A word with the Floods

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August 29, 2010 18:51

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While most pundits and analysts are giving their views about the destruction caused by the floods, Moign Khawaja of Outernationalist.net speaks to the force of nature to find out its views about the catastrophe and reasons for natural aggression of a grand scale. While finding the other side of the story, we discovered many qualms and reservations nature has been confronted with for a long time.

Moign: What are the main reasons of, what many are calling, the floods of the century? Why have you struck with so much vengeance?

Floods: My answer is very clear. I returned to the place that belongs to me – the floodplain. It’s part of my nature. I work in cycles, patterns and shifts. Once in a while I get back to the place that I lost over the time just to assert my natural position and strength. Many people may take it negatively. I don’t care. The tasks I’m assigned to by nature must be fulfilled at all costs.

call for help

A man marooned by flood waters, alongside his livestock, in the Rajanpur district of Pakistan's Punjab province on August 9, 2010. Photo - Reuters

Moign: But why such fury? Why would you hurt so many people just to fulfill your natural obligations?

Floods: First of all you have to understand the natural cycle. You have to take into account what rules the nature has made for all of us – humans, animals, plants, water bodies, skies, air, in fact every thing that is part of our planet. While humans act according to their instincts and interests and they’re seen as natural and innate, nature’s acts differently and they are portrayed as antipathetic and cruel. That’s not right. We are bound by our duties and we have the right to defend our existence.

Moign: But still you didn’t answer my question about the death and destruction you’ve caused, victims of which are mainly poor people.

Floods: I’m going to be honest with you. Nature treats everyone equally. For us everyone is equal and we fulfill our duties while keeping it in mind. Sunlight is for everyone to make use of, air is for everyone to breathe, water is for everyone to benefit from, and many things as such.

The people living in the riverbeds, floodplains, riverbanks, meanders etc. are seen as occupiers by us. When we decide to change our course and make a come back, we do so with full force, often without any prior notice. We are the lawful owners of the land and it is our right to use them as we deem fit. We run our own system that is independent of human interference.

nowshera ppl

Residents of Nowshera city evacuate to safety following heavy flooding on July 30, 2010. Photo - Abdul Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

Moign: So it doesn’t give you an iota of sadness when you see that your actions have brought a catastrophe in the lives of millions of poor people?

Floods: I wish we had sentiments. I wish we had emotions like human beings think they have. We aspire to be ‘clever and wise’ like human beings are. But sadly we are not. We are driven by a divine agenda. A wisdom that we do not share with people who think are superior to us or undermine us. We appreciate those who protect and align with us. Those who do not, suffer.

The forces of nature are here on the earth to maintain a complete harmony and establish the equilibrium of life. We nurture and nourish life on the planet and safeguard it in our own ways. The ones who help us and give us protection are our allies. The ones who do not, find no respite.

boy shelter

A young boy waits for food handouts at a makeshift camp in Sukkur, in Pakistan's Sindh province on 8 August, 2010. Photo - Reuters/Akhtar Soomro

Moign: Explain to us what violations have we, the human beings, committed that invited your wrath and fury? Why have you punished so many of us by banishing lives, property and belongings and destroying livelihood and habitat?

Floods: For years, in fact decades, we have witnessed the violations and misuse of natural amenities. This greed and rape of natural resources has taken place at both collective and individual levels. People rich or poor, strong or weak, powerful or hapless, have been involved in the plundering and destruction of Mother Nature.

For years, you people have annihilated nature’s best allies – the trees. Entire forests have been wiped out and the pillage continues to this day. These trees were for your own defence as they stopped flood overflows and restored the natural balance. They helped mop up the spill caused by the rivers and returned fertility to your soil after bagging it during rains and flooding. But you people did not spare them.

nowshera river

Men wade in deluge near the north eastern Pakistani city of Nowshera on 29 July. Photo - Reuters/K. Parvez

For years, you people stole the richness of the soil from the riverbeds and used it for your own purposes. And it was not a few cart or truck-loads but an army of earth-movers, dredgers and other digging equipment were employed on a massive scale that only weakened the foundations of rivers and left them frail.

You draw our waters are drawn to quench domestic and industrial thirst but what we get in return is raw sewage and toxic waste. The rivers are your lifeblood but you inject poison in them. And still blame us for the damage and destruction?

Moign: I totally understand your allegations and I’m very sorry for your loss and destruction. Do you not think it is unfair to punish people who are not directly responsible for the crime? I mean the poor have no choice but to live on the floodplains and empty riverbeds and make a living by cultivating the land. How can they be punished for something they’ve no power to decide?

Floods: It is the system that is to blame not nature. The poor peasants work for the rich feudal barons and help them consolidate their power. They’re de facto slaves. Generations after generations have exhausted themselves in this vicious cycle but not a single uprising took place that challenged the status quo and fought for their rights. Do the people in Pakistan await a flood that will sweep away feudalism and make the peasants rulers of the land? Why can’t they take destiny in their own hands and bring about a change that not only transforms their present but also secures their future?

taunsa water

An aerial view of a village in central Pakistan submerged by floodwater as far as the eye can see. Photo - AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer

Moign: So basically, you’re giving us a hint that these floods will trigger an uprising?

Floods: I’m not a political observer or catalyst of change. Nature is for everyone to cherish and take care of. It is upon the humans to think for themselves how to harness the forces of nature and strike a balance that ensures mutual co-existence. They should enforce a pact that guarantees the survival and sanctity of nature and paves way for human progression and prosperity.

The conditions of nature are clear. We do not want to be suppressed and tarnished for your vested interests. Our motto is clear. Live and let live! And I think this motto alone provides the inspiration for every revolution and social change.

Moign: It’s nice to Mother Nature so caring to human beings. What measures do you think could have avoided such a catastrophe?

Floods: The land floods have struck is full of inequalities and injustices. It has become the hub of mismanagement, corruption, greed, cronyism, cruelty and dishonesty. This breeds poverty, illiteracy, and factionalism that in turn hatches evils like civil strife and terrorism.

Nothing alone could have saved the country from the massive floods this year. However, short and long term planning could have minimalised the effects. The rivers overflow once every two or three years due to rainfall and other natural reasons. The glaciers in the Himalaya are melting and contributing to the additional flow of water in the rivers. Are these factors ever taken into account? How many times do you see any preparation made in the monsoon season despite predictions of heavy rainfall?

tarbela flood

An aerial view of a flooded valley near Pakistan's largest Tarbela dam, north-east of the capital Islamabad. Photo - Reuters/Horace Murray/U.S. Army

The encroachment of catchments, floodplains and riverbeds is disastrous and that’s where the real damage was done. For years the rivers laid in neglect and no dredging was done to clear the rubbish and silt that has been depositing for a long long time. This time when the water came gushing, it had to make it’s own way and clear the old path which was full of encroachments.

Moign: Some people in Pakistan are busy rueing the fact that the construction of a mega-dam called ‘Kalabagh’ could not only have saved the country from massive flooding but also provided water to the parched lands throughout the year. How do you see dams? Are you pleased with them?

Floods: Centuries ago, the human civilisation came up with the idea of dams to improve quality of life by providing drinking water as well as supporting economic growth. Dams help divert water for irrigation, navigation, power generation, flood control and food sufficiency.

It really works when small dams and reservoirs are constructed in a way that does not disrupt eco-systems, impedes movement of wildlife including fish stocks and stems the flow of minerals and soil. People take care of nature and nature takes care in return. Harmony.

But then comes corporate greed and governmental shortsightedness and the whole equation changes. Big, bad dams are constructed as a symbol of national pride. They’re inefficient as they’re build without proper research and vision. Industrialists instead of farmers and landowners are given the say in important matters who seek their vested interests in the name of economic prosperity and development.

While these dams generate water and power to fuel the industries, they fail to address the needs of the common man by creating problems like land loss, displacement, decreasing soil richness, inconsistent supply of water, disappearance of fish and other food chain and disturbance of water table. The ones who ought to benefit from the construction of dams stand out to suffer the most. The winners, by and large, are the politicians, bureaucrats and industrialists who make money and use these projects as trophies to win votes and gain power.

tarbela dam

An aerial view of Tarbela Dam spillway in northern Pakistan. The dam was completed in 1974 and generates hydro-electricity as well as stores water for irrigation and flood control. Photo - Getty Images

With this the case, how can someone advocate the presence of a large dam that can counter flooding and provide benefits to the whole nation? What reasons and examples do they have to offer to make a case?

Moign: We have seen a spike in natural disasters worldwide. In the past 5 years, there has been a tsunami, numerous earthquakes, floods, droughts, landslides, wildfires, tropical storms and other forms of natural calamities that have had a massive social, economic and environmental impact on the planet. Is there a rhyme or reason behind nature’s unrest? Why is Mother Nature unleashing its forces of destruction across the world?

Floods: It is not a coincidence. We do not operate without logic or reason. There is a pattern that sets our course. If something interferes with it then we have our defence mechanism and restoration plans.

The time floods struck Pakistan; forces of nature simultaneously unleashed a heat wave in Russia and triggered landslides in China. The results were destructive. Forest fires ravaged crops in Russia to the extent that the country won’t be able to export wheat this year. Landslides in China have changed the landscape of the affected region and had a severe impact on the economic activity and human settlements.

The full impact of the floods in Pakistan is yet to be assessed. However, it is not hard to imagine the economic, demographic, social and political aftermath of this natural catastrophe. The nature’s punishment is so high that the affected people will pay a price for the next couple of years if not decades. There will be massive unrest if both environmental as well as human issues are not sorted out on priority basis.

women river

A woman hold hands in anguish at the banks of River Ravi in Lahore, eastern Pakistan. Photo - Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Moign: But why do you have to wrack a nation that is already cash-strapped due to economic mismanagement and affected by a war imposed by the United States and its allies? People worldwide are reluctant to donate money. Some object the country’s nuclear status while others are unhappy over its association with the so-called ‘war on terror’ and its fallout. Will the poor people in the country ever build their lives?

Floods: It is true that Pakistan unfortunately suffers from chronic problems that continue to dog the country since its inception. But I cannot talk from the point of view of a political analyst.

However, I can underline the environmental and ecological impact of the situation and its implications on Pakistan as well as the world.

People worldwide need to use their wisdom and see who have been affected by one of the worst catastrophe of the 21st century in terms of its impact on human population, global environment and food supply.

There is no shadow of doubt that the people affected by the worst flooding live in the area called as the ‘food basket of Pakistan’. These people are poor peasants who work day and night, round the year to produce crops of a premium quality that is sought after by the world. Basmati rice – it’s the best rice that Pakistan offers to the world. Mangoes – the delicious pulpy fruit with orchards spread across the Indus basin. Fine wheat – the staple diet of many western and eastern countries is harvested in the fertile fields of Sindh and Punjab year in year out. Is it not important to rehabilitate these people so that they can keep growing the delicacies the world is already addicted to?

aid assistance

People reach out for aid in the flood-hit village of Kot-Addu in central Pakistan on 8 August. Photo - AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer

I can warn you – let them down this time and the next thing they will be planting could be bombs and ammunition. They are very poor and hapless people right now. If the world decides to shun them just because an extremely corrupt establishment – that is more interested in making nuclear bombs and accumulating tanks, missiles and aircrafts as well as an equally corrupt leadership that hoards money in foreign bank accounts – rules their country, the consequences of the collective failure by the world will be unforgiving. Generosity and accountability are needed not suspicion and cynicism. They are human beings first, the other identities come later.

Moign: It is bizarre to see a force of nature so bent upon bringing destruction to people now advocating for their restoration and rehabilitation. Why is there a twist?

Floods: Don’t get me wrong, I, along with other forces of nature believe in mutual coexistence and divine harmony. We believe in a system based on give and take – a system where every one takes care of each other and puts collective interest first.

Nature would suffer more if the people affected by floods, diseases, hunger and homelessness are not given the aid they need and the chance to survive. Imagine these underprivileged people turning to the remaining forests, fields and other natural habitats and use them completely without replacing them? This is the next catastrophe about to unfold if the world community does not take collective action.

Moign: Every natural calamity has both threats and opportunities in its wings. What blessing in disguise do these floods offer?

Floods: These floods are offering far-reaching benefits to the people if understood, researched and used in positive ways. Humans look at floods as disasters or catastrophes, something to be prevented, if possible. However, if viewed from the perspective of nature and its systems, such occurrences are not only normal, they are also essential for our survival.

Take the soil brought by the flood tides for example. It is very fertile and mineral rich.

The floods also recharge the ground water level and reset the water table. The ecosystems are revived and given a new boost. The delta receives its share of the sediments that in turn helps it preserve coastal ecosystem and fight off the expansion of sea.

Moign: Is there any message you would like to give to the affected people?

Floods: I won’t say a lot, as I know that human beings are capable of thinking and learning from their mistakes. However, I would like to draw their attention to the following points:

airforce nimra

Nimra, a three-year-old girl, rescued along with her family from Kaalam, north-west Pakistan, kisses the window glass of an army helicopter on August 1, 2010. Photo - Reuters/Faisal Mahmood

1) Nature works as a whole on this planet. Every environmental catastrophe has both negative as well positive aspects that have an impact not only on the region where it occurred but its effects can also be felt around the globe.

2) While forces of nature work in complete cohesion and unity, there is an urgent need to increase human interaction and cooperation to understand the needs and objectives of global harmony and human-nature coexistence.

3) What goes around comes around. Every action will have its own reaction and will impact in its own unique way.

4) Enjoy your life to the fullest but do not forget forces and factors that bring joy and happiness. A little bit of responsibility and awareness can safeguard world’s environment. It can also help people around the planet better their prospects of life and improve their living standards.

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