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Pakistan: A modern day Atlantis?

Published: September 17, 2010
Section: Opinions


Pakistan, July and August 2010: A sudden, unprecedented wave of torrential rain bursts across the country. Whole villages and towns are swept away by the sheer immensity of the floods. Billions of dollars worth of economic property is destroyed. Seventeen million acres of Pakistan’s most fertile land are laid to waste. One fifth of the country’s total land mass is underwater. 21 million people are rendered injured and homeless. A whole population is suddenly vulnerable to a plethora of diseases. The death toll is rising.

I left Pakistan three months ago in order to start a new life here at Brandeis. I still remember the cloudless expanse of sky, the glaring sun burning so fiercely it would burn your skin, the suffocating humidity that would make it difficult to breathe on those endless days of summer. I remember summer holidays and jumping into pools, wiping the sweat off my brow and flicking the air conditioner on in one well-practiced motion. I remember collective prayers throughout the country for a respite from the unforgiving, unwavering, unfaltering heat. I remember the celebration that spread throughout the country every year when the first drops of monsoon rain were felt, like a cool balm over heated cheeks. Whole congregations offered prayers of thanks that the rains had finally arrived, saving the crops, providing relief from the heat.

But you know what they say: When it rains, it pours.

This year, even when the rains had slaked the country’s thirst and sated the arid agricultural fields, they did not stop. The downpour lasted for weeks, with an estimated 10 inches of rain in the first 24 hours with no end in sight. The devastation spread like wildfire. In a matter of days, millions of people were displaced, thousands dead, an entire population in peril. The media picked up this thread immediately; suddenly images of whole villages and towns submerged underwater like modern day Atlantis’ flashed across television screens across the globe; pictures of separated families, hungry children with tears in their eyes looked imploringly back through the pages of international newspapers.

Flood relief efforts started immediately; countries all over the world donated to help a wounded Pakistan stagger to its feet. But as different organizations joined hands with the Pakistani government to start rehabilitation and reconstruction, the immensity of the disaster struck the hearts of everyone. Not only would immediate assistance be required for the masses of the population which was almost overnight, devastated and without a home, but in the long run, an already crippled Pakistan would have to deal with economic damage worth $17 billion.

It is early days yet. Only a few weeks have passed since this devastation hit Pakistan and already donor fatigue is setting in. Yet the problem is far from solved, the country is far from healed. Preconceived notions of Pakistan as a terrorist state, with an incompetent, corrupt bureaucracy with no accountability means that people are reluctant to donate as generously as they could.

However, it should be remembered that this country has been ravaged beyond belief; it has experienced devastation that totals the combination of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. As BBC’s Adam Mynott very accurately puts it, “It is a catastrophe…and that’s no overstatement.”