Support is Still Needed for Pakistan’s Flood Victims

Over the past months Pakistan has been hit by unprecedented floods, the worst in living memory, and perhaps the worst floods in history. More than twenty million people have been uprooted and over 2,000 died along the broad plains along the river delta, starting in the mountains. This is has impacted the lives of more people than the Indian Ocean tsunami, Haiti’s earthquake and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake combined.

The damage has been enormous: whole villages washed away, roads and bridges broken and cut off, immense loss to agriculture, industry, infrastructure and services. Millions of people lost their homes and livelihoods. In addition to all the other damage the floods have caused, floodwaters have destroyed much of the health care infrastructure in the worst-affected areas, leaving inhabitants especially vulnerable to water-borne diseases.

A massive international effort is ongoing since August, providing emergency medical care, distributing food, water and shelter, and helping to rebuild Pakistan’s shattered infrastructure. Even so, almost 1.5 million people are still homeless, while 800,000 people have been cut off by floods and are only reachable by air. More than 70 per cent of Pakistan's population doesn’t have adequate access to proper nutrition, and food shortages will only increase.

The situation is still at a crisis point. Aid agencies are doing all they can on the ground to reach people, but support is necessary for this work to continue. As an EWI board member, I am proud of the Institute’s commitment to humanitarian causes. In fact, they are at the root of its work for a safer and more stable world.   Everybody committed to EWI’s efforts may therefore wish to support the millions left fighting to survive with little food, clean water or shelter.

Donations can be made to the reliable organizations listed below. I also stand ready to forward any assistance to responsible and effective local organizations that will ensure help gets to those really affected. You can contact me at

Ikram Sehgal is a Board Member of the EastWest Institute.

After Pakistan’s Floods

Pakistan’s recent floods have left eight million dependent on aid for survival. The Pakistani government has confirmed that 1,600 people are dead and 2,366 injured, and the country’s disaster agency fears there may well be a “significant rise” in the death toll as waters recede and the numbers of missing are counted. For the flood’s survivors, staying alive and healthy is a challenge. In areas where food is scarce, crowds scuffle at the rare sight of a relief vehicle, leaving women and children vulnerable to stampede and injury. Elsewhere, survivors are exposed to epidemics by a lack of clean drinking water and the presence of huge pools of stagnant water, which breed disease. U.N. officials estimate that 72,000 severely mal-nutritioned children are at high risk of dying. Pakistani officials warn that millions of people face disease and food shortage.

So far, international aid has been directly largely at the crucial task of helping the flood’s victims survive from day to day. But as the flood waves recede, we must recognize that the country faces a tide of unfolding challenges. Only by understanding the economic devastation wrought by the floods can we begin to reckon the kind of long-term assistance Pakistan requires for true recovery.

Pakistan’s struggling economy depends heavily on its huge swathes of rich farmland, much of which has been wiped away by the floods. Water has caused damaged to homes of 4.6 million farmers.  More than 100,000 cattle have perished and seven million hectares of agricultural land are submerged. World Bank president Robert Zoellick estimates that crops worth $US1 billion have been destroyed. For a country where agriculture accounts for more than 21 percent of gross domestic product and employs 45 percent of the labor force, the long-term consequences will be dire, writes The Sunday Telegraph’s Nicola Smith, adding: “For farmers the destruction of crops, cattle and land has crippling financial consequences, plunging many into debt and deep poverty.”

Moreover, floods have inflicted widespread damage on infrastructure. In cities, flood waters have destroyed electricity installations, roads and phone lines.  About 1,000 villages in flood-hit districts of southern Punjab are without power. The destruction could set Pakistan back many years (if not decades), further weaken its feeble civilian administration and add to the burdens on its military. More than 5,000 miles of roads and railways have been washed away, along with some 7,000 schools and more than 400 health facilities, according to the The New York Times.

In the past, friends and allies of Pakistan have asked the country to do more to secure its borders; the flood threatens those efforts. “Pakistan's floods have not just devastated the lives of millions of people, they now present an unparalleled national security challenge for the country, the region and the international community,” The Telegraph’s Ahmad Rashid warns. “Lest anyone under-estimate the scale of the disaster, all four of Pakistan's wars with India combined did not cause such damage. It has become clear this week that, unless major aid is forthcoming immediately and international diplomatic effort is applied to improving Pakistan's relations with India, social and ethnic tensions will rise and there will be food riots.”

While extending a temporary lifeline to rescue the victims may help them survive from one crisis to another, assistance facilitating a gradual recovery is necessary to revive the country’s economy. Such a strategy would see Pakistan’s trade partners easing restrictions and raising import quotas. Allowing greater market access for Pakistan’s textile goods in particular would be a significant step, as the textile sector comprises over 50% of the country’s export and about 40% of the its manufacturing jobs. Additionally, countries importing manpower for their service sector should consider recruiting laborers from Pakistan’s flood-hit area as a means to support the affected families. Such measures will ease the pain of losses and facilitate a smooth rehabilitation.

“The international community needs to be ready to support Pakistan in a lasting manner,” states the European Union’s Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton, adding “This will be a significant element for the long-term recovery. A safe, secure, stable and prosperous Pakistan is in the interests of the EU and the wider international community.” Underlining a sense of urgency, Ashton points out: “You have vast parts of Pakistan affected by floods; it’s immensely, strategically significant, and the situation will sadly get worse and worse. There’s a real need to demonstrate the international community as a whole can react.”

Thus, the pressing question is not only how the international community will provide immediate relief for Pakistan’s 20 million affected people, but whether and how it will mobilize resources for their long-term recovery. The nature of the aid Pakistan receives and how it is used will determine if the nation heads towards decades of dependency or towards a path of recovery, revival and sustainability.

 Mr Abbas spoke on BBC Arabic about the costs and consequences of Pakistan's floods and their national and regional implications. 

Disasters and the Aviation Factor

Writing for The News, EWI board member Ikram Sehgal discusses the importance of disaster relief in light of the floods in Pakistan, and more specifically, the significance of aviation and air power.

In a detailed account of Pakistan’s previous natural disasters, Sehgal analyzes the importance of helicopters, and the high cost of not having enough of these transport vehicles.  Sehgal opens his piece with a discussion of the 1970 cyclone that hit East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, killing 300,000 people.  “The immediate need was helicopters (and more helicopters), followed by boats of all kind,” states Sehgal.

In a description of the necessary disaster relief for the earthquake of 2005, Sehgal explains that accessibility is a critical factor in effective and efficient aid: “The prime factors were simplicity of planning, cutting across red tape, effective implementation, plenty of flexibility and above all, accessibility.”  In the past, 50 per cent of the air powered disaster relief has come from international forces, which sends a negative signal to the citizens of Pakistan about their country’s internal efforts.  “The shortage of helicopters reinforced the adverse perception, both among the intelligentsia and the masses in East Pakistan, of indifference towards them in the face of catastrophic tragedy,” Sehgal writes.

The negative repercussions of a government’s inability to react quickly to natural disasters has larger effects on the country overall.  “That had grave political repercussions, affecting the general elections only 20 days later and one (if not the prime) catalysts leading to East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh a year later,” Sehgal says.

In the case of natural disasters such as the current one, the cost of additional air power is far less than the number of lives lost.  “The human cost of not having more helicopters is far too expensive for us to morally sustain,” Sehgal concludes.

Click here to read Sehgal’s piece in The News.

Climate Change is our Number One Security Challenge

Saber Hossain Chowdhury has been a member of the Bangladesh Parliament since 1996. He is known for championing human rights and individual liberties in Bangladesh and around the world. He is also Chair of the Bangladesh Parliament’s All Party Group on Climate Change and Environment, First Vice President of Inter Parliamentary Union’s Standing Committee on Peace and International Security, an active member of Parliaments for Non Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and a Member of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Association (CPA) Task Force on Climate Change.

PN: What are the current security challenges in Bangladesh?

SC: First and foremost, we’re still fighting poverty and trying to provide the basic necessities such as shelter, food, health services to the vast majority of the population of Bangladesh. So food security is a very important challenge for us. We’re very well aware of the Millennium Development Goals and the attainment of these goals is not easy.

From a regional perspective, one of the greatest positive developments in the South Asia is that we have democratically elected governments in almost all the countries. Another challenge is to preserve and build on the peace that we’ve finally reached, for instance, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh and also in Sri Lanka after years of insurgency. And we should also keep in mind a possibility of a nuclear threat; we have two nuclear powers - India and Pakistan - in the region.

But the most formidable challenge, that Bangladesh faces is how to deal with the impact of climate change, which I consider to be our number one national security challenge.

PN: How does climate change affect Bangladesh?

SC:  The effects are multi-dimensional and of such a magnitude that may not apply to any other country.  The most obvious threat is a sea-level rise. If you take a look at the map of Bangladesh, you will see that we have the largest river delta (the Ganges delta) in the south of Bangladesh. And the estimates are that if the water level rises by one meter, 17 percent of our land in the Ganges Delta will submerge.  It will cause the displacement of around 30 million people. The map of Bangladesh will change dramatically because of the sea level rise.

We also have a threat from the North, which comes from the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, which serve as the water towers for a large part of the South Asia. The glaciers in the Himalayas are melting at an alarming rate, leading to increased flooding in the immediate future. And in the long-term perspective, we might experience water shortages, because the glaciers are the sources of fresh water.

Therefore, the problem becomeshow to share the limited resources with other countries. This  makes the wise management of water resources in the Himalayasa major challenge for regional security.

Another problem is migration.  There are people who are already migrating from coastal areas to Dhaka City because of the sea-level rise. This problem is likely to aggravate as the number of internally displaced people and families grow.
The frequency of extreme weather events has also increased. In the past we used to have big cyclones once in a decade, now we’re having a major cyclone every two to three years. And if we bear in mind that food security is our primary problem, then you see that the cyclones damage crops and disrupt food supplies

This is quite a grim scenario and confirms that climate change poses formidable challenges for security and governance in Bangladesh.  Climate change is both a threat multiplier and a threat accelerator.  What I would like to emphasize is that climate change is not a distant possibility but a reality in Bangladesh.


PN: Are there any regional initiatives among parliamentarians to tackle these security threats in the region?

SC:  There is an organization in South Asia called SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) which provides a framework for joint actions. But, frankly speaking, we haven’t achieved as much progress in this framework.  Bilateral tensions have limited the cooperation.

Hopefully, now that we have democratically elected governments, there will be a qualitative change and we can move forward. Terrorism is a major security concern in the region and Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has proposed the formation of a regional task force to combat terrorism.
In Bangladesh, we’re trying to overcome this problem by creating an All Party Parliamentary Group on Climate Change and Environment.  No matter how different our political programs are, we need a consensus as far as climate change is concerned. I think it’s first necessary to achieve a consensus within each particular country and then see if we can extend this accord in a regional perspective.

PN:  Are you satisfied with the level of the international community’s recognition of your security problems?

SC: I must say that there is a lot of talk but not enough action. The Copenhagen conference was not a success. We are still far away from concluding a legally binding agreement.  There are no commitments to cut emissions substantially and there are fears that the process will become irreversible.

What we desperately need is money for adaptation funds.  Adaptation is the main task for Bangladesh. I think technology transfer is going to be challenging because it can infringe on intellectual property rights, so technology should be made much more easily available. It was agreed in Copenhagen to allocate $30 billion over the next 3 years for immediate mitigation and adaptation needs of the most vulnerable countries but  we haven’t seen a cent from this fund flowing into Bangladesh yet.

This sum, however, is not enough to solve the problems. So the Bangladesh government has showed its commitment to adapt to climate change by creating its own fund. $150 million have already been made available by the government to strengthen the country’s resilience. We’re not just asking other countries for help, but we’re trying to contribute to solving the problem ourselves.  I think the message from Bangladesh is loud and clear – we are not just victims but also leaders in terms of adaptation.

PN:  Speaking about national security problems in Bangladesh, what is the most troublesome region in the country?

SC: I would not pick a certain region in the country. We did have some insurgency in the past in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, whichis peaceful now, the implementation of the Peace Accord remains a challenge for us. The current Government’s zero tolerance policy on terrorism seems to yield good results, which leaves the development agenda and adapting to climate change impacts as the the major concerns.

PN: If we speak about purely military security issues, are there any parliamentary initiatives on the regional level to deal with them?

SC:  There is still no official framework for that so far but there is an ongoing discussion to engage more parliamentarians on a regional basis. Since we didn’t have much of parliamentary democracy before and the institution of democracy is relatively new, this process is going slowly. But we hope that we will be able to network more frequently with parliamentarians and people’s representatives from other South Asian countries in the next couple of years.

PN:  Is there any official committee within the Bangladesh Parliament that deals specifically with conflict prevention?

SC: We don’t have a committee that is directly involved in conflict prevention. But as I’ve mentioned before, our number one security problem is climate change, so we discuss security issues in the All-Party Group on Climate Change. Since it’s an all-party group, we are trying to reach a certain level of consistency in implementing the relevant policy no matter what reshuffling occurs in the government. The Bangladesh Parliament has supported the UN SG’s Five Point Plan on Non Proliferation and Disarmament through a unanimous resolution, making Bangladesh the first country to have made the important linkage between disarmament, development and climate change.

PN: Is this All Party Group involved in any joint actions with other parliaments?

SC: We have been cooperating with the UK’s House of Commons. We combined our resources to produce a Joint Report on climate change, which was launched in Copenhagen during COP15. We have also been active in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Task force on Climate Change. We plan to keep on working with the British parliament in the future. The European Union is also actively involved in a climate security agenda, so we hope to be able to get in touch with MPs from the European Parliament on this issue as well.

PN:  You’re familiar with the scope of activities of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention. How do you think the Network can help Bangladesh to tackle its security problems?

SC: I think it’s just very important to get together and begin networking and discussing. And it’s very important to engage parliamentarians as elected representatives of the people, not just the representatives of the executive branch.

Besides, parliamentarians exercise an important function of supervising the allocation of resources. Once the adaptation fund, for example, is available for Bangladesh, the MPs will have to make sure that the money allocated will reach people that need it most. And speaking more generally, MPs in all countries, from Bangladesh to the U.S., are responsible to ensure that funds are spent properly.

More interaction, dialogue and networking amongst parliamentarians can thus only be positive, constructive and beneficial for all.

PN: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Chowdhury.

Andrew Nagorski Leads Discussion on Climate Change

EWI Vice President Andrew Nagorski led a panel discussion on the international implications of climate change, featuring Rear Admiral Morisetti, the UK’s Climate and Energy Security Envoy.

The event accompanied Race to the End of the Earth, an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and focused on environmental challenges facing the poles and their impact on national and global security. It was covered on the web site of the British embassy in Washington.

Reaching New Audiences: "Making the most of Afghanistan's River Basins"

Benjamin Sturtwagen’s and Matthew King’s paper “Making the most of Afghanistan’s river basins” was published on-line in MO Magazine, reaching approximately 500,000 readers.

MO Magazine is a monthly add-on to Flanders’ most read hard news magazine.

Click here to read this paper on MO Magazine.

Making the Most of Aghanistan's River Basins
Source Author: 
Benjamin Sturtwagen and Matthew King

Danila Bochkarev Analyzes Gazprom Strategies in Pipeline and Gas Journal

A analysis of Gazprom's strategic engagement with Central Asia by EWI Associate Danila Bochkarev is featured in the June 2009 issue of Pipeline and Gas Journal.

Bochkarev, who initially wrote the piece for EWI's web site, identifies the commercial interests of Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, and lays out the ways in which these interests translated into a regional pricing strategy. "An understanding of Gazprom’s strategic imperatives in Central Asia could have helped to predict the conglomerate’s new pricing strategy towards Ukraine," he writes. "Further, it could have avoided – or at least attenuated – the January 2009 gas crisis between Moscow and Kiev."

Click here to read Bochkarev's article in Pipeline and Gas Journal



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