Monday, February 27, 2006

Politics of Rehabilitation

Source: IPCS Pakistan Alert, Article no.18; 2005
Seema Sridhar in her article "Earthquake in NWFP: Politics of Rehabilitation" highlights the exacerbated plight of the NWFP in Pakistan as it braves nature and an apathetic administration after the 8 October earthquake. Seema is a Research Officer at IPCS.
The 8 October earthquake has charted a new course in improving the cooperation between regional actors. It has implications not only for the Indo-Pak bilateral relations, but also for inter-provincial relations in Pakistan. The North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan has a history of alienation and lopsided development. It has been severely affected by the disaster. A section feels that the province received secondary treatment in terms of rehabilitation efforts. What measures are the provincial and federal government taking for relief and rehabilitation in NWFP? Are there any implications for the future of federal-provincial relations in this context?
Abbottabad, Manshera, Battagram and Kohistan are the worst affected areas in NWFP. According to government figures reveal that over 10,000 have lost their lives, with more than 15,000 injured and over 2,00,000 people rendered homeless. However, the opposition and the international organizations contest these figures. Towns like Balakot, Alie, Garhi Habib Ullah and Batal are the worst affected with more than 50 per cent of material damages. Children in particular are the most vulnerable; 93 per cent of the educational institutions are destroyed. Several volunteer groups played a key role in rescue and relief when both the provincial and federal governments were initially paralysed after the quake. The local administration and army formations are coordinating relief efforts with army helicopters surveying quake-hit areas in order to assess damage and identify areas that have been inaccessible. However, coordination with elected representatives has proved to be tougher. The provincial assembly indulged in irrelevant discussions during the crucial debate on how to tackle the catastrophe by focusing on Major-General Shaukat Sultan having breakfast at the time of the quake during Ramzan. The ruthless cold weather in Kaghan, Patan, Batgram and the neighbouring locations has hindered relief operations. Political groups like the MMA vociferously opposed the NWFP Chief Minister attending the National Security Council meeting specially convened to discuss quake rehabilitation. This only reiterates how parties have tried to put relief measures on the backburner for scoring political points.
The provincial discontent over the federal government was apparent when the NWFP Assembly unanimously passed a resolution demanding that the latter transfer all foreign and domestic donations to the former for relief work. The Assembly, in its resolution also asked the federal government to write off outstanding loans against people in the earthquake-hit areas. The federal government released Rs 500 mn and has pledged an additional Rs 1000 mn for the dead and wounded in NWFP. The provincial government has projected Rs 20 bn to build new homes and Rs 12 bn towards infrastructural reconstruction.
Many foreign rescue teams operating in NWFP include WHO, UNICEP, and teams from Iran, Jordan, China, Poland, Philippines, France and Italy. Substantial aid has been provided by the US, the World Bank and other foreign donors, but it has not reached the people in the province. Though the services of local, national and international NGOs, donor countries and common people are being lauded for their humanitarian work, the indolent attitude of the federal government has been condemned. Frustration over being marginalized in comparison to the relief efforts in Azad Kashmir and Northern areas has been quietly building up as international media attention has also been more focused on the latter area owing to the region's obvious strategic importance as a conflict area. The implications for the ongoing Indo-Pak peace process vis-à-vis movement along and across the Line of Control (LoC) and cooperation in relief operations has concentrated international attention mostly on Kashmir, though all affected regions have been facing similar obstacles.
A Provincial Disaster Management Cell has been set up to regulate relief activities in health sector in the earthquake-hit areas of the province. To get a fair share for the province is a crucial task and politicization of this key aspect could only make the inter-provincial divide in Pakistan sharper. The frontier province has been fighting for its share in the National Finance Commission (NFC) award for financial allocation, Indus River System Authority IRSA) for water distribution among other things. The federal government needs to wake up to this call and make use of this opportunity to win over the confidence of the frontier people with timely and equitable relief allocation. Disaster management needs to rise above provincial politics and apathy towards the province.

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