It’s a great challenge but it’s a great opportunity as well!

Now that the flood waters have receded and the rescue operations are almost over, I want us to look back at these devastating floods, learn from our mistakes and plan ahead. Listening to an interview of CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif with The Economist, I came across this sentence which I later used as the title of this post. Rebuilding our country after these floods is definitely a great challenge but one which can be turned into an opportunity we have never had before. I will explain why.

One would think the damage done by the flood is irreversible. I would like to think however much the damage done; our country can still emerge stronger out of this catastrophe. No doubt these floods have put many parts of our country under water. The power of these floods was shown by buildings falling down, livestock of the people floating, and literally whole cities under water with any present infrastructure being destroyed. Whole farms were wiped away and with them the livelihood of all the people living in the surrounding areas. It is unfortunate that every time such a disaster occurs, it is the underprivileged that get to suffer the most. Even this time around if you look at majority of the flooded areas, it’s been the rural areas and in very rare cases major cities.

I personally belong from a village in Punjab and I can somewhat relate to what it might have been like if my village had flooded. If you have never lived in a village, you should visit one to find out what condition the people there live in. Most of the people work as peasants for the landlords and few are lucky enough to find jobs in the cities surrounding their villages. Their houses are made of mud and there are hardly any signs of a hospital or a school. The schools in these villages are run by people who also act as polling agents during the elections. When appointed, their party loyalty is put over their qualifications. Through my interaction with children of my village, I found out that over 50% of these children drop out of the schools as soon as they are physically strong enough to do any kind of labor work. When asked about the reasons for dropping out of schools, most children told me it was the beatings they got from their teachers and the harsh ways of teaching. They also told me that their parents were never so fond of their attending school because even those who went to schools ended up with the same jobs drop outs would have.

Having a hospital in villages is out of question. Sick children and pregnant women have to travel for hours to get to the nearest hospital. There is no public transport to facilitate their travel rather any roads for the transport. Bumpy muddy roads often result in the deaths of those hoping to see a doctor for treatment. Sanitation is also nowhere to be seen. Piles of human waste and other garbage lie on every step as and there is no one responsible to clean them. The locals are living hand to mouth and cannot afford to cater to such things themselves.

The point I am getting to is that these people have been living like this since forever.  Children grow up to a similar future as their fathers. Nothing has been done for these people since the birth of Pakistan. Instead all our money has been used on acquiring weapons we would never even have to use. We never heard about these people in the media because no one felt they were important. They died and no one noticed. These recent floods have only brought them to our attention. If we want to, we can turn these floods in to a great opportunity. With all the international aid that has poured in, all the money that has been given by the philanthropists in Pakistan, all the attention the media has finally given these people, we can improve their lives. We can create brighter futures for their children. We can help build hospitals for them. We can build schools for them. I believe the biggest resource our country has is its people. If educated, we can reach heights which have previously deemed impossible.

Some of the ways we can create livelihoods for these people are to provide them with opportunities. Micro-finance can prove to be a great way to create a circle of economic activity. Small loans and the right business knowledge can help these people set up small businesses. Education can guarantee their children with better jobs in the future. Hospitals and sanitation can guarantee a much better hygiene for them. It can help them live longer.

For all of this to happen we need to play our role properly. If our politicians keep pulling each other’s legs we would not advance. We have to show unity amongst ourselves, remove corruption from our institutions and properly plan the rehabilitation phase for these people. From politicians to the common man, we have to help each other in our own capacities. We have to share with others what we have been blessed with. We have to pave way for them to move forward.  If we fail to take these steps, these people, who have already lost everything in the floods and have nothing more to lose, will not waste any time in getting to the skins of those who have what they want. As Alan Kay said “the best way to predict future is to invent it”. Let’s sow the seeds today to see a brighter future for these people tomorrow.

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