National Sections of the L5I:

Floods in Pakistan: The effects of capitalist development

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According to official estimates, the floods hitting Pakistan have already led to over 1000 deaths, the final figure is likely to be very much higher.

This year's monsoon in Pakistan has proved to be unusually long and destructive. In Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and South Punjab, millions of houses have been destroyed and millions of cattle. Bridges and roads have been washed away, inter-provincial and internal routes have been destroyed. The power system has been massively damaged.

People in those regions have nothing to eat and are starving. Drinking water is also not available for the labourers and the poor. Various diseases are spreading, but there is no treatment system. The state is not providing any help and assistance to the common people, even those engaged in relief activities, yet only regional and central government can provide the funds, resources and technical equipment that are needed.

The flood and its consequences are not simply a natural disaster as the government, politicians and intellectuals in the media are portraying it. It is the result of capitalist development in which the profit of capital is prioritised over human life and the environment. It has worsened compared to previous years and decades. In addition, in southern Punjab and Sindh there are reports that the flood was diverted to the villages to protect the property of landlords and elites.

Sindh and Balochistan were the first to be affected, but the disaster is also spreading in South Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Millions have been made homeless and many are forced to live in the open air, despite the heavy rains.

Instead of taking steps to protect the common people from the threat of floods, the state channels some 2700 billion rupees (about US$12 billion) into the pockets of big capitalists and elites every year. Exporters have been given an additional subsidy of 60 billion rupees a few weeks ago, while the central government announced only 15 billion rupees (about US$68 million) to the whole of Sindh. At the same time, billions were spent to celebrate August 14, Pakistan Independence Day, a symbolic day for the ruling class.

The provincial government of Sindh has completely failed to take measures to protect the citizens from extraordinary losses due to these rains, despite the advance notice of unusual rains. The Pakistan People's Party-led provincial government has rather been working in the interest of Malik Riaz and other capitalists and big landowners. Their factories and large plantations were protected, instead of prioritising a strategy to counter the coming disaster and protect the mass of the population.

In Balochistan, the catastrophe has been developing for more than a month and water management practices have played an important role in the disaster. Dams and various other constructions and settlements have been built in places that have affected the natural flow of rainwater. As a result, the roads that are essential to any relief effort have been inundated. Only now that floods have engulfed the city of Quetta and begun to spread to other provinces, threatening the profits of capital, has the ruling class begun to recognise the problem. When the floods only affected the countryside and villages, they were ignored.

The situation in Pakhtunkhwa, in the north, has also worsened dramatically in the past few days. Torrential rains have led to major rivers like the Swat, the Kabul and the Panjkora breaking their banks, sweeping away thousands of homes as well as roads and bridges. Thousands of travellers have been trapped by landslides.

The monsoon brings the danger of flooding every year, but the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan have not formulated any strategy because they do not care about the labourers and the urban and rural poor. The floods of 2010 were especially severe yet, in 12 years, no lessons have been learned.

Worse, politicians and owners belonging to the administration have illegally built hotels and markets on the banks of the rivers. Their owners have connections with various political parties and donate huge sums of money which benefit the members of the assembly and even the ministers. By creating obstructions in the course of rivers they make the floods even more destructive and cause more loss to the common people. In Swat, videos of various hotels collapsing in floods are available on social media. Most of these hotels and buildings were built on the banks of the river.

In this situation, the efforts of the local people and of some NGOs have been the only forces aiming to protect the people and to provide assistance, shelter and food. Clearly, participation in the relief work is a very important task for everyone, but this cannot meet even the most immediate needs. Beyond that, massive funds and resources are necessary to rebuild destroyed houses, compensate those who have lost their belongings and implement protective measures, which can prevent a repetition of the catastrophe in the coming years.

The mass of the people are shaken by despair, anger and hatred of the government and the rich who, once again, have let them down through ignorance and greed for profit. In any number of places, protests have taken place, and more are to come. Socialists and all working class and progressive forces should support them and intervene.

They need to demand immediate and free relief materials for the affected regions, for the towns and countryside. More protests should be organised around demands that all government resources should immediately be made available for relief work, paid for by the capitalists and the rich. Massive taxes should be levied on landlords, exporters and contractors to help the flood victims.

We need a plan to rebuild the destroyed houses and infrastructure and to compensate the victims of the floods. Given the failure of the state to organise effective support, the workers, peasants and poor must fight for control of all support programmes. They should form local councils in the towns and in the countryside to ensure that aid is delivered to those in need and that rebuilding of houses and infrastructure is undertaken according to safety requirements and needs of the many, not the few.