Pakistan: masses devastated by floods and rains while rulers continue to loot and plunder

Pakistan has been ravaged by floods and torrential rains, while the ruling class continues to loot and plunder the impoverished masses at this time of distress and disaster. According to reports, around one third of the country has been devastated by the floods and rains of the last three months, while 33 million people have been affected. Around 1,400 have died, and around 4,000 injuries have been reported according to official figures. According to the recent reports 482,030 people have been displaced while 372,823 buildings have been destroyed.

These figures give only a limited picture. The real devastation is many times greater: state authorities are unable to ascertain accurate figures on account of their incompetence and corruption. According to some independent reports, around ten million people are suffering from acute hunger at the moment, having nothing to eat or drink. Many have not eaten for over a week and have had to walk long distances of up to a hundred kilometres  barefooted to reach safety.

The devastation began in mid-June when vast areas of Balochistan and parts of South Punjab were hit by hill torrents and rains. The ruling class, however, was busy with their infighting and power-grab politics, and as such the whole issue was ignored. The attention of the whole of the media, the politicians and the state institutions was on the activity of buying and selling MPs and similar such activities, in order to get their hands on power. Meanwhile, the plight of the flood-affected people wasn’t discussed at any level of government.

The current government led by Shahbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and others was focused on ousting Imran Khan’s party from the provincial assemblies and tightening their grip on power. Meanwhile, Imran Khan was using his following to get back into power at any cost. In the midst of this power struggle, the flood affected were living through a nightmare, without food or shelter, and enduring ever rains and waves of viral diseases. Meanwhile, rains were also devastating urban centres like Karachi and Hyderabad, where the drainage system was choking and cities were being inundated with water. The electricity supply was switched off for long hours every day. People were forced to suffer these horrendous conditions in extreme heat and humidity, while the ruling classes continued to live and busy themselves conspiring against one another in extreme luxury.

There had been ample time to ensure precautionary measures against the coming rains and flood waters flowing into the rivers. But nothing was done. It didn’t even register as a secondary news item in the mainstream media. Most of the media’s time was spent on the public meetings of Imran Khan, in which he begged the Army chief and other generals to return him to power, as they did in 2018. The dams, canals and other related infrastructure of Pakistan were already in a state of collapse due to the huge budget cuts of recent years, and the diversion of money either to defence expenditure or the repayment of loans and interest payments to IMF and World Bank. This was a recipe for a disaster.

Construction along river beds

At the end of July and start of August, the whole situation worsened as the flood water rose to dangerous levels, while hill torrents also became out of control. A major cause of the devastation has been the illegal construction work carried out in recent years along the river bed. Local administrations, with the connivance of their officers, local politicians and army officers, had permitted building construction in areas which form the natural courses of rivers and hill torrents.

For instance, in the path of the hill torrents that descend from the Koh-e-Suleman range in South Punjab, many small industrial units for stone crushing were operating to supply materials for the construction industry. Similarly, in the Swat valley in the North of Pushtoonkhwa, many hotels and restaurants had been built in the river bed, which have now been washed away by the floods. Many rural workers have also been forced to form settlements along the river beds, as they had no other place to live, and the government has failed to provide them with alternative housing or dwellings, and so they have continued to reside in dangerous zones that are prone to flooding.

The uncontrolled flood waters have also devastated thousands of villages across the country and people living there have now been made homeless, living on the sides of main roads under the open sky without food to eat or water to drink.

Near Gilgit in the north, the flood water descending from melting glaciers have devastated many bridges and inundated small villages. The main road KKH connecting Gilgit with the rest of the country has been damaged in many places, cutting off the area from other parts of the country. The supply of essential items like wheat and fuel to these areas is now restricted.

Kohistan has also been badly affected. The area lies south of Gilgit, and is in the Pushtoonkhwa province where Imran Khan’s PTI has ruled for the last nine years. Here the flood has devastated numerous villages. A video of an incident here went viral, when five brothers became stuck on a stone in the middle of a ravaging river for five hours. They were not rescued, however, by local authorities or the provincial government, despite several appeals. In the end, all five brothers drowned in the waters after a desperate struggle caught on a mobile camera. There was public outcry against the apathy of the government, which could have used the helicopter at its disposal, which was at that time being used by Imran Khan himself to travel to public meetings.

Swat valley, Dir and other areas of Pushtoonkhwa have also been severely affected, while the cities of Nowshehra and Charsadda have been devastated.  Around 1.2 million were affected in Nowshehra as the Munda dam was breached, and the city’s residents were evacuated in the emergency, leaving their homes and belongings to drown in the flood.

South Punjab has been one of the most deeply affected areas, with huge areas from Rojhan to Taunsa having been flooded, and thousands of villages submerged along the valley of the Indus river. The large town of Fazilpur in Rajanpur district was almost completely drowned, affecting hundreds of thousands in the area. Main roads have been damaged, disconnecting whole areas from the rest of the country and rendering rescue efforts nearly impossible.

In Sindh, the district of Dadu has been the worst affected area so far, as the whole towns of Johi and K.N.Shah were submerged in waters that affected the whole population. The local administration has now breached the nearby Manchar lake to save the main cities, but at the price of devastating at least forty thousand villages, drowned by the flood water.

In Balochistan, many districts have been completely destroyed. From MusaKhel to Naseerabad, whole areas are still submerged in water and people are living under the open sky without food or water. At one point Quetta, the biggest city of the province, was affected and was disconnected from the rest of the country, as the rail and road network were flooded. Telephone lines and the internet were also cut off.

The rains and flood water have demolished hundreds of thousands of houses made from mud by people unable to afford concrete housing. Around 5,000 kilometres of roads, and at least 145 bridges have been damaged, rendering rescue efforts more difficult. According to a report 17,650 schools were damaged or destroyed as well as thousands of basic health facilities and hospitals.

According to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 650,000 pregnant women are affected by these floods, of which 73,000 are expected to deliver in a month.

Crops and livestock washed away

Livestock across the country have been devastated. This was the main source of livelihood for millions of people. According to initial reports, around a million livestock animals have died in these floods, but this is a gross underestimate. The real damage will prove to have been many times greater.

Floods have also washed away standing crops in many areas across the country. It is estimated by the UN that two million acres of crops and orchards have been affected. In Punjab, where the loss was restricted to only six districts, 1.3 million acres have been affected, of which 744,998 acres had standing crops that were ripe for harvest. The crops affected most were the cotton and rice, as well as sugarcane and others. Millions of farmers and agricultural workers have been directly hit; their meagre resources washed away. It may take decades for them to recover, though even that looks doubtful. The agriculture sector in Pakistan has already suffered numerous issues, beginning with declining crop yields while production costs are high, pushing large numbers of farmers towards bankruptcy. The flood has now destroyed whatever remained of their income. Even the basic issue of demarcating land after the flood waters recede will be a daunting task on account of government incompetence and corruption. This basic issue will therefore remain unresolved. Sowing for the next season is also under threat and will be restricted. The longer the water takes to recede, the greater the delay in sowing the next crop, which is mainly wheat. This is notwithstanding difficulties in acquiring the financial resources to procure seed and other essentials for sowing crops.

This crisis has added to the woes of masses nationwide as the price of agricultural produce has soared. The price of onions and tomatoes at market for instance has skyrocketted. In Pakistan, inflation exceeded 27 percent in August, a 49-year high. The impact of the flood hasn’t even been factored in yet. The Sensitive Price Index, which calculates inflation for food items and fuel on a weekly basis, has exceeded 45 percent and is still rising. Official figures can be expected to lie about the real situation, and we can therefore be sure that actual inflation, especially on food items, is far higher.

The flooding has aggravated the health crisis in Pakistan, as diseases like cholera, malaria, dengue, diarrhoea and others spread among the disaster’s victims, infecting millions. According to the Sindh government, in August alone nearly 200,000 cases of acute watery diarrhoea and dysentery were reported among children in flood-affected regions. According to another report in the daily newspaper, Dawn, the diseases are spreading in the flood-affected areas of Punjab:

“Muhammad Asadullah Shahzad, the spokesperson for the secretary health south Punjab, said on Saturday 18,854 (10,201 in Rajanpur and 8,653 in DG Khan) people including children were suffering from diarrhoea and under treatment at medical camps. The number of patients, he said, was feared to rise. 

“As many as 35,114 people were suffering from skin diseases while 20,064 people had complained of fever, he said. According to him, eye infections were spreading as 2,437 people were getting treatment in both Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur districts. 

“It is alarming that 42,958 flood-stricken people are suffering from respiratory diseases,” said the spokesperson.”

He continued:

“…the data compiled covered a period of a month and a half -- July 15 to Sept 2. 

“As many as 570 cases of diarrhoea were reported in Rajanpur on Thursday. 

“The affected people are also facing starvation and incidents of food snatching have taken place.”

The markets are always poised to fully exploit catastrophic events such as these. The hoarding of essential medicines and equipment leads inevitably to further skyrocketing prices. The prices of tents and other essential items for flood-affected people have already skyrocketed, exacerbating difficulties in accessing them. The government and other regulating authorities are already suffocating through corruption, and connivance with hoarders and contractors using this tragedy to extract more profits.

Health facilities are already unavailable to eighty percent of the population in Pakistan. These floods have destroyed many of those few facilities that were available. This tragedy further compounds the suffering of the masses with further injury and insult. Sole responsibility lies with the ruling class of Pakistan. The health situation in the country was already atrocious, and now it has worsened still. Pakistan has one of the highest prevalence of stunted growth in the world, with 38 percent of children under five years of age affected. In Sindh, that figure rises to almost 50 percent.

The country also has the second highest burden of hepatitis C globally, with 8 million (five percent) of the population infected. After a lull of 15 months, polio cases are also making a comeback, with at least 17 cases reported until September. Irreparable damage has been done. Diseases are also spreading through animals and livestock, killing many more. Diseases like lumpy skin disease among cattle were spreading even before these floods. They are now extending across many other parts of the country.

Only a revolutionary change can end this nightmare for the millions of working-class people who are living in this hell.

Economic crisis

Pakistan is already facing an acute financial crisis and was on the verge of default last month. Following the path of the Sri Lankan economy, foreign reserves in Pakistan had fallen to one of their lowest levels, whilst the currency was depreciating at a rapid rate. As mentioned, inflation reached 27.3 percent in August, the highest in 49 years. In July, the Pakistani rupee lost more than 14 percent of its value – its worst month since 1989.

In the last fiscal year, which ended in June, the currency had already lost 30 percent of its value, a trend which continues. Though the IMF package has been revived after a Faustian bargain by the ruling class of Pakistan, Fitch’s credit ratings were still downgraded from stable to negative. On the directions of the IMF, the burden of the crisis was shifted onto the masses, with unprecedented hikes in electricity and fuel prices, and huge increase in taxes.

However, the industrialists, bankers and hoarders continue to enjoy subsidies of more than 3 to 4 billion rupees per annum, and even more tax breaks are being offered their way. Taxes on corporate profits are virtually waived off at the end of the year through various measures, or else the government finds itself unable to collect them due to corruption and under-reporting. Pakistan has one of the lowest tax to GDP ratios in the world, standing at around ten percent. Around eighty percent of the revenues are collected through indirect taxation: mostly on fuel and electricity, which affects the working class more than the rich.

Defence expenditures meanwhile are continuously rising – the source of commissions and kickbacks for those generals involved in purchasing arms from China and elsewhere. The army industrial complex, which includes businesses from cement to fertiliser production, and corn flakes to real estate, continue to enjoy full tax exemptions and government subsidies. The burden of the crisis has fallen completely on the shoulders of the suffering masses, while the looting by the rich continues unabated.

The floods have now aggravated this situation. It is estimated that $10 billion has been wiped off the economy. This will result in lower-than-expected GDP growth this year. Millions of workers will face unemployment as a consequence. It is expected that the rate of GDP growth will be less than two percent in this fiscal year, against a target of five percent, while the inflation will average 20 to 25 percent over the year. However, the situation has the potential to be far worse in the coming months. The temporary respite from the risk of default may prove temporary, despite the resumption of the IMF package after a delay of six months.

Despite being an agricultural country, Pakistan has to import wheat, cotton, sugar, palm oil and other basic food items due to the corruption of the ruling class, which has destroyed the agriculture sector. Smugglers and hoarders, in connivance with government officials, use various means to export many basic items to reap huge profits, thereby creating artificial shortages of these items in the country. The annual production of many items has failed to rise sufficiently to meet demand, on account of the ruling class’ lack of interest. Then – under the pretext of these shortages – imports are permitted by the government, which not only costs the state huge losses in terms of foreign reserves, but also causes consumers to suffer through heavy price on these items. The current crisis of essential crops being destroyed will be used by these ruling class vultures to exploit the situation further in their interests.

The rulers of this country are also now eyeing foreign aid for flood victims, and are once again begging various countries and donor organisations to help them in this dire situation. However, the corruption and looting of this ruling class has now been exposed to the world. There is therefore a reluctance to give aid. Though small donations have been announced by various countries and donors, most of this aid will be used to fill the coffers of the rulers and will be lost in the corruption and loot of the state machinery. The flood-affected people meanwhile will be left to die through hunger and disease.

The tragedy of the 2010 floods and the earthquake of 2005 are still fresh in the memory of many, who remember the mass plunder of foreign aid by the ruling class at that time. Aid merely became an opportunity for those then in power to enrich themselves. In one incident, when the Hollywood film star and UN representative Angelina Jolie reached Islamabad to help the flood victims in 2010, she was astonished to find that most of her time was spent in luxurious palaces in Islamabad, being served sumptuous dinners while the families of ministers and top bureaucrats fought to get a picture with her. The ladies and gentlemen in these gatherings wore clothes and jewellery worth millions of rupees, and spent their whole time laughing and partying. In the statement she released, she had to admit that she couldn't find any flood damage at these parties, but rather there was a mood of celebration!

The situation is no different right now. Political leaders, generals, judges and top bureaucrats continue to live in extreme luxury, while the masses continue to suffer. These people appeal for aid for the flood victims from the common people, while not one of them has reached into their own pockets to give even a penny towards this cause.

In one of his speeches, former Prime Minister Imran Khan even said that the floods would actually benefit the economy, and that next year there would be an economic boom due to this tragedy. The Army is also using the opportunity to improve its public image with the masses. Tremendous effort is being channelled into a publicity campaign to portray the army helping flood victims. In various cities, collection points have also been established by the Army to collect relief items for the flood victims, while defence spending and expenditures on the luxury lives of the generals continue unabated. In reality, most of the relief has been conducted by working class people who have come forward, even amidst severe economic distress, to try and help the flood victims to the fullest of their capacity. But this can barely make a dent, given the scale of the disaster. Only a concerted effort at the state level could have saved the lives and livelihoods of these people. There is no hope, however, within the confines of this draconian capitalist system.

Climate emergency

One of the main reasons for these floods is global warming and climate change, which have multiplied the devastation caused by the looting and plundering of the ruling class. This year, there has been unprecedented rainfall – around 190 percent above the average for the last three decades in the quarter ending in August. In Sindh, the rains were more than 466 percent higher than previous years.

The melting of ice in the glaciers has also exacerbated the catastrophe. Pakistan is the country on Earth outside the polar regions with the largest number of glaciers: 7,253. In a 2011 report, it was calculated that the melting of glaciers in the first decade of this century was 23 percent faster than the previous decade. This was also the fastest rate in the world at that time. Things have deteriorated further since. Pakistan is among the top five most affected countries by climate change, though it contributed only about one percent of global carbon emissions.

The people have been feeling the impact of climate change here for several years now, and this catastrophe had already been predicted. This year, the heatwave was also worse than in previous years, with temperatures reaching to 50 degree celsius in April – the highest on record for that month. The heatwaves of recent years have also been deadly, killing hundreds of people, mainly in Karachi. This year was even more severe, with temperatures at the peaks of the Himalayas breaking 100-year records in March and April, adding to the melting of more ice. In the plains, the people have to bear these extreme heatwaves without electricity or access to drinking water, leading to thousands of causalities.

Climate change has also changed the pattern of the monsoons, which are now more severe than in the past, bringing greater downpours every year. The timings of the season have also changed due to changes in climate patterns. In the coming years, even more devastating floods and other seasonal changes are expected, bringing in their wake even more devastating disasters. 

Another regular impact of climate change recently has been smog, which affects most of the urban centres in winter. The Air Quality Index should be around 50-100 under normal conditions. If it exceeds that, then the air is considered to be polluted. This index reaches 700-800 in Lahore and other cities in winter, the highest levels in the world, affecting the respiratory system of people and causing several diseases.

Government officials try to ignore these readings or cast doubt on their authenticity. Last year, a High Court judge in Lahore ruled that the smog comes from BBQ shops in the city, and that these shops should therefore be monitored to lower the AQI. Though reflecting the appetite of the judge and other officials for free BBQ meals as bribes from these shops, it does nothing to improve the living condition of the masses. Recently installed coal power plants imported from China and automobile emissions are responsible for this pollution, but the government has no ability to check these factors.

The country has also suffered mass-level deforestation, with army officers and local administrations acting in connivance with the timber mafia in destroying the environment. Pakistan has the second highest deforestation rate in Asia. Only Afghanistan exceeds it. Forest covers only around two percent of the land, while the recommended area is 25 percent. This year alone, more than 200 forest fires were reported only in Pushtoonkhwa province, devastating large areas. These fires were partly due to the heatwave and partly due to the corruption of forest officials and the timber mafia’s wood smuggling operation.

A historic pine-nut forest in Sherani district of Balochistan was partially destroyed by forest fire in May this year – a disaster that could have been avoided if the rescue operation had been promptly undertaken. In that fire, 14,000 acres of forest were destroyed in three weeks and three people were killed. Pakistan, which boasts of nuclear power, didn’t even have a rescue plane with which it could put out fire, and had to rent a plane from nearby Iran to douse the fire. Many smaller incidents have occured in Swat and the adjoining areas, destroying the already diminishing forest areas of the country.

Besides its inability to stop deforestation, the government has been unable to build reservoirs for water and has reduced the budget for irrigation systems, leading to a collapse of infrastructure. In recent floods, more than 21 smaller dams in Balochistan were destroyed due to poor construction and corruption. Similarly, canals and dams are already being rendered useless due to silting, and no new projects to replace them are in sight. In summer this year, farmers were complaining of a lack of water for crops as a result of delayed rains and the drying up of rivers, on account of which they had to delay the sowing of crops. Now, a few months later, the situation has turned into its opposite.

Looking at the state of the economy and infrastructure in Pakistan, the impact of this disaster will be multiplied in coming weeks and months. More rains are expected in September, and most of the infrastructure is already near collapse. The Pakistani state doesn’t have the capacity to rebuild the infrastructure or rehabilitate the millions affected by these floods and rains, who will be left to die in distress.

According to various reports, around ten million people are facing acute hunger and thirst at the moment. There are no resources available even to reach these people. This is before even getting to the question of supplying them with enough food items, shelter and clothing. Many people have met relief teams who were hungry for more than a week and who had to walk for hundreds of kilometres to reach dry land. In many places, dead bodies are floating in the water as there is no dry place to bury them. The dead bodies of animals are even more numerous and are further assisting the spread of disease.

The working class of the country has expressed its complete solidarity with these flood victims and has shown much generosity towards the relief efforts. There is complete mistrust on the ruling class, however, and no one expects any improvement from these filthy rich vultures. There is a seething anger and rage against the ruling class, which could burst out over any small incident in the coming period. A mass movement against the loot and plunder of the ruling class, capable of overthrowing the rule of these bloodthirsty creatures, is entirely possible.

Comrades of the IMT are putting forward a concrete programme for the working class for the ridding of this bloodthirsty capitalist system. The Red Workers Front has launched a Protest and Solidarity Campaign for the flood victims across the country, with support from the Progressive Youth Alliance. Protests have been held in Karachi, D.G.Khan and other cities against the callous and criminal role of the ruling class, while camps have been established in cities across the country to collect relief goods and funds for the flood victims.

These camps have been joined by various trade union leaders and workers who have shown generosity amid difficult economic circumstances. In the coming days, more protests will be held, with a one in Islamabad against this brutality, while more relief camps will also be established to gather essential items and funds to dispatch to these affected areas.

Only a socialist revolution can end this misery once and forever, and rebuild the whole of society on a modern basis, in which food, clothing, shelter, health and education will be provided to everyone by the state, and all the resources of the country will be placed under the democratic control of the working class. Rather than the enrichment of the one percent ruling the country, they will then be used for the benefit of the whole population.

Following a socialist revolution, the impact of climate change could also be addressed, as it is capitalism that lies at the root cause of this disaster. Climate change shows that it is the responsibility of the workers not of one country, but of the whole world to fight against this devastation. Only with workers of all countries standing in solidarity can the catastrophe afflicting the planet be averted. Without a revolutionary change, the capitalist system will continue to destroy the planet, and millions will continue to suffer in destitution and misery.

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