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Sleepwalking in Sindh
 By  Syed Mohibullah Shah

Sleepwalking in Sindh:-Pakissan.comWhen the Indus breached its embankment at Tori in 2010, with water flow at 11,60,000 cusecs under the Guddu barrage, the resulting floods devastated lives and livelihood of millions of people living in six districts on its right bank.

This in 2012, even though in 1975 – with much less resources – flood waters of 12,00,000 cusecs had passed under the Guddu barrage without causing any breach in the embankment at Tori or any other place and without piling miseries upon millions.

Next year, in 2011, the rains caused devastation to many more millions – this time on the left bank of the Indus.

Thousands of uprooted families – men, women and children – lived their lives by the roadside, or any high ground they could find and depended upon charity to feed themselves.

Draining out water and getting people to return to their devastated homes and to some semblance of normalcy took almost two years.

In both cases, tens of billions worth of losses were suffered by the people from what could have been avoidable disasters – and certainly of reduced magnitude – if preparatory and preventive measures had been put into place.

And now, it is the turn of the people of the Thar Desert to taste the medicine of this sort of sleepwalking through governance. It is easy to blame all this on nature, but the only thing natural about the rain is that it falls – more or less – from the skies above.

But what were the men doing on the ground below, especially the systems and institutions of governance designed to handle such challenges?

Small administrative measures taken on time in August and September 2013 would have prevented the drought from turning into a famine that will now continue to take its toll until the next monsoon season arrives in June 2014.

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If the local administration was often absent or was incompetent, where did the monitoring role and responsibility at the provincial level go? And if the administrative machinery had gone to sleep, why were the representatives of the people not awake to impending disasters to their constituents? Why did they not raise these issues in the provincial and national assemblies?

Sleepwalking through governance while major issues remain unresolved and new adversities keep piling upon the people does not speak well – neither of those who owe duties and responsibilities towards the people nor for that model of democratic dispensation.

What has stopped empathy, soul-searching, analysis, internal reviews, monitoring, checks and balances and weeding out of rotten eggs – whether in the administrative or political systems? And why has a mindset been gaining ground over the years, which smacks more of a medieval neglect of people and their problems than a modern system of governance that equips them with skills and opportunities and moves them forward to face the future with confidence?

Since there have been no major developmental initiatives – industrial, infrastructural or agricultural – in recent years, poverty and unemployment have been rising in both urban and rural areas, leading to increased crime and social and economic tensions.

The province continues to suffer from the dubious distinction of ‘segregated development’ adding to problems for itself as well as the country.

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Instead of integrating the economy of rural and urban areas – through infrastructure projects and facilities that criss-cross throughout the province, creating linkages between agricultural and industrial economies and developing common stakes of wellbeing among people through ‘integrated development’ – separate and exclusive fiefdoms continue to be promoted, with non-interference in each other’s domains and breeding more problems ahead.

The stories emanating from the Thar Desert will continue to haunt people across the country for a long time. As unfortunate as these tragedies are, the common thread of systemic and repeated failures to respond timely and effectively to challenges is what worries one about the future ahead.

A report in this newspaper by its Thar-based correspondent narrated the tale of deaths of children and livestock in Shahmir village – barely 10 kms from Islamkot – lamenting that no representative of the relevant government department had visited the people there, much less offered any assistance.

So where is this Islamkot? Islamkot was the place where the foundation stone was laid for a 5200MW coal-fired power project in January 1996 – by former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the chairperson of the PPP.

According to project details, Islamkot was to be the hub of Thar coal-mining operations with residential colonies and related facilities of water, electricity, health and education for the workforce as well as the technical and managerial staff.

A new railway line was to carry powdered coal from Islamkot to power houses at Keti Bandar.

If governance had not been sleepwalking through these years, this project alone would have broken the back of any famine and certainly prevented pain and suffering faced by tens of thousands of people.

Besides, it would have produced cheap and abundant electricity for the whole country.

Those who criticise the superior judiciary and the media for paying attention to the famine conditions facing people in Thar should realise that if internal systems of checks and balances within the executive branch and the oversight by the legislatures had not disappeared, others would not have found the space to step into the vacuum.

Had these interventions not happened, business as usual would have further ravaged the lives and livelihood of many more – all of which would have gone unnoticed and unattended.

Thank you, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the prompt and generous support to mitigate the sufferings of the people in the Thar Desert. And Pakistan Army and the Rangers for quickly providing food and medical facilities.

These measures – and now the Sindh government has also come into action – will greatly help in meeting the immediate challenges posed by the famine.

But where are the international NGOs? Their assistance is needed to find permanent solutions to water supply and settlement problems. We are not the only country in the world with a desert.

Those responsible can be guided by seeing how others have found permanent solutions to similar problems of desert regions; a lesson in regional planning would help.

Also most welcome are the suo motu notices of this disaster in the desert taken by the Supreme Court and the Sindh High Court. Their actions have already helped wake up governance and provided the necessary impetus for overdue actions.

So kindly continue monitoring and reviewing the progress, lest business as usual become the order of the day again – until the coming difficult months have passed with minimum loss to the lives and livelihood of the poor people of Thar.

The writer, as head of Board of Investment, marketed and negotiated the finalisation of the 5200MW Thar coal-fired power project.

March, 2014

Source:  The News;


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