Pakistan is suffering from its worst natural disaster ever, and as always happens during a time like this, women and children will be the worst sufferers. As a country we have focused a lot on security and defense, but we have long neglected all human and social indicators and we have not invested enough resources or paid attention to the welfare and wellbeing of the weaker segments of our society.
In a recent column the Pakistan Country Director of the International NGO, Population Council, wrote that while “alarm has been expressed that close to a million women in the most severely affected areas are currently pregnant. But it should come as no surprise that those regions most adversely affected by the floods are the ones with the highest fertility, maternal and child mortality rates. These areas are largely deprived of family planning services and essential information, for instance, most rural women in Sindh and Balochistan still deliver in unsafe conditions remote from any health facilities. In contrast, most pregnant women in urban Pakistan deliver in institutions.”
Zeba Sathar cautions that “we — the educated — are culpable for many injustices because this was a tragedy foretold. We lament that national and international relief are only reaching a fraction of the millions whose lives and livelihoods were swept away last month. But these were the same populations who were living in makeshift housing and who eked out a living far from major roadways and with no access to services. Living on the edge with their multiple vulnerabilities and now displaced under open skies, they desperately await our help. The saddest part is that most want to return to their wretched conditions, resigned to their fate of toiling in the fields and tending livestock under the scorching sun. We prefer to look away from living conditions we ourselves would never endure.”
Sathar contrasts “between better-off regions like the irrigated plains of Punjab and wet mountains and plains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa versus the sandy desert of southern Punjab, the southern irrigated plains of Sindh and the western dry plateau of Balochistan. According to the Council’s research, the former areas with lower temperatures were able to build considerable resilience through migration, remittances, and investments in infrastructure. The latter, where temperature rises are most pronounced, had no adaptation strategies. These areas rely mainly on agriculture and livestock, now destroyed by the floods.”
Sathar concludes by warning “The tragedy facing Pakistan is sounding a loud alarm for our collective conscience. Sustainable solutions to climate change must take an honest look at the circumstances and explanations of this tragedy. We must focus on our own injustices, find our own solutions, rather than clamouring for and depending on international assistance.”