National flood relief strategy

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told the National Assembly on Saturday that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) will be meeting today (Monday) to develop a consensus among the federating units over the strategy to distribute flood relief funds. The CCI is the statutory body that looks after inter-provincial and Centre-province issues. The CCI was reconstituted last year by President Zardari on the advice of Prime Minister Gilani. Its importance currently should be seen in the context of the issues and disputes amongst the federating units and between them and the Centre. The recent floods have wreaked havoc all over the country, with none of the four provinces left untouched by the natural disaster. International as well as domestic aid has started to pour in, though not as much as was expected or is needed. Now there is a tussle between the provinces on how the aid should be distributed and what role should the Centre play in all this.

The prime minister told the National Assembly that no funds had been transferred to any province from the PM’s Relief Fund so far. He said that today’s meeting would come up with the “future course of action in the light of the recommendations of the provinces”. Not only is there an aid distribution problem, Sindh is being blamed by Balochistan for the floods in the latter province. The CCI should look into all the concerns raised by the provinces and a consensus should be reached in these desperate times. Punjab has accused the federal government of bypassing the provinces in disbursing aid but the federal government has denied any discrimination in distribution of funds. This blame game may have to do with the differences between the PPP-led federal government and the PML-N government in Punjab. But we must all remember that this is no time to play party politics and instead the CCI’s forum should be used to bridge all divides, party or otherwise.

The prime minister’s decision to convene an all-parties conference (APC) soon to discuss the flood devastation and the subsequent relief and rehabilitation efforts is another welcome step. Mr Gilani should have done this sooner but perhaps the government was still reeling from the shock of the disaster. Now is the time to pull together as a country, which seems to be pulling apart. Mr Gilani’s reconciliation policy has often been a success and hopefully this time too it will help. Bringing on board all political parties and listening to their advice should assist in developing a better national strategy to cope with the flood situation. For the coming years, this is the most critical task. Pakistan’s economy was already in a crisis before the floods hit the country. Once the floods recede and the rehabilitation process starts, the country would have to deal with food security concerns, healthcare issues and reconstruction of the flood affected areas.

On another note, the recent National Assembly session was called to discuss the flood situation but we saw that opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan discussed anything but the floods. This is another indication of how we get waylaid and forget about the task at hand. Fine speeches and rhetoric can wait. Now is the time to get down to practical work.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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