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Pakistan's misery made worse by political failure

The Pakistan floods underline the impossibility of dealing separately with the three interconnected and interdependent ecological, financial and political crises now affecting every country.

Climate change is obviously implicated in the tremendous levels of rainfall, but the impact of the floods has been exacerbated by economic and political failure and corruption at local and national level.

A study conducted by the Pakistan Forest Institute reported on Al Jazeera shows a 0.85°C increase in temperatures in Peshawar between 1985 and 2009 - an increase of 0.034°C each year.

The seasons have changed, with spring starting 15.6 days earlier and becoming 17.8 days shorter. The extreme summer season, with a mean maximum temperature of 35°C, has grown longer, running for five months, from May to September.

There was a 30 per cent decrease in rainfall, with a shift towards a dry tropical climate where for eight months of the year less than 25mm of rain fell. This year’s unprecedented monsoon rains are a further indicator of climate change, according to Bashir Khan, the director-general of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency.

The people in the Swat Valley have been most cruelly hit. Last year the Pakistan army, urged on by the Obama administration, launched a punitive assault on the Taliban, who were getting above themselves in the area, and hundreds of thousands of civilians were forced to flee.

They returned in recent months, only to have the floods and timber wreck more than 50 villages completely. Many people have died, and will die as they are cut off from aid, medicine and clean water. The government has failed to show as much vigour mobilising the army to get aid to the area now.

The Taliban were working with, or indeed WERE the “timber mafia” in the Malakand region where they were allowed to stay in control from 2007 to 2009. During that time more than 70 per cent of forests were cut down, contribuing to the present disaster.

But everywhere, local politicians, police and military are either powerless to stop the loggers and big landowners, or are in their pay – or both. Bribery, corruption, and complicity with terror go hand-in-hand to undermine any environmental protection.

The loss of forests transforms even a normal monsoon from a benefit to a curse. Forests absorbs water, and help refill aquifers. Without trees, flash floods run off into rivers, with no benefit for next year’s crops and without replenishing wells and springs. Fertile top soil is washed away.

Controlling illegal logging and promoting reforestation are G8 Millennium Goal priorities, yet the regulatory regime fails to prevent illegally logged timber being laundered into the official world market. A report published by Chatham House in 2002 warned that regulation of the trade was problematic as it might be subject to challenge at the World Trade Organisation.

The promise of Pakistan independence has been realised only for the rich. In a country which invests vast resources in nuclear weapons to sustain a nationalist, sectarian dispute with India, almost half the population are getting by on just one meal a day according to the United Nations.

Pakistan’s failed state system, exempified by the huge wealth amassed by the president Asif Ali Zardari, with his banks accounts and properties in a number of countries, cannot deliver rights, food and ecological protection. The same state and security services works hand in glove with the reactionary madrasas and the Taliban, when it suits both parties. It cannot be reformed to serve ordinary people’s interests.

The way forward must be to develop a new kind of revolutionary organisation to represent the interests of the masses, replacing those like the Pakistan People’s Party who merely manipulate them to gain power. A new organisation will have to think globally, becoming part of an international movement, and act locally and to put ordinary people in control of their own lives, their local economies and ecology.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
19 August 2010

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