When it Rains, it Pours – the Plight of Southern Pakistan

Right now, it’s a very bad time to be in Sindh, Pakistan’s southern province. It was hit by devastating floods last year. They’re still rebuilding, and it is already monsoon season again, with new floods coming. The government of Pakistan is touchy about foreign programs after the media frenzy of Osama bin Laden’s death, and USAID’s suspension of AED for financial mismanagement in Pakistan.

Last year’s floods were the worst in the history of Pakistan. A fifth of the country was submerged, 17 million acres of arable land were destroyed and twenty-one million people were left homeless. Sindh province was the hardest hit. There was so much damage, in fact, that Sindh is still rebuilding. And now it’s monsoon season once again. So far in 2011, the death toll is approaching 200 and there are over 100,000 people living in 1434 temporary camps. The rains in Sindh this year were the highest monsoon rains ever recorded; 271% above normal.

Twelve months ago, UN Dispatch noted that donations for the Pakistan floods were slow in coming and aid was slow for flood victims. This year, from what I’ve heard, it’s worse. Nobody seems to want to give aid to Pakistan. Donors maybe be blaming the entire country for Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Northeast Pakistan, or the famine in the Horn of Africa may be overshadowing the crisis in Sindh.

When the money does come in, it’s a long time before it gets to the people who actually need it. I’m hearing two things – anecdotal – from the relief groups working on Pakistan floods. One is that the government of Pakistan is being very, very cautious about working with foreign NGOs. The media frenzy around the bin Laden assassination has left mid-level Pakistani officials extremely cautious about any kind of international involvement in their country. That’s affecting the international NGOs that need government cooperation and permission to work on flood relief.

On the other end of the government spectrum, USAID suspended one of their largest grantees, the Academic for Educational Development (AED) last December, for financial mismanagement of their Pakistan program. AED ended up shutting down as a result. It has left every US government funding recipient in Pakistan hyper-careful – and very slow – in all of their financial dealings. This means that flood relief is also coming at a pace that is careful and slow; not exactly what hungry, displaced people need.

What does this mean? It’s a reminder of the complicated world we now live in. And that now is a good time to donate to flood relief in Pakistan. The faster the money comes in, the faster it can creep its way out again and begin to help people. The children in Sindh sleeping outside tonight shouldn’t go to bed cold and hungry because of global politics or a USAID partner’s failings.