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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 August 2010

Pakistan: Floods bring devastation - poor suffer most

Khalid Bhatti, Trade Union Rights Campaign - Pakistan (TURCP) and general secretary of the Socialist Movement Pakistan (the Socialist Party's counterpart in Pakistan), reports on the disaster and the workers' response to it.

Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, the elderly and women, are living out in the open without any shelter or tents. They are faced with very hot and humid weather and torrential rains. Thousands of people have been stranded in flood waters for days without clean drinking water or food.

Infrastructure has also been affected, with bridges, schools, hospitals, roads and communication facilities wiped out.

Apart from the immediate losses of lives and public and private properties, the overall impact of the catastrophe may be far more enormous than current estimates. In the short-term, food shortages, crop inundation and high food prices are likely to affect every poor and working class person.

Poor response from authorities

The preparedness and response of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in the present disaster has itself become a national disaster. One wonders how such a crucial institution can expect to meet challenges if it does not even purchase equipment or machinery for rescue operations and is marred by lack of funds and trained staff.

Whether it was the earthquake, the cyclone in the coastal areas, landslides etc, over many years, the state's capacity to cope with disasters has steadily declined.

There is a complete absence of sensitivity to the victims and vision to address their problems. The inadvertent and unmistakable message being conveyed to the people is that they are on their own and should be prepared to fend for themselves. On the other hand, ordinary people have shown a remarkable sense of solidarity and resilience.

The Met office informed the concerned authorities that torrential rains and floods were expected during the monsoon season. But why did the authorities not bother to take any precautionary measures? The reason is very simple: because the expected victims were the ordinary poor and working masses and not the 'elite class of Pakistan'.

Prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has admitted that the government did not inform the people about the possible flooding in time. The bureaucrats, sitting in their comfortable air conditioned offices, once again showed their indifference and pathetic attitude towards the poor and working masses.

The 'efforts' of our rulers, main political parties, big business and other state institutions are put in the limelight just to promote their own interests. The federal and provincial governments started the relief and rescue work late and without sufficient planning.

The failure of the civil bureaucracy and politicians has once again forced affected people to look towards the army for relief and rescue. The military is the main force involved in the relief work. The army has thus been able to improve its tarnished image and reputation.

Big business, the industrialists, banks and big traders are preparing to fully utilise this disaster for their own benefit.

The price of sugar has already been increased from 62 to 74 rupees per kilogram. The prices of vegetables have been increased by almost 100%! The price of tea has been increased by 30%. The prices for dry milk, packed milk and pulses have also been increased.

The central bank has increased interest rates to make loans more expensive. In some flood-affected areas, people have been forced to pay 300% to 400% more to transport their goods. The situation is similar with passenger transport.

Even middle class and lower middle class families find it difficult to meet ever-increasing kitchen expenditure. It has once again been proved that capitalism is a system based on profits and not on the needs of the population. There are enough resources to help the affected people but fair and equal distribution is required. This is not possible on a capitalist basis. Socialism is needed to provide much needed resources.

A socialist planned economy through the nationalisation of big industry, the banks, insurance companies, and other important sectors of the economy under the democratic control of workers, is the need of the hour.

The people of the affected areas are now facing another threat: that of epidemics breaking out. The spread of waterborne diseases is a very real concern.

New crisis

If the government, and especially the health department, fails to provide proper and adequate medical facilities to the affected people, then a new crisis will emerge in these areas. Clean drinking water and proper sanitation are also necessary to stop the spread of these diseases.

The affected workers, peasants and rural and urban poor cannot trust or depend on the state institutions and government functionaries. It is necessary to form workers' and peasants' committees to conduct the relief and then rehabilitation and reconstruction work.

These committees must be accountable to the affected people by working in a transparent and democratic way. Representative district committees should also be formed to coordinate the work on district level.

The Progressive Workers Federation and the Trade Union Rights Campaign - Pakistan have already initiated workers' relief committee on a national level. Many national and regional unions have joined the workers relief committees.

At the moment, we are conducting relief campaigns in the different parts of the country. We are urging all trade unions and social movements to come together to help the affected people, the majority of whom are workers and peasants.

Our demands:

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In The Socialist 18 August 2010:

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