International

How imperialism hinders Pakistan flood relief

05 October 2022
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Revolutionary Socialist Movement, Pakistan section of the L5I

FOR MONTHS, Pakistan’s people have suffered under one of the most severe floods ever recorded.
The climate change-induced disaster has led to the flooding of one-third of the country’s total land mass.

An estimated 33 million people have been displaced. Official numbers speak of 1,500 deaths, one third of the victims being children. Under conditions of a widespread collapse of infrastructure, telecommunications and medical support, the real number remains unknown and certainly far higher.

The destruction caused is estimated at a minimum of $30 billion. An astronomical sum, considering the weak Pakistani Rupee. Altogether, the damages amount to more than 11% of Pakistan’s GDP. The devastating flood of 2010, which left more than 2,000 people dead, which was until now the worst ever seen, cannot compare to the current situation.

So far, 3.6 million acres of crops have been damaged and three million livestock killed. A huge part of the harvest lies destroyed. The next crop might not be sown at all, as many areas will remain flooded for months to come, and winter is approaching. Recently, price hikes were recorded due to the global war of sanctions. Now, an unprecedented hunger crisis is looming.

Not just a “natural” disaster

Too little and too late, support was offered to Pakistan since the crisis broke out in June. The country is being crushed under its foreign debt to private and state actors in the imperialist countries. In their name, the International Monetary Fund has been asking for another round of price rises, cuts to subsidies and privatisations. Meanwhile, the different political factions of the domestic ruling class are busy fighting among themselves, rather than managing the crisis.

In Balochistan, the suffering already began in mid-June. The focus of the Sharif-led government and Imran Khan-led opposition, as well as that of the media, revolved around the power games of these different factions of the bourgeoisie. Although shameful, it is not surprising that the suffering of Balochistan’s common people is the least of the ruling classes’ concerns.

“We were making preparations for my brother’s upcoming wedding when the devastating floods rendered my family homeless and snatched away the meagre resources we had left,” a 30-year-old coal miner from Balochistan told Deutsche Welle. He added that his mother was in shock since the death of her husband and son. This happened in July. No assistance had been provided, despite widespread destruction in his town, he went on to say.

Only when the regional capital of Quetta was affected, and highways carrying commodities from Sindh, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were blocked, did the issue become worthy of attention. The destruction in the area of Swat was the turning point, as bridges and roads were swept away.

Had the issue been accorded the importance it demanded, many lives could have been saved. The common people are starting to feel this. Reports from South Punjab suggest that the indignation over government inaction led to protests of local residents. In such an instance, a provincial minister was surrounded and eventually fled in a hurry. Similar instances appeared in Sindh, one of the provinces most affected both by the flood and government apathy.

Some working class and peasant voices have even claimed that floods were consciously redirected towards smaller villages to protect industry and large landholdings rather than lives, particularly in Sindh and South Punjab where big landlords still have great influence over politics. In Sukkur, the police dared to book 100 flood victims under terror charges for protesting against the lack of food and relief when the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister came for a visit, to “show their sympathy”.

This illustrates that this is not simply a “natural” disaster. Both the horrendous handling of the crisis and its cause, climate change, are man-made. But not all humans have equally contributed to it. The ecological crisis is produced by a fossil-fuelled capitalism, in which a few, globally unequally distributed, rich people benefit from the uncontrolled exploitation of nature and humans.

The responsibility for the suffering of Pakistan’s affected inhabitants lies not simply with a mystical “natural force”. It lies with a very real societal system. The culprit is the capitalist economy at large, and specifically with the few bourgeois politicians both in Pakistan and abroad, who are consciously taking decisions against the interests of the many.

The priorities of the ruling classes are clear. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced a relief package worth Rs14 billion after millions of people were displaced in Sindh. This is the same man who, a few days earlier, had announced a relief package for a handful of exporting capitalists worth Rs70 billion.

At the same time, the workers in those same industries are continuing to suffer. Power loom and textile industry workers were already burdened under the weight of the economic and social crisis that previously prevailed in Pakistan. Now, as nearly half of the country’s cotton crop has been washed away, a big chunk of the industry in Faisalabad and Gujranwala has shut down, resulting in even higher numbers of unemployed.

A looming hunger crisis

Food prices are soaring high after the floods. Prices of onions alone have risen by five times. Eight per cent of the tomato crop was destroyed with prices rising, too. Both these crops are essential ingredients in Pakistani cuisine. Food shortages are expected as vegetable, fruit, wheat and rice fields have been damaged. Farmers have expressed fears that if agricultural land is not drained right away, they would not be able to plant crops for the winter season, the most important of which is the wheat crop. Now food needs to be imported from Afghanistan and Iran, resulting in further price rises. The situation is so miserable that people have started fighting over ration packs during flood relief drives.

This agricultural devastation will have a long-lasting impact on the overall economy as well. In Sindh alone, three key crops, tomatoes, onions and chilli, face losses of $374 million. The country is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of rice. Flood-stricken Sindh province used to account for 42 per cent of rice production, of which an estimated 1.9 million tons have been lost, amounting to an 80 per cent loss of the forecast produce. Combined with an 88% loss of sugarcane and 61% loss of cotton, the total economic impact is worth $1.3 billion in Sindh alone, reported Deutsche Welle.

Infrastructure and public works in many parts of Pakistan were already in bad shape. After the floods, even those basic amenities have been lost. Many have no access to any kind of drinking water. Thousands of those displaced are forced to drink the dirty waters that washed away their homes. Thus, cholera is spreading throughout the country. Other water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dengue and malaria, as well as numerous skin infections, are spreading.

Capitalist avarice dictates that even in such a situation profits must be made from the misery of people—because they can be made. Transport services carrying relief aid have increased their charges, making it more difficult to send essential commodities.

Inflation and debt traps

Inflation was already on the rise, though, with global oil and gas prices being affected in particular. The price hike in the wake of the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine was already horrible. Germany and other European nations are finding new, albeit more expensive and unecological suppliers for gas and oil.

But poor countries like Pakistan cannot compensate as those imperialist countries can. The latter are now subsidising fossil fuels, with the help of extra-profits made through economic exploitation at home and in the semi-colonial world. Meanwhile, these same countries are forcing Pakistan through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stop subsidizing gas and other essential commodities.

According to Dawn, industry in Pakistan is facing a recession. Large-scale manufacturing, in July, shrank by 1.4 per cent, caused by this combination of flood and the highest-ever cost of energy and raw material for industry. The textile industry shrank by 0.5 per cent compared to last year.

The government has been appealing to international donors, humanitarian agencies, organisations, and allied countries to provide aid. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the country could use up to $10 billion for repairs. The IMF has released $1.7 billion out of a bailout fund that had been frozen due to the previous government’s failure to comply with demands to cut energy subsidies further.

The UN has appealed for $160 million in emergency funding, and provided $3 million, while the UK has announced the allocation of $1.8 million for flood relief. This is nothing. Compare this to the profits just British Gas Companies made this year, an industry that is directly linked to climate change. And just think about the military spending of the great powers, from China, to Russia, to Germany or the USA. They amounted to more than a trillion dollars last year!

War and climate change

In short, not just climate change, but also the war, as well as the actions and priorities of the imperialist powers and the capitalist system as a whole affect countries like Pakistan particularly.

We want to state this clearly, we wish Putin and the Russian army a defeat in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people have an unquestionable right to self-determination. But they should learn from our experience. Do not trust someone, just because they are the enemy of your enemy.

Looking at Pakistan reveals the hypocrisy of the talks of Western imperialist powers (as well as its supposed “brother” China, by now Pakistan’s biggest single creditor). Pakistan is still suffering from a 20 years long war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Western leaders present themselves as protectors of “global freedom”. But it is Western imperialists who are equally robbing and dictating to poor countries like Pakistan together and in competition with China or Russia (with the Pakistani bourgeoisie playing its own part).

While they are preaching “freedom and democracy”, institutions like the IMF are dictating Pakistan’s domestic policy. While they speak of securing a free future, imperialist banks and conglomerates are destroying even the basics required for life, however miserable, in Pakistan.

The difference is they connect this to a democratic regime at home, unlike China or Russia. But it is a democratic regime from which poor Pakistanis are mostly excluded, as the ongoing deportations e.g. from German airports back to Pakistan show.

The workers, peasants and poor cannot place their trust in any of these powers. They must find strength in themselves. The current situation shows more than ever, that Pakistan needs a socialist party that genuinely represents the interests of the struggling masses. But the situation in Pakistan is also a moral wake up call to the labour movements in Europe, the USA, Russia or China. You have a responsibility, too. You must realise that the main enemy is at home.

Instead of following “your” political and economic elites, who are in the end only trying to preserve their power ambitions and combine this with a renewed militarism, you should join our struggle against climate change and the capitalist system that is facilitating it.

Raise your voice in the metropolises of those countries which are burdening Pakistan with debt. Raise your voice in those countries which are bringing us to the brink of ecological collapse and demand:

We do not trust our own capitalist rulers. At home, we fight for this emergency programme:

If the bourgeoisie cannot solve the crisis, workers, peasants and the poor must be ready to take power themselves.

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