The devastation caused by the floods in Pakistan has received significant international media attention over the last several weeks. While focusing quite exclusively on the opportunity this might provide to militant groups when they provide flood relief in a more timely and consistent manner than the government, the framing of the news emphasizes the “naturalness” of the disaster, tempering this slightly with some discussion of official incompetence, political wrangling, and the general lack of basic infrastructure in Pakistan. The population of Pakistan seems to be comprised entirely of either the incompetent or the unfortunate.
There is, in this framing, no interrogation of the neoliberal policies that led to large-scale deforestation in the northern regions of Pakistan, which lent fury to the speed of the water, its range, and its capacity to damage. Nor is there any questioning of the World Bank–funded, ill-designed dams that caused severe constraints to water drainage in the south, leading to the submerging of large tracts of land that had never before been flooded. The international media’s presentation of this “natural” disaster in Pakistan then allows the very same agencies and groups that contributed to the devastation to emerge as humanitarian and magnanimous, coming to the rescue of a hapless people. There is very little questioning of the precise mechanisms through which powerful landholding families were able to divert flood waters from their lands into other areas or of the implications of their actions for prolonging the floods as the water made its way through little-used, ill-prepared canals and lakes. In short, the subtle and long-term process through which the infrastructure, physical and human, has been impacted by an intertwining of local and international, political and economic interests is sidelined in blaming nature for the extent of the devastation caused by these floods. No doubt the mighty river Indus has been ruthless in the past as well, but this particular flood has a particularly man-made aspect to it.
- Coverage: SSRC Abe Fellows Report on the Fukushima Earthquake and Tsunami
- Book: Disaster and the Politics of Intervention, Andrew Lakoff, ed.
- Book Series: The Privatization of Risk
- Web Forum: Haiti, Now and Next
- Web Forum: Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from The Social Sciences
- Research Hub: Hurricane Katrina
- Lecture: “From Common Humanity to Humanitarian Obligation,” Craig Calhoun
Daira Din Gaoon: A Vicious Vindication
The Indus River—a massive wall of water as high as eight feet—hit Daira village at 4 a.m. There had been no official notification, no warnings to move out of the village, no time to collect the animals and the grains that were the only savings most of the villagers had, and for close to 2,000 people, no time to save their lives. The villagers had been uneasy about reports that their village might be flooded to save the lands of Zulfiqar Khosa, an influential landlord of the area and a special adviser to the current provincial government. They had set up a rota of men to keep awake and look out for the flood. Yet, when the flood hit, there was little these men could do. The deaths from that village have not been reported in the mainstream media so far. You may ask why, but a young local activist, Zulfiqar (same name as the landlord, different life), had an unequivocal answer: “Because they just won’t―the deaths in Daira Din will never make it to national news.”
Officially counted in the province of Punjab, the area known as the Seraiki Belt has a distinctive cultural texture. Along with Sindh Province, Seraiki-speaking areas are home to some of the biggest feudal holdings in Pakistan. Feudalism, created under British colonial expansion, carries within it exaggerated consolidation of political, religious, and economic power (Gilmartin 1988; Ali 1988; Ansari 1992). Colonial grants of lands to prominent religious families, augmenting their previous landholdings, and their incorporation into the political structure of this relatively late addition to the colonial enterprise created a context where extreme brutality could coexist easily with claims to superior spirituality by virtue of descent. The creation of Pakistan did little to disturb the arrangements set up during colonial rule in this region.