IT has been a while that we have been hearing about climate change, climate displacement, and efforts to mitigate climate change effects at the global and national level. Many saw it as a problem of the future, something that need not cause worry right now. There were also those who had never heard of buzzwords like ‘climate mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. I am referring to the people of Balochistan. The truth is, however, that they have been living through climate change for some time now. There has been a serious shortage of water in many parts of the province, including Quetta and Gwadar city. Dams in Gwadar district had dried up on account of little rainfall over the years, and in Quetta people were digging ever deeper wells in search of water. One couldn’t have predicted that more than half of Balochistan would be under water before July this year.
The people of Lasbela, which is close to Karachi and is the home district of the former chief minister of Balochistan, Jam Kamal Alyani, were the first victims of flash floods this monsoon season. Torrential rains wreaked havoc in parts of the district, damaging homes and farmland. Rains also lashed Makran region and devastated date farms. In August, all of Naseerabad division, Killa Saifullah, Killa Abdullah, Musakhail, and many other districts of Balochistan were flooded due to heavy downpours. At least 235 people have died and thousands have been rendered homeless, and more than 200,000 acres cultivated land has been affected. Road links between Quetta — which saw continuous rain for 15 hours — and many districts, including Jhal Magsi and Bolan, are still severed. This year, the people of Balochistan are experiencing climate change in all its fury.
The situation is catastrophic. Entire villages have been washed away and districts inundated; road networks are damaged; and standing crops, the main sources of livelihood for many people, are destroyed.
In the face of such a calamity, however, the government of Balochistan is sleeping. Chief Minister Abdul Quddus Bizenjo is nowhere to be seen. There aren’t any visible government efforts for people’s rescue and relief. The province’s chief executive and his spokesperson seem to have a flippant attitude. The latter was heard callously telling mediapersons in Islamabad during a press briefing that the chief minister is up all night worrying about the people of Balochistan, and that’s why he is asleep during the day. One wonders how such a non-serious government and a sleeping CM can handle the responsibility for the massive rescue, relief, and rehabilitation operations required.
The Balochistan government appears to be asleep.
In the absence of the state, the burden has fallen disproportionately on community organisations, young activists, and local NGOs. People are running donation campaigns and carrying out relief drives without any support from the government. However, rehabilitation and rebuilding of homes and roads cannot be carried out by individuals. The provincial and federal governments have to step in.
Very few politicians in Balochistan have demonstrated a sense of responsibility towards the people of their constituencies. Jam Kamal Alyani is one of them. He has been present on the ground in Lasbela, monitoring the relief operations, coordinating with the district administration, and drawing the attention of the prime minister and chief minister towards the plight of flood-affected people. Many other bigwigs who had been complaining about misgovernance and corruption in the province are missing from the scene. PTI MPA Sardar Yar Mohammad Rind doesn’t seem to care about the suffering of the people in his inundated district, but had all the time to travel back and forth from Islamabad when he was trying to topple the Bizenjo government some months ago. At the same time, the opposition too is not putting much pressure on the government where relief efforts are concerned. Consider that BNP-Mengal was a strong critic of Mr Alyani while he was heading the provincial government; however, they have given a free hand to Mr Bizenjo. The opposition apparently prefers to remain on the side of an incompetent chief minister than the people of Balochistan.
A non-functional government and friendly opposition aside, Balochistan has neither the resources nor capacity to rehabilitate all the flood victims and reconstruct the infrastructure on its own. The estimated losses are in billions of dollars. International organisations must come forward to help not only the people of Balochistan, but also those that have been affected in Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakthunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan. For assessment of damages and rehabilitation costs, the Balochistan government should seek out experts as soon as possible. It must also formulate a strategy to deal with such extreme climate events in the future. Climate change is real, and it is here.
The writer is a research analyst at an international organisation and a Fulbright alumna.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2022