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Pakistan's Epic Flooding Crisis

Epic flooding in Pakistan. We look at the pain – and politics – of the flood.

**For information on how you can help flood victims, the U.S. State Department recommends going to Interaction.org to see charities — secular and religious — that are accepting donations now.

Members of a Pakistani family make their way through flooded streets in Muzaffargarh near Multan, Pakistan, on Aug. 17, 2010. (AP)

It’s hard to take in the scale of the flooding in Pakistan right now. It’s epic. Vast. Overwhelming. Monster monsoon rains that have brought the deluge over huge portions of the country. 

A fifth of Pakistan, under the flood’s reign. Millions displaced, clinging to treetops and outcroppings, hungry. Seventeen million acres of the country’s most fertile cropland, submerged. Reports of cholera. 

And all this in one of the most volatile nations on earth, where history, and the Taliban, and nukes and the Afghan war all jostle. We look at the humanitarian crisis, pain, and politics in Pakistan’s flood.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests: 

Zahid Hussain, reporter for the Wall Street Journal. 

Adil Najam, director of Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and professor of International Relations and Geography & the Environment. He blogs about Pakistan-related issues at pakistaniat.com

Shandana Khan, CEO of Rural Support Programmes Network, the largest network of development and relief agencies working in Pakistan.

Mosharraf Zaidi, columnist for The News, Pakistan’s biggest English-language daily newspaper.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • jeffe

    The level of devastation is beyond belief.
    20 million people have been made homeless and are affected by this. Think about this, New England has about 14.5 million people. The Netherlands about 16 million.

    Imagine the entire New England area flooded and every man woman and child is now homeless and does not have drinkable water or food.

  • UtahnPaki

    Thank you for this long overdue program. This catastrophe has once again shed light on the institutional failure in delivering wholesale aid. To me, it all comes down to this: whether during democratic rule or dictatorship, the Pakistani people have never had the leadership that they deserved.

  • Vicky Wagner

    My son with the marines is currently in Pakistan assisting with aid, and he describes the situation as unimaginative. As he was disseminating aid, he was almost brought to tears when the local kids spontaneously started chanting “Pakistan Zindabad, America Zindabad” – Translation: Long Live Pakistan, Long Live America.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Does the Indus take some of its water from melting glaciers? We have heard a lot about how the Ganges will dry up from melting of the Himalayan glaciers, impacting millions upon millions in India. So I’m thinking August monsoon season may be only part of the precipitating cause. Maybe the Indus takes water from the highlands too. Monsoon water I suspect comes from the south, from the ocean, but I can’t help thinking the global churning of atmospherically held water somehow is not only flooding Pakistan now but represents a nibbling away at the highland sources, a contributing to droughts in the future.
    I’m all tied up in knots worried about how the world handles these floods. Apparently a huge number from Swat Valley had already been displaced by the government actions in purging Taliban insurgents a year or so ago, and the government action was shifting southward, but what I hear suggests that the displaced population had not been repopulated, and might have still been in tents. To me that’s shorthand for: There is a government strategy for resettling people; they know how to put up instant tent cities in the hills. Where did they get those tents? What worked? What didn’t?

  • Steve V

    I have mixed emotions concerning such disasters. Each year we are adding millions of people to a planet with limited resources. And many of these people are moving into areas putting themselves at risk, they are literally “living on the edge”. Is the aid we’re providing simply “kicking the can down the road” and setting them up for larger future disasters? Nature does not allow overpopulation of any species to occur. Are we not subject to the laws of nature? Are we exempt?

  • EIO Boston

    It is really had to imagine Pakistan being able to effectively deal with this. Most governments including ours have difficulties dealing with big natural disaster. Pakistan does not has neither the logistics nor the resources to manage this. This country is already ravaged by internal religious strife and other probles.

    God help them.

  • John

    We should help them deal with this crisis but we also need to ask what happened to all the money we already gave them? Building nuclear weapons, supporting the Taliban, and sponsoring terrorism in India were a higher priority for their series of corrupt governments than building their country.

  • Ellen Dibble

    BBC Newshour this morning had a report by the New Yorker reporter who interviewed Akmadinajad (sp?), who wanted to make a point that Iran stands at the ready to help out on the Gulf Coast, and that Iran is doing a whole lot better than the USA economically, and is regretful to view our economic and military collapse, and stands by ready to help out.
    Maybe someone should redirect him to Pakistan?

  • T

    pls speak to what the UN cluster, DoS/USAID, DoD and other nations (specifically China) are currently doing and pledged. Pls be sure to explain that whatever the USG does, it is in support of the Government of Pakistan and the US military is in support of USAID. Finally, pls be sure to explain why US military support is problematic to the Pakistan government, yet tactically essential for movement of stocks and strategically essential to gain populace support of US.

  • Phil

    Thanks for doing this program. Is it not time for major world organizations and all nations to come together and PLAN for responses to these major humanitarian catastrophes that occur so often? The UN may be too cumbersome? An independent, responsive group based on successful NGO models on a larger scale, with one goal?

    Why is the world reaction so piecemeal? Where is the collective response? Is it a matter of national ego and control? Why submit human suffering to national hubris?

  • http://www.concept-link.com Hasan Askari

    The depth of this tragedy is incomprehensible. One fifth of Pakistan has been flooded. For a predominantly agrarian economy it’s a death call. Pakistan has already been on the brink with its war on terror on the northern front, the wave of violence and suicide bombings and the problems of democracy. This country is on crossroads. Everything is happening at the same time. Its history on steroids. It is also a historical opportunity for the US to turnaround its relationship with this region. If we rise to this occasion, the diplomatic and political benefits for both countries will be immense and far reaching.

  • Ellen Dibble

    About a week after the floods hit, I saw two preteen Pakistani boys walking down the street. I haven’t seen them since Halloween for trick-or-treating a few years ago, and found out their family had left Pakistan after the earthquake (remember). It seemed to that family that their country wasn’t a place to make a go of it. The older boy, now tall, probably 15, threw his back toward me as if to say, Told you so.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Threw his head back to me (while talking to his brother). Sorry

  • Jafer

    According to Mr. Namjam, Saudi regime did send aid to Pakistan flood victims, howerever it has strings attached called Wahabism aka Taliban aka Al qaida.

  • brandstad

    I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but we as a country are broke! We need to stop spending money around the world when we can’t pay our bills at home.

  • http://ebenmarkowski.com eben Markowski

    To anyone paying attention to issues beyond their own existence, this flooding should come as no surprise. This is the face of climate change, the very real “boogieman” that keeps me awake each night. Will this give America pause to contemplate our consumption. After all it’s America’s demand for the paper cup w/ plastic lid for each morning’s coffee, our massive cars, ATV’s, our constant air travel, etc… which have played the largest roll in these current and inevitable disasters. The largest oil spill in history apparently represents half a day of business as usual in USA. We have a lot to apologize for

  • Manisha

    First let me say that I totally support the idea of giving support to this disaster and crisis, but let’s look at our current political climate.

    If Obama supports Pakistan, right now, when the Republicans will jump on any thread to paint him (inaccurately) as an anti-American, pro-foreign, Muslim loving socialist, what would happen if he advocates providing any sort of aid (financial or otherwise) to a country that is a) in the midst of many external issues, and b) at constant odds with India, a country with whom the U.S. has been trying to establish a positive relationship?

    I don’t think it would play out well either within Pakistan or here.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Manisha’s point suggests we should let the UN take the lead. They are trying. I heard someone on The NewsHour; there is a website un-something-I-don’t-know.
    But if the United Nations gets into difficulties, it’s different than one political party (Obama’s) or one country trying to take all the credit. Modesty counts for something when the climate plays no favorites. It’s nice to have Chinooks with American flags on them, and to be participating in something we are actually good at (or were when the Marshall Plan went into effect post-World War II). But I think we should be quite so imperialistic as that anymore, for lots of reasons.

  • pm

    Here is the problem: pakistan has 800,000 strong army and enormous defence infrastructure. All the money that goes there is sucked up for war mongering by the govt.

    Where is this army? Why isnt it involved in every aspecty of helping with this disaster?

    I would be very careful with any money given directly to the pakistan govt (which flows directly to the military after a 10-15% corruption “tax”). There was an earthquake disaster 5 years ago and a lot of the money went to the jihadis.

    What are some neutral organizations that we can fund?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Try http://www.theirc.org; I found it from the list provided by the State Department posted up top on this forum. The International Rescue Commission. That’s the one where the director was trying to drum up support somewhere on PBS.
    If the United Nations or its agencies starts funding (inadvertently or however) the jihadis, then…
    They should have GLOBAL CIA-type help in getting help out without strings attached, pure humanitarian help.

  • Jim in Omaha

    I was waiting for “brandstad” to weigh in on the situation and tell us that since government is the problem, not the solution, and Pakistan has ineffective if not absent governmental institutions, then everything should be working out just fine for Pakistanis, who are truly free of governmental intrusion.

  • http://lalqila.wordpress.com Aurangzeb Aurangzeb

    Firstly, these strong monsoon rains are a direct result of Climate Change / Global Warming. These strong monsoons are affecting a very large area from Pakistan through India, China and all the way to Korea with torrential rains, mud slides and Noah’s Floods.

    Because Climate Change is a constant partner now, so will these torrential rains, mud slides and Noah’s Floods.

    This strong weather system has affected Pakistan this year but it is bound to affect India and Bangladesh in the next years and will wash away all the investments of Americans in India. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

    Secondly, no half measures or pittance in aid will control the problem. We need real civil and environmental engineers to and suggest large scale ways to construct anew and manage this new menace in over-populated and very poor Pakistan, India and Bangladesh etc. And these may include re-building villages on higher ground, dredging of rivers and canals, building more dams and water catches and innovative ideas like building a space shield over the Tibetan plateau from heating up too much and thus drawing too much moisture laden air from the Indian Ocean.

    Third, none of these poor Asian countries can manage disasters of such large scale brought about by Climate Change which is a direct result of West’s over industrialization and is the primary cause of Climate Change. The UN or some other body has to be built with adequate number helicopters, airboats, blimps, cargo planes that can be brought into action on short notice.

    20 million people are affected in Pakistan alone in an area the size of Italy or England. Next year 200 million people will be affected in India and these disasters are going to continue to unfold again and again for the foreseeable future.

    Fourth, the 20 million have lost their houses, their crops and their entire livelihoods. They are hungry, they are thirsty and they are angry. A French revolution is brewing in Pakistan. The miniscule 1% middleclass of Pakistan may have to migrate en masse if the great unwashed reach the cities of the rich.

    Are there any statesmen with clarity of thought in the world?

    lalqila.wordpress.com

  • http://lalqila.wordpress.com Aurangzeb Aurangzeb
  • Ellen Dibble

    Why do you say 200 million will be affected in India next year, Aurangzeb?
    And can you suggest what a clear-thinking statesman would propose; what plan such a person would execute and how?

  • twenty-niner

    Air drop food and supplies to the victims but don’t give a nickel to the corrupt government.

    While millions were fighting for their lives,

    “President Zardari stayed in one of the booked the Royal Suites, the most expensive luxury suites which cost around £7,000 per night for each room. He followed the footsteps of Musharraf who was addicted to staying in his nearby favourite Dorchester Hotel, which is even more expensive than the Churchill Hotel. The services bill or the catering (breakfasts, lunches and dinners) is not included in the price.”

    http://alaiwah.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/zardaris-room-in-london-cost-7000-pounds/

    “Pakistan fury at president’s playboy son ‘using killer floods to boost political career’”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1301214/Pakistan-fury-presidents-playboy-son-using-floods.html

  • millard_fillmore

    Hmmm…I guess if all those billions of dollars that Pakistan has been getting from the US over the decades had been spent on building infrastructure and safety nets, it’s very likely that the devastating effects of the floods would have been mitigated.

    But Pakistan has been busy funding jihad, sponsoring terrorism acts in India to kill innocents, building nuclear weapons and buying arms. I guess the country and its statesmen do have their priorities right – after all, it is the land of the pure with a mission to get rid of any impurity.

    And with contributing monetary aid to organizations, there’s always the real danger that the money will be used to fund further jihadist efforts to kill the infidels and build more madrassas, rather than helping the victims.

    And one of the guests was being disingenuous when mentioning the reason for the formation of Bangladesh. Maybe the hurricane/flood (I forget which) played some part, but the major reason for East Pakistan breaking away becoming Bangladesh was the hegemony of West Pakistan in imposing its culture and language (Urdu) on to East Pakistanis, whose culture and language was/is Bengali. And the genocide carried out by the Pakistani Army to get rid of the intellectuals and Hindus in East Pakistan, in the form of Operation Searchlight happened to be the last straw. I guess it is too much to expect some honesty from “pure people” about the reasons behind formation of Bangladesh, even if they happen to be reporters or professors in the US.

  • http://lalqila.wordpress.com Aurangzeb

    “millard_fillmore” thanks for fulminating the classic Hindoo Indian propaganda.

    Just don’t mention India’s invasion and occupation of Junagarh, Manavader, Hyderabad Deccan, Kashmir and its training of Mukhti Bahani terrorists and then invasion and occupation of East Pakistan. Not to mention India’s support for separatist movemnts like Pashtunistan movement, Sindhu Desh movement and the Baluchistan Liberation Army. Its quite clear to every thinking person in the world that Hindoo India has been trying to destablising Pakistan for the past 60+ years constantly and it just hasn’t been able to accept that Pakistan is an independent country despite Hindoo India’s constant and ugly machinations.

  • http://www.lalqila.wordpress.com Aurangzeb

    “Why do you say 200 million will be affected in India next year”

    Ellen, India is just a five times bigger version of India. There is not much of a difference. So, whatever afflicts Pakistan, afflicts India x 5.

    The world needs statesmen not two penny generals or corrupt politicians who seem to be on the top ranks of every country. The strong monsoons are a big side effect of Climate Change. I don’t think any of the politicans in power are capable to think beyond their party politics and election campaigns to tackle issues like Climate Change. They have neither the will nor the way.

  • thomas warren

    At the 35 minute point on this show I thought I heard a guest place Barak Obama in a similar class of leader to Winston Churchill, but I was in an adjacent room preparing my lunch for tomorrow.

    Did I actually hear that? Or is this just a cruel example of distance and time wildly distorting reality?

  • millard_fillmore

    My dear “Aurangzeb” (too bad you didn’t choose a more amenable name, like “Akbar” who, though illiterate, was wise enough to see through that pile of horse manure called “religion of the peace”):

    I fully agree with you. Furthermore, 9/11 was a Zionist plot carried out by CIA/Mossad at the orders of Bush to make the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden look bad. Daniel Pearl actually be-headed himself and somehow, Pakistani people were unfairly blamed for it – those Zionist Jews are so damn smart. And the floods were caused by waters released by Indians from the dams on their side. It’s all an insidious plot of outsiders to undermine your country.

    I guess India was also behind hanging of Zulfiqar Bhutto, assassination of his daughter, attack on Sri Lankan cricket team, the massacre of Ahmaddiyas and Sufis, and all the other fun stuff that happens in Pakistan as Shias and Sunnis kill each other with IEDs.

    Yes, it’s all a Hindooo-Jewish-Zionist-US conspiracy who are out to git ya, because of course, the religion of peace and its adherents can do no wrong.

  • thomas warren

    During this past winter’s record low temperatures we heard the climate change experts warning us not to confuse climate with temperature.

    Now that we are having brutally hot temperatures this summer these temperatures are pointed to as proof of things to come and a tangible experience of global warming.

    So, is this summer a piece of climate or weather?

  • millard_fillmore

    “Why do you say 200 million will be affected in India next year”

    ==

    Because some people are obsessed with India-that obsession can’t be helped as that was ordained in 1947.

  • Pan

    The scale of the tragedy is indeed sad.

    However, what bothers me a lot is the incessant if-you-don’t-help-us-you-are-doomed rhetoric that Pakistani politicians are bandying about at every opportunity.

    Millions of American dollars have gone into this country, which purportedly finds no excuse yet to take responsibility for its two-faceted ambiguous attitude towards extremism. On the contrary, it turns back and blames the world for its problems.

    While I totally empathize with the Pakistani populace, and to be honest, I do not want to imply that they are not a responsible lot.

    But somehow in this fraternal world of countries – Pakistan or rather its spokesmen come across as the 30-something failure-to-launch, leeching off and living at home with parents kind of guy who blames the parents, the siblings for everything wrong in their life; never taking responsibility and direction of its own destiny.

    The world at large, I think, is fervently hoping that their sibling “grows up”.

  • Butch McNurlan

    I’m going to put it out there. I donated A LOT of money to the Haiti relief, and have given additional money. But I will not be able to extend the same generosity to an area of the world that is actively supporting the Taliban. I quite frankly see the same pictures on the news, as everyone else, and I see this flood and its devastation as a blessing. This will weed out a lot of our problems. Why feed our enemies and their supporters and comforters? I’m tired of the Sugar Coated PC. So what if the corrupt Pakistan government fails? At best they have been a tepid supporter in our war effort. Perhaps the military will restore order where the civilian government has miserably failed.

    So what if a large portion of their civilization and population is wiped out? I see a lot less future suicide bombers. This is my chance to personally strike back at the Taliban. Screw them. Let them go drink some disease laden flood waters.

    Not supporting us should have a cost. I consider this sluggish disaster response to be their costs for ten years of duplicitous, calculated support of our war on the Taliban. It’s time to get our collective P.C. heads out of the Polly Anna clouds. We are at war. War is ugly.

    Don’t forget the past. Or it will be repeated in the future. Instead of bombed ships and buildings we may look forward to bombed U.S. cities if we keep burying our heads in the sand.

  • http://lalqila.wordpress.com Aurangzeb Khan

    Who defeated the USSR?

    Was it America, Israel, India or Pakistan; of course not. It was Pakistan Army’s Frontier Constabulary that shed its blood and fought shoulder to shoulder with Pashtun irregulars and defeated the Soviet empire, the number one enemy of the West and America.

    The thanks Pakistan gets are the Hindoo Indian machinations now encircling Pakistan on all sides, along Sind, Punjab, Kashmir and Afghanistan, viz. eastern, northern and western borders, with the acquiescence of unthinking Americans.

    And what country America invests in, not Pakistan that defeated the USSR, but India that sided by USSR for 60+ years.

    Most Americans also do not realize that all of present day problems for America in Afghanistan are caused by India, as it was India, that planned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970’s and that started the ill-fated 35 year long series of invasions, wars, occupations and resistance.

    One should note that Pakistan stood by shoulder to shoulder with the West and America via SEATO in the 1950′s, CENTO in the 1960′s, defeated the USSR in the 1980′s, stabilised the war ravaged Afghanistan in the 1990′s and now supports the American Occupation, rightly or wrongly, in 2000′s.

    Most ordinary Americans don’t know this but 90% of fuel, food, ammunition etc to Americans in Afghanistan is supplied via Pakistan, despite the despicable propaganda one hears from the Indian contingent.

    Now all these highways are underwater and the bridges have been swept away. I don’t think America can continue its occupation of Afghanistan now without the supply routes through Pakistan.

    Perhaps, it will bring the occupation to an end earlier than one thought.

    lalqila.wordpress.com

  • http://lalqila.wordpress.com Aurangzeb Khan

    Instead of wasting $100 billion per year in a useless occupation of Afghanistan, America and NATO should simply retract and withdraw its troops.

    And then invest $100 billion per year in Pakistan, to stabilise the situation from Neo-Noah’s Floods AND make Afghanistan a ward of Pakistan for the foreseeable future with clear instructions to stabilise it also sans religious extremism.

    This may take the form of schools in every village, iphone in every child’s hand for education in far off places (think iphone apps for K – 12 and MIT OpenCourseware etc.), health clinics whilst following the standards of schools like the Presentation Convent School in Murree that I attended whilst there.

    Duplicate and replicate Presentation Convent Schools in all of Pakistan and Afghanistan and thus kill two birds with one stone.

    For the naysayers, I will say this that, 90% of the boarders at the Presentation Convent were Pashtuns. Their families were sending their children there to get the right educations and many of the boarders were as young as six years old.

    The time is ripe for winning hearts and minds.

    lalqila.wordpress.com

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