As the waters recede, the devastation caused by the floods across Pakistan, particularly in Sindh and Balochistan, is becoming more apparent. The government estimates the costs at around $30 billion at this time, while an ongoing analysis by this author and Ammar Khan places the financial losses and reconstruction costs at between $20-25 billion.
While the exercise of accounting for economic losses and reconstruction costs is a useful and important exercise (national and foreign resources cannot be mobilized without such an analysis), it is simply not enough. Because without assessing, accounting for and making efforts to deal with the emotional trauma caused by this devastation, Pakistani society will not be able to recover from this tragedy.
Many of the regions devastated by this developing catastrophe are some of the most underdeveloped parts of Pakistan. These regions were also devastated by the 2010 floods, meaning they were just beginning to recover from the latest disaster.
Nearly 69% of households in rural Sindh are in the lowest wealth quintile, compared to nearly 30% of households nationally, according to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2017-18 . The devastation caused by the floods will only exacerbate the wealth gap between these households and the rest of Pakistan.
The humanitarian crisis will also widen the educational gap between rural Sindh, Baluchistan and the rest of Pakistan: 82% of women in rural Sindh and 89% in rural Baluchistan have no education, compared with nearly 62% in rural Pakistan. The dislocation caused by the crisis will mean that another generation of women will face huge barriers to getting an education, leading to a further expansion in the already enormous opportunity gap.
Addressing the human and emotional challenges exacerbated by the flooding will require both investing in rebuilding what has been destroyed and investing in programs that prevent these households from falling further behind. The priority should be to ensure that what little these households owned is fully replenished and to provide basic education not only to children, but also to women who have been affected by the floods. Doing so will not only ensure that the wealth gap does not widen further, but that women are given the education and tools to improve not only their own lives but also the lives of their children, leading to access to better opportunities.
In addition, efforts must be made to provide mental health services to the displaced, so that these households, particularly the children, can better deal with the trauma caused by these floods. Research increasingly shows that natural disasters lead to generational trauma, which inhibits the success and development of future generations. Given that these citizens have been devastated not once but twice in just 12 years, it is important that the state mobilize resources to mitigate the risk of generational trauma creating a self-reinforcing cycle.
Making these investments will be difficult at best, not only because of a lack of capacity in rural areas of the country, but also because of the resource constraints facing Pakistan. This is where a conversation about restructuring the very core of Pakistan’s economy, which currently works for a select few at the expense of the many, is sorely needed.
As argued in previous columns, Pakistan is a kleptocracy in which more than $17 billion a year is siphoned off to the elite segments of society. This structure, where there is socialism for the privileged and nothing for the oppressed, needs to be destroyed. Reform, however, requires elites who have captured power and wealth to proactively and voluntarily relinquish some of their own wealth to the benefit of the majority.
Given the ongoing political polarization across the country, such a conversation is unlikely. Which means that the most likely scenario is that devastated households across Pakistan, especially in rural Sindh and Baluchistan, are further set back. This is and will be tragic, undermining the overall recovery from these floods, generating further trauma among vulnerable groups, and reinforcing Pakistan’s status as the sick man of South Asia.
While Pakistan’s elites try to vociferously defend reparations from the rest of the world, an entirely valid argument, the fact is that their demands are likely to be ignored. This is not only due to the apathy of global elites, but also because Pakistan’s own elites have not done enough to demonstrate that they will use the resources for those on the periphery. Take, for example, the PPP, which claims to be the standard-bearer of progressivism in Pakistan and has been ruling Sindh for years. Its leaders have failed to break the power of feudal landlords in Sindh, perpetuating an extractive and inhumane system in rural areas of the province.
As long as national elites fail to fulfill their own moral duty to their citizens, global elites will remain unconvinced of their own moral responsibility to help Pakistani citizens devastated by these floods.