EARTHQUAKE
PAKISTAN BE ALLOWED TO AVAIL ZERO-RATED DUTY ON EXPORTS

Pakistan be provided same facility of GSP Plus as given to Sri Lanka and some other countries affected by Tsunami

By RASHID SOORTY
 Oct 31 - Nov 13, 2005

World Health Organization as well as all the international agencies and media have described the earthquake in northern Pakistan a bigger catastrophe than last year's Tsunami in terms of the number of people made homeless and extent of damages to infrastructure, losses of human lives, destruction of hospitals and schools. An estimated 2.5 million people have been affected by the quake and they need immediate help. Pakistan has gratefully accepted the foreign aid but the extent of damages is so heavy in the widespread mountainous region and in the wake of difficulty to reach remote areas, it will need more than 10 years period to re-build infrastructure and roads and rehabilitate the affected people. It is worse than Katrina and Rita havocs and has gone beyond the capacity of any country to assist Pakistan in such a desperate situation. This is the time for the super power or rich countries to consider provide same facility in exports as extended to Sri Lanka which had not even suffered losses of human lives 10% than what Pakistan suffered. This is the time for advanced countries to provide benefit of GSP Plus to Pakistan. The earthquake which struck the northern Pakistan and Azad Kashmir on Oct 8 is by far a bigger catastrophe than the Tsunami. It is far beyond one's thought and assessment to guess the real extent of deaths and destruction inflicted by the quake. The worst part of this natural calamity is that the entire road structure has collapsed which has made access impossible to those areas where people were crushed under the mountain slabs. This is the time for the people of Pakistan to come for the rescue and relief works within their means and resources.

There is an expression of unity among the people of Pakistan and they have made maximum contribution in the form of food, clothing, medicines, tents, heavy earth moving equipment, transport and whatever is needed in the affected areas. In spite of massive aid coming from many countries, it is estimated that the extent of damage is so widespread that more than even ten years will not be sufficient to restructure the entire area.

Mr Gezari, the Regional Director of World Health Organization says that though the quake has caused much more suffering and devastation than the Tsunami and even hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the same amount of money and equipment would be available for the rehabilitation of worst-ever earthquake victims. In other words much longer and painful period will be required to assess the real extent of damages in the mountainous regions that could be reached only by helicopters. There had never been such a heavy toll of human lives and loss of properties such as shelter, water, health services, education etc. Even the combined efforts of many countries would be insufficient to rehabilitate the entire 24000 km of Kashmir area.

Pakistan government must therefore make an appeal to EU for reviewing and making flexible GSP Plus Scheme and allow Pakistan to avail zero rated duty on exports of value added textiles to European countries. This will make country have a consolation of meeting some of its own to re-build devastated mountainous regions.

In the wake of this tragedy the media played a highly important role in creating awareness among the local as well as international community that drew prompt flow of rescue and relief aid.

However, socio-economic efforts and the extent of damages still remain un-assessed till to date. The most unfortunate part is that the area beyond the northern part of Pakistan has also come under earthquake disaster and total loss of human lives is placed at over 60,000 and still mounting. Under such tragic condition the aids being flown to Pakistan by various countries will still remain short of the requirement and since it is a long process of rehabilitation it may take more than 10 years.

I, therefore, suggest that the European Union must re-consider their revision of economic programme for the developing countries like Pakistan and provide same facility of GSP Plus as given to Sri Lanka and some other countries affected by Tsunami. It is very much essential that Pakistan is provided healthy export environment so that it could continue to build up and rehabilitate the devastated areas for the years to come.

I believe it will be more appropriate to provide means to support rehabilitation and socio upliftment programme through international trade and such differential treatment to undertake massive rehabilitation programme and industrialization for providing employment to more than 1.5 million unemployed people. It is high time for this country to accelerate socio uplift program as destruction of schools and hospitals is likely to take further toll of human lives in the absence of such humanitarian program.