing a first warning to Ghouspur, a town in the district of Shikarpur, without telling the people an alternative place to move to, the people of the to-be affected areas became alert and started to protest against artificial cuts to the dykes demanding the passage of water away from the populated areas. But the clash of interests among local Members of Parliament to save their landed estates botched the whole operation and the impoverished workers and peasant masses had to suffer. This added to the devastation across Sindh, from Shahdadkot to Thatta where harrowing scenes of human tragedy are a curse on this system and society. The ruling elites in order to divert the anger of the masses away from themselves are trying to present this man-made disaster as completely natural.

Role of the media

As a pillar of the state, the media is playing a criminal role, strengthening the ideas of the ruling classes, who are constantly repeating that this crisis is solely natural. Petit bourgeois emotionalism is instilled to compensate for the anger developing against the rulers.

People were misinformed about the direction of the water and at times warnings of evacuation were issued, spreading panic among people. Rumours were broadcast as confirmed news which further added to the mayhem.

Pictures of hungry, downtrodden women and children fighting each other over a bag of flour were shown and appeals were made to the already impoverished masses to donate money in the bank accounts of the prime minister, president and other high ups, while a few personal accounts of the elite are stuffed with more than enough cash that could finance the whole relief and rehabilitation challenge.

The role of the right-wing media has been to exaggerate the role of the army in relief efforts to rebuild its tarnished image. Army personnel are being shown, saving lives of people with helicopters. Right-wing leaders are highlighted while distributing relief goods. In return the media is getting advertisements with handsome amounts of money. This is a two-way business between the media and the right wing, while the victims of the flood are served contaminated food infected with fungus.

In any class society the media cannot be impartial. It serves the interests of the dominant classes and tries to suppress the voice of the exploited classes. During these disastrous times, while the so-called leaders are advising people not to protest and accept their fate, they are increasing their attacks on the workers with massive redundancies in the telecommunication, railways and other sectors of industries. Prices have risen astronomically during this disaster resulting in huge profits for the ruling classes. Yet there are strikes going on in PTCL and other industries against these attacks in spite of the efforts of the media to demoralise the workers abusing this flood tragedy. The media has suppressed this voice of the workers in the emotionalism around the floods.

Revolutionary Flood Relief and Protest Campaign

Marxism is a science of perspectives. For some time we have raised the perspective of sudden and sharp changes. Ted Grant used to say, events, events and events will shake the consciousness of the people. We are witnessing how these events are shaking the thinking of the masses, on an almost daily basis. So-called natural disasters are also events where the masses become aware of the the class contradictions in society through their experiences. But the masses learn even more quickly when there is a revolutionary organisation that bases itself on the ideas of Marxism to end the class system of the haves and have-nots. This is what makes the difference in Pakistan when we look at the relief activities for the flood victims.

Most political parties and organisations like NGOs, Trusts, and charity organisations, which operate with the money from the well off and exploiting classes, participate in this campaign for religious, sentimental and political gains, rather than from the point of view of a revolutionary class solidarity with the oppressed victims. The comrades of the PTUDC from the very first day of the disaster launched a Revolutionary Flood Relief & Protest Campaign. This relief campaign has been providing basic necessities, medical assistance and political awareness to understand the causes of this crisis and its solution for more than a month. Most of the comrades involved are from those areas affected by the disaster and were among the victims themselves. One hundred and fifty thousand leaflets in the Sindhi and Urdu languages have been distributed, which explain the real hands behind this disaster. They also explain the workings of capitalism and demand the rapid rehabilitation of people along with other demands. Leaflets are circulated in affected, non-affected areas and in the camps, with the setting up of committees to organise the relief operation.

Medical assistance

Teams of doctors associated with the PTUDC have been working in most areas of the country to provide medical assistance to victims suffering from different diseases and in pain. Medicines were collected from workers from all over the country through our comrades. Outpatient clinics were setup at Makli (an ancient graveyard near the historical city of Thatta) which continued for 10 days, two makeshift clinics were set up at Hyderabad (one near the Toll plaza and another at Kali Mori College), medical camps were set up in several towns and remote hamlets in Sindh. A mobile clinic was set up at Dadu, the largest isolated town in Sindh, which has been visiting different camps in the area. At least 10,000 patients suffering from different diseases were treated with medicines worth millions. Apart from providing medicine and treatment, a team of psychiatrists provided counselling to people with acute stress disorder, which is very common in times of disasters like the present one. This acute stress disorder can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder if it is prolonged. The PTUDC’s team of doctors also suggested possible measures to prevent this problem. The process of providing medical assistance still continues and further clinics are planned in different parts of Sindh.

High Spirits

At least 750 comrades and their families have affected directly throughout Pakistan, of which 270 are in the Sindh region. Comrades displaced from their home towns have settled in different areas, such as Karachi, Hyderabad and other places. It was our revolutionary duty to save the comrades and take care of their needs. Comrade Jawad Ahmed (a famous singer) and Qasir Nizamani, one of the renowned Sindhi drama artists, played a key role and supplied truckloads of relief goods to the PTUDC camps. Affected comrades were provided their daily needs through the regional office.

Comrades of Shadad kot and Khairpur Nathan Shan, towns which are completely submerged in the flood waters, rescued as many people as they could, transported them to safer places and braved all the hazards with revolutionary courage. Now in Hyderabad and other cities, where they have been displaced, as part of their political and relief struggle, they are going to camps, distributing relief goods and circulating leaflets.

Several demonstrations have been organised by comrades in different cities to protest against the ineptitude of the regime and demanded urgent relief for the affected. They are also actively involved in the process of rehabilitation of the victims.

This shows the understanding of the ideas and the commitment to the revolutionary cause even in times of distress and devastation.

The masses taking control can this be generalised? The example of Dadu and Johi

The struggle of the comrades in Dadu and Johi answers this question in the affirmative. From day one Johi, an important town in western Sindh, was under constant danger of being submerged by the flood waters. The local administrators and Members of Parliament were enjoying the luxuries of their centrally air conditioned bungalows, while many villages were still deprived of electricity and were being inundated in this region. The masses were in a state of uncertainty and danger, while the rulers were trying to protect the interests of a multinational corporation (BP) by diverting the gushing waters away towards the populated areas. Johi town and its surrounding villages have a population of 275,000 people. Most of the villages are submerged in water and Johi town is surrounded by flood waters making it an island. The authorities ordered the town to be evacuated. The comrades of the PTUDC refused and announced that the people of Johi would not leave their homes and rot in the miserable camps. They mobilised the people of the city who toiled day and night to fill the cracks and strengthen the dyke so that it could not be breached. In the end the administration was defeated and the comrades succeeded in saving Johi. The only protection to the city is this safety dyke, which is still being worked on by our comrades in collaboration with local citizens.

But out of chaos can come order and that order was brought by the comrades. They have organised the people into committees and held demonstrations on a daily basis, attended by hundreds of local people. Comrades disclosed all the intrigues and conspiracies of the local elites to the masses. This was almost done on a daily basis and gradually they became the only reliable force leading the masses. Hand in hand with the people in difficult times, they brought them to a position of control over the city. Mass support for our comrades became a threat to the local landlords. They tried to sabotage the work done by our comrades by spreading rumours. On the one hand these landlords planned to drown the city while at the same time blaming our comrades for that. The comrades reacted quickly, held a press conference and exposed the conspiracy. They called for mass unity and asked the people to gather at the dyke and take control of it. The people responded to their call and gathered at the dyke. Meetings of the different committees formed are now being held regularly.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the situation is under the control of our comrades. They have massive support and in any adverse condition the comrades could call on the committees to take control of the whole city.

Dadu is an important centre of the PTUDC in Sindh. Discontent with the rulers is even greater and the comrades are working day and night explaining things and organising the masses.

Revolutionary Flood Relief and Protest Committees have been merged into a wider platform, the “Save Dadu Committee”. Large sections of the population of the city are involved. Local citizens are angry with the water diversion policies and unsatisfactory work going on at the dyke and the inadequate relief efforts. The local political leaders have abdicated their role in fear of the wrath of the people. Two huge demonstrations have been held in Dadu City attended by hundreds of people led by our comrades with flags bearing the hammer and sickle. People are responding enthusiastically to the calls for meetings and demonstrations. There is a rising support for the PTUDC in the region.

However, the city is still under great danger. A famous lake known as Manchhar is full above its capacity and the water is overflowing, and if the level of water rises further, the surrounding towns will be ruined. The rulers have shown their indifference and many people have left the cities near the lake.

Chaos and Anarchy

After the floods have displaced millions of people the general situation seems to be anarchic, with riots and looting in the camps and attacks on the relief goods convoys by the starving people. The rulers worsen the situation when they come in helicopters for photo sessions of food, money and goods distribution. Deprivation psychology comes into play and angry mob fights break out frequently. It is the presence of our comrades that makes a big difference. Due to the organisation of these committees the whole process of distribution and treatment becomes more organised, efficient and disciplined. The state and the regime are impotent and indifferent to this challenge. This is a cruel joke on innocent flood victims and adds insult to injury for the tragic human victims.

What Way Forward?

Disasters do not only bring anarchy, but also expose the ruling elite and the rottenness of the whole system in the consciousness of the masses. The struggle of our comrades in Johi and Dadu is setting an example of how to prevent anarchy and carry out the relief work in difficult conditions in Sindh and other parts of Pakistan. The masses are learning the methods of organising themselves. The PTUDC comrades are intervening with the ideas of Marxism, explaining to the masses the solution to this crisis and the sufferings of human beings in the present situation. The social fabric has already been torn apart by unemployment, price hikes, poverty, privatisation, unemployment, terrorism, misery and disease. This disaster will add fuel to the fire burning in the hearts and minds of working people against this corrupt and decaying system and the state. We have to be with the masses, explaining patiently the need for a socialist transformation of society. If we succeed and we are determined that we shall, then in the future disasters will be averted through highly develop technology and a society under revolutionary socialism.