REHABILITATION DEMANDS NATIONAL SPIRIT
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Aug 30 - Sep 05, 2010
The torrential rains and gushing floods have inundated most parts of the country. While initial estimates indicate displacement of around 30 million people, standing crops over two million hectares out of 10 million hectares have been washed out with thousands of livestock either missing or died. Rural properties have either been completely washed out or extensively damaged. Losses to electricity and gas distribution networks, roads and railways are enormous.
While rehabilitation may take years, the nation continues to suffer from confidence deficit. Leaders instead of inculcating national spirit are trying to attain political mileage. If ruling party suffers from apathy opposition is doing less but maligning the government. Though aid has started pouring in millions of dollars, many people are still stranded, epidemics have started breaking out and it is feared if appropriate steps are not taken immediately, anarchy may proliferate in Pakistan. If Nato is still conducting done attacks, the militants are also busy in killing people and destroying private and public properties.
Worst hit is the rural population across the country. Two points are absolutely clear 1) the country lacks appropriate flood warning system and 2) authorities are not prepared to face the challenge of this magnitude.
It is true that the these areas have never experienced rains and floods of such a magnitude in more than 130 years, but it also became evident that embankments proved fragile, there were not enough facilities to store water, and people had gone too close to riverbed.
Farmers were reluctant to move to safer places fearing if they move away their lands would be grabbed by the power full elites of the areas. Armed forced are playing major role in rescue and distribution of food, water and drinking water. National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) is attracting a lot of criticism for its lack of preparedness and delayed move. It also became evident that the country does not have trained rescue workers and the civil authorities are suffering from absence of coordination.
Till lately, all the experts are talking about the adversities but there is also a need to look at the silver lining. Neither Pakistan's economy is likely to reduce to nil nor growth rate turn negative. In all the probability, GDP growth rate may not exceed 2.5 per cent but higher rate can be achieved if aid pouring in is utilised prudently.
Among Pakistan's major crops the worst hit is cotton. The estimates of damage range from two to four million bales. While a significant portion of area on which cotton has been cultivated has been washed away, the bigger and serious threat is outbreak of pest and viral attacks. The longer the water remains in field the severe will be the extent of damage because farmers can't spray the fields. If the second spell of rain is also heavy major loss can't be ruled out. While every effort should be made to contain losses to cotton growers, the situation also demands timely import of raw cotton from global sources by the spinners. This season global output is likely to be more than previous year. A temporary ban on export of raw cotton and yarn up to 30 counts should also be imposed immediately.
Sugarcane growers are likely to reap the benefit of rains and floods. This year area under sugarcane cultivation is about 40 per cent more as compared to last year. Availability of adequate water, if complemented by appropriate crop management, is likely to enhance production, yield and recovery. However, a lot depends how the growers accept this blessing in disguise.
After the floods more areas particularly in Katchas as well as in the arid zones will be available for the cultivation of wheat. If growers undertake wheat cultivation in a scientific manner the output may be close to 30 million. The benefit can also be reaped by bringing additional area under cultivation corn, gram, sunflower and canola. Most of these crops need average land and minimum application of fertiliser, except corn needing additional dose of DAP. Cultivation of canola and corn will not only supplement farmers' income but also help in containing country's edible oil import bill.
The added benefit is that this year the country has ample supply of urea and prices are also at modest level, in fact local manufacturers reduced the price by Rs50 per bag and if supply glut continues further reduction can't be ruled out.
Some of the experts say this year country is likely to achieve temporary exportable surplus of urea mainly because of Engro's expansion project coming online in last quarter of 2010 and partly because of lower offtake, resulting from eroded purchasing power of the farmers. A little extra but joint effort by commercial banks and insurance companies can help the farmers procure loans for inputs and get bumper crops next year. However, this can't be done without rehabilitating the farmers first by paying them the compensation at the earliest.
Another blessing in disguise is filling of the dams, which will facilitate in achieving greater reliance on hydel power generation. This will not only help in bringing down average cost of generation of generation companies operating under Pepco but also containing oil import bill of the country.
The country do faces an enormous task of rehabilitation but the job can become easier with the support of IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank.