Aug 23, 2010

Balochistan: NDMA Must Allow International Aid In

Senator Sanaullah Baloch talks of the how the region is underrepresented - even compared to its regional neighbours - and is not receiving the assistance it needs in the current crisis.

Below is an article was published by The Dawn Media Group:


The Indus River has unleashed its own ‘terror’ in areas that were normally considered safe from the destruction wrought by humans because of the remoteness of locations. 

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, southern Punjab, central Sindh and the eastern districts of Balochistan are facing a humanitarian crisis of vast proportions. Since Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is the front-line province in the war against terror and has a competent provincial leadership, it is likely to get fair levels of response. Punjab, similarly, is well-represented in influential institutions and is a well-off province. It, too, may prove to have the institutional capacity required to deal with the situation. Sindh, meanwhile, has a sizeable share in the federal capital, where the majority of the top political positions are occupied by the PPP. 

Balochistan, however, is seriously lacking in capacity, leadership and resources. 

The United Nations’ agency for human settlements, UN Habitat, says in an Aug 5 report Rapid assessment of flood affected areas in Balochistan that: “The Balochistan government has fewer resources as compared to the other provinces. The capacity of the people of Balochistan to cope with such a calamity is low as compared to other provinces, keeping in view that it is the most deprived province of Pakistan. It is evident that owing to the scale of disaster a major humanitarian response is required to assist the people….” 

Despite these grave realities, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has banned international donor agencies, aid organisations and NGOs from directly assisting the flood-affected people of the province. Meanwhile, the ministries of foreign affairs and the interior, and the provincial home departments, have issued a list of ‘open’ and ‘prohibited’ areas for foreign nationals in Pakistan. The decision requires regular security clearance for international staff travelling to all the prohibited areas, which include all seven Fata agencies and several flood-affected districts of Balochistan. 

Furthermore, Islamabad has imposed a ‘project no-objection certificate’ issuance condition for any organisation operating in the flood-affected areas in Balochistan, even though this could be temporarily suspended as it has been in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by the provincial disaster management authority. 

Since the effects of these decisions have not been applied to other regions, they could be considered to be discriminatory vis-à-vis the flood-affected population of Balochistan. 

The NDMA has no legal, constitutional or moral jurisdiction to justify its discriminatory approach. And, it must be remembered, this is a province that has already been in the midst of crises since 2005, when the ongoing spell of economic meltdown, displacement, killings and disappearances started. 

In disallowing international aid organisations access to Balochistan and in discouraging local NGOs from taking part in relief operations in the flood-affected areas, the NDMA is echoing Islamabad’s authoritarian approach. This approach is inconsistent with the principles of human rights and humanitarianism. Responsibility for the lack of access to relief and the consequential deterioration in the affected populations’ condition must lie with the government. 

The NDMA decision was formally conveyed to Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani during a meeting held to consult provincial officials about a proposal to hold an international donor conference in Balochistan. The director-general of the provincial disaster authority informed the meeting that the ban had slowed down the pace of relief operations. Earlier too, the Baloch people were left at the mercy of natural disasters. In July 2007, the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz announced that “Pakistan will not take foreign aid from any country to overcome the losses and devastation caused by Cyclone Yemyin in Balochistan”. 

The Musharraf regime ignored the situation and hampered access to national and foreign donors. Meanwhile, flash floods destroyed infrastructure to the tune of Rs1tr, affected over 6,500 villages and levelled 80,000 houses. An estimated 1.5 million people were affected by the floods, 250,000 of whom were rendered homeless. 

In the early phase of the 2007 cyclone, the central government dropped a few relief packages but later refused all international aid and assistance. The people of western Balochistan who were affected by those floods still live in self-constructed shelters in and around Turbat city. 

More recently, the widespread torrential rains and cyclonic winds of Phet lashed the Makran coast and parts of central Makran in June. The central government underreported the damage and ignored the situation. 

Balochistan is a high-risk zone for disasters that include drought, earthquakes and tsunamis. It still bears the scars of Cyclone Yemyin, while the severe drought between 1999 and 2003 ravaged the provincial economy. After that the state created a manmade disaster — a military ‘solution’ to the Baloch problem — which resulted in killings, disappearances and an economic blockade. The current floods will have a continuing and devastating impact on the socio-economic conditions of the people of the province, aggravating poverty and issues of inequality amongst the provinces. 

The current situation in the eastern parts of Balochistan is appalling, with hundreds of thousands of people unable to reconstruct their mud homes. They need attention, assistance and opportunities to resume their normal economic activities. The central government must take immediate steps to seek international humanitarian assistance, which is becoming readily available, to develop a recovery and reconstruction plan. The immediate priorities are shelter, food, clean drinking water and sanitation, which need to be provided to all flood victims regardless of geography. 

The NDMA needs to withdraw its decision regarding the ban on international and national relief operations. All international aid and assistance must be equally distributed among the needy families in all four federating units.