YEAR 2010 ADDS TO BALOCHISTAN'S WOES

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Dec 27, 2010 - Jan 2, 20
11

Unfortunately, the troubled Balochistan witnessed more challenges on economic, political and security fronts during calendar year 2010. The devastating flooding in summer further hit the provincial economy, which is already in recession due to economic slowdown. Deterioration of security continuously aggravated the economic problems in the least developed province. The economic and humanitarian crisis continued to deepen in the calamity-hit province. On political front, the Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package could not bring remarkable change in socio-economic milieu and improvement in security situation of the province.

Law and order problem has affected each and every sector of the provincial economy putting most of the development projects in cold storage. The fate of mega development projects launched under former government is uncertain due to the security concerns. Besides operational issues like issue of land for free zone, security is the core issue that threatens the viability of Gwadar port project on southwest coast of Pakistan.

Some analysts believe that law and order problem forced China to shelve its coastal oil refinery project in Gwadar, as the project had been deleted from the list of financial development program for current financial year 2009-10 agreed between the two countries.

Federal government's initiative- Balochistan Package was launched to appease the restive province and bring the Baloch dissidents into national mainstream. Under the package, the government proposed a series of constitutional reforms, economic measures and administrative steps to assuage the hurt feelings of the Baloch people. The package pledged more employment opportunities for local people, payment of gas royalty to the province, return of political leaders in exile except facing terrorism cases, commission on missing Baloch persons, suspension of construction of military cantonments in the province, review the role of federal agencies in the province, judicial inquiry into allotment of land in southern port city Gwadar, inquiry into the killing of veteran Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, who had been killed in military action in August 2006. The government has proposed allocation of Rs31 billion for launching 36 projects in the province under the package.

The government could not materialise any pledge or proposal under Balochistan package due to worst law and order situation in the province. A provincial minister Muhammad Shafiq fell victim to terrorism.

More than 150 people lost their lives in the incidents of target killings and attacks on police and personnel of other security agencies and bomb blasts during the year 2010. The provincial government has blatantly failed to protect lives and properties of the citizens, who are still being targeted and killed. Investors' concerns have been aggravated over the past many years due to law and order problem in the province. Many foreign firms in mineral and oil and gas exploration have left the province due to security reasons.

Baloch leaders rejected the package and asked the government to take practical steps, instead of making pledges. Though the present government addressed the genuine grievances of the province against the centre, yet the real test of the government's sincerity depends on implementation of the package. Present government could not appease the insurgents in past two years. No clear-cut strategy about continuing or calling a halt to military operation has come from the government.

The floods would have lasting impact on the weak provincial economy pushing the province many years back. Tori embankment breach has inundated Jaffarabad district that destroyed the green belt vital to pastoral economy of the province, which largely depends on it for food grains. Livestock, the major sector of provincial economy has taken a big hit. Naseerabad and Jafferabad, the only two canal-irrigated agri districts in Balochistan, are the most affected areas due to flooding. Agriculture losses due to floods are yet to be calculated.

Over 60,000 flood survivors in five districts of eastern Balochistan including Jhal Magsi, Jaffarabad, Nasirabad, Sibi and Bolan, suffered from epidemics particularly gastroenteritis and malaria after consumption of contaminated floodwaters. Hundreds of cases of gastroenteritis, skin diseases, eye infections and other waterborne diseases had been reported from flood-stricken areas of the province. Breakout of Cholera and other epidemics after deadly floods have multiplied sufferings of already ravaged people in the province.

The cost of human and economic disaster brought about by worst floods continued to rise as no significant effort on the part of the government had been made to resume relief and rehabilitation operations in the flood-hit areas. The flood-affectees faced acute shortage of food, drinking water, and medicines. Local administration, with limited resources tried to rescue them. Pakistan army carried out relief operations in the districts but it lacked the befitting capacity and resources to battle the disaster of unprecedented magnitude. The local political leadership, including MNAs and MPAs, had left the area leaving the people of their constituencies in lurch.

Gandakha, Dera Allahyar, Rojhan Jamali, and Sohbatpur are the least developed and hence were the most affected areas due to flooding in the province. One can see that poor households and communities are more vulnerable to natural hazards, as they take a long period to recover from the deadly effects of disasters. The disaster caused by floods has again exposed the issues related to the development planning and disaster management in Balochistan. It has also drawn attention to the need for the integration of disaster prevention and mitigation efforts into the range of development activities.

The poor infrastructure and lack of communication network has ever contributed to the Balochistan's vulnerability to the catastrophic effects of natural hazards. It is actually the incidence of widespread poverty, the degradation of the environment resulting from the mismanagement of natural resources, inefficient public policies, and lagging and misguided investments in infrastructure, which have frequently been transforming a natural event into a human and economic disaster in the least developed province.

One can only hope that next year will bring a positive change in the prevailing security and socio-economic situation of Balochistan. The degradation of natural resources has also increased the risk of disaster in the province. The economic managers in Quetta should also allocate funds for the disaster prevention and mitigation in the next fiscal year's development budget, as a need is felt to integrate risk reduction in development planning and investments.