Disaster Relief & Propaganda

Dec 2012

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The Disaster Management Authorities—charged with relief activities around the country—officially say that their activities are more coordinated and streamlined this year. But during my visit, there was clearly little coordination between the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). Both the NDMA and the PDMA were distributing relief goods—tents, food etc.—separately in the flood hit areas. They never bothered to arrange a coordinated relief effort for the victims. The NDMA was more focused on providing relief goods through PPP leaders while the PDMA was distributing relief goods through the PML-N. PDMA officials denied even sharing flood relief data with NDMA officials. “There is hardly any coordination among different disaster management authorities this year. Political leadership has the control over relief efforts, and they have been trying to use the floods for their own political interests”, said an official at the NDMA.

The media has already reported on massive corruption in the distribution of relief after the 2010 and 2011 floods. Political affiliation, it seemed, played a bigger role than actual need. Hundreds of districts in Punjab and Sindh untouched by the 2010 floods were given relief. Model houses built after the 2010 floods in Punjab’s Bhakkar District were allegedly allotted to undeserving people merely because they had backing from the right politicians. In January 2012, the adviser to the Sindh’s Chief Minister, Haleem Adil Shaikh, admitted that relief efforts in the province were driven on the basis of political affiliation. Shaikh said that donors had lost trust in the system, and NGOs stopped initiating rehabilitation programmes—all because of the poor performance and political motivations behind relief distribution. “Compared to floods in 2010, we have lost more than 60% of donor support”, he says.

Not just political parties

It is easy only to point fingers at political parties. But the use of disaster relief for promotional ends goes beyond Pakisan’s politicians. The army—portrayed as seperate from and more vigilant than the civilian government—is no less guilty of using disaster relief efforts for political gains. After the 2010 and 2011 floods, the army was portrayed as the sole savior of the people—while civilian governments were accused of failing to provide relief to flood-hit areas. The goodwill they earned might in some eyes be well-deserved, but their use of disaster relief to score points among Pakistanis should be questions.

At the end of it all, however, neither the army nor the two major political parties have gained as much from disaster relief as our religious and jihadi organizations. Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) have been the most successful in reshaping their image and increasing their area of influence through their work. Its relief efforts after Cyclone Yemyin in 2007 led to Sindhi Hindus arranging a gathering in favor of JuD after 2008 Mumbai attacks. That, perhaps, is the biggest testament to the power of using disaster relief for promotional ends.

Aoun Sahi is a reporter with The News on Sunday and The Times of London. He regularly covers disaster and relief issues in Pakistan.

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One Response to Disaster Relief & Propaganda

  1. Macmac on Jan 2013 at 3:02 AM

    Thanks for taking time to join the faebcook campaign. This is a first step in addressing the deeper challenge of America’s Islamophobia. We must be a voice for peace, and this voice must be followed with action. We hope to plan multiple trips to the flood areas. We are developing a partnership with the Multan’s Women Hospital, near the most affected area that is in Southern Punjab, where we can provide ongoing community health work. We are also trying to see Water For All engaged there so we can see a water-well movement spread. Please join on faebcook with thoughts and ideas. I’ll be glad to help you plug in, and get the info and opportunities you want. Everett Miller with IMLI’s Community First Responder is coming to Texas and Tennessee in October and can connect with folks in person.

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