Revolution #210, August 29, 2010

Pakistan Floods: Disaster on Top of Disaster

The country of Pakistan and its people are being devastated by a flood of unprecedented proportions. Heavy rains, called monsoons, are always expected at this time of the year in South Asia. But at the end of this July and early August, more than half of the normal annual monsoon rainfall—usually spread over a three-month season—fell on Pakistan in just one week. Pakistan's major river, the Indus, swelled to record levels, and massive amounts of water flowed over the banks.

The north and northwestern regions of Pakistan were the first and most heavily affected. Thousands of villages and towns have been totally inundated by flood-waters. Many roads have become impassable, and bridges were washed away. Countless buffalo and other livestock animals, which people in the countryside depend on for their livelihood, have been killed. Vast amounts of crops in the field and food in storage are ruined. Schools and hospitals have been destroyed.

Among the hardest hit are refugees who have fled the turmoil and successive wars in Afghanistan, numbering more than 1.5 million and concentrated in camps in Pakistan's northwest. Some have been in Pakistan for as many as 30 years. Hundreds of thousands of these Afghanis have lost all their possessions in the floods, including their "proof of registration" cards showing their refugee status, so that now they are in a very tenuous situation (similar to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who are under constant threat of being rounded up and deported).

As the swollen waters have flowed south, and rain has continued, the floods have spread to the more densely populated provinces of Punjab and Sindh, affecting millions of people in large cities as well as the countryside. And there are reports that yet another wave of floodwaters is expected. At this point, one-fifth of Pakistan's total land area is reported to be under water, and 20 million people have been directly affected by the floods.

The official death toll is under 2,000 at this point—but no one knows the actual number, because many areas hit by the disaster are still unreachable. In any case, the catastrophe has only begun. There are real fears that the lack of clean water and other effects of the floods will lead to massive outbreaks of diseases like cholera and malaria, respiratory infections, skin infections, and diarrhea that could kill many more. Food shortages—over the next days and weeks as well as more long term—are certain to bring new levels of suffering to a country where three-quarters of the people were already living on under $2 a day before this disaster. A 40-year-old woman stranded on a road with hundreds of others in Sindh province told a Pakistani paper, "I have no utensils. I have no food for my children. I have no money. We were able to escape the floodwaters, but hunger may kill us."

Many people are saying that they have received no help from the government or the army. A Pakistani human rights activist helping in relief efforts in the Swat Valley noted that "neither was there sufficient helicopters for rescue, nor were there sufficient boats. If it's a flood, you need boats!... We don't have sufficient boats, and of the kind that are required to save people's lives."

The U.S. imperialists are looking at this situation in Pakistan with alarm—but this is NOT out of any real concern about the plight of the people in this oppressed country. Pakistan is a vital military outpost for the U.S., located in a very strategic region of the world—bordering on Afghanistan, where the U.S. is carrying out an escalating war; on Iran, which the U.S. continues to threaten militarily; and on India, a country of a billion people. For the U.S. rulers, maintaining control over the situation in Pakistan impacts in a big way on their whole empire and their conflicts against various rivals and challengers. That's why they have been pouring billions of dollars in military aid into Pakistan since September 11, 2001—building the Pakistani army into the seventh largest in the world (with nuclear weapons in their arsenal), while the majority of people live in conditions of extreme poverty. At the same time, the U.S. imperialists are taking an increasingly direct role in that country. Since coming into office, Obama has significantly stepped up the U.S. counterinsurgency war in Pakistan against Islamic fundamentalist forces, involving military operations by the CIA and special forces as well as missile attacks launched from "predator drones" (unmanned aircraft). These drone attacks have killed many people in rural villages, including children, who are not part of any fundamentalist groups.

Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a big show of announcing that the U.S. is sending $140 million in flood aid to Pakistan. But this is tens of millions of dollars less than what the U.S. spends a day for the war in Afghanistan. (It should be noted that the U.S. promised $1.2 billion in aid soon after the Haiti earthquake this January, but not one penny of that amount had been delivered half a year later.) And the $140 million is miniscule compared to the $7.5 billion "aid" package to Pakistan that the U.S. Congress passed and Obama signed 10 months ago—aimed at propping up the reactionary ruling regime in Pakistan, especially the army.

Even more fundamentally, the U.S. dollars, and the American military helicopters and personnel being deployed in flood-drenched Pakistan, are NOT part of an all-out effort to save the people. On the contrary, they are aimed at protecting and promoting U.S. imperialist interests and plans in this whole region.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond