Regardless of their many other differences on post-flood scenarios – people, government, NGOs and the political parties are at least principally unanimous on two basic counts. That the ordinary people of Pakistan have received a dismal treatment for the past sixty three years and that here is an opportunity to make amends. Intentions of rehabilitation, reconstruction and rebuilding are likely to dominate our post-flood vocabulary. How these terms are understood and subsequently transcribed into action could determine if Pakistan will emerge from this deluge as a transformed society or simply continue on its path of medieval backwardness and misery.
The much needed post flood activities may be broadly divided into two categories. Those that revolve around brick and mortar and those that are shaped by minds, hearts, attitudes and empowerment. The first category of tasks essentially fall in the government’s domain. These are largely infrastructural in nature and relate to reconstruction of roads, waterways, embankments, dykes, irrigation schemes, housing, damaged schools, healthcare centres and miscellaneous government structures. The government will surely undertake these tasks but the quality of the job done would not far exceed the quality of its doers. Those who can do nothing about the already closed 7000 plus schools (only in one province) will be able to do few miracles for another 10,000 schools that have been devastated by the punishing waters. There is thus alarge window of opportunity for the civil society, the NGOs and the philanthropic organisations, if they really wish to make a difference to come forward with innovative approaches that go far beyond the realm of reconstruct. The greatest need lies in the areas of reform, socio-economic restructuring and empowerment, that could forever change the lives of the masses.
Borrowing, collecting and distributing large chunks of money is often confused with progress and good work. This is all the more applicable for foreign aid and loans. The innumerable loans taken under fancy captions like ‘access to justice’, ‘capacity building’ and ‘poverty alleviation’ have only alleviated the poverty of consultants and program managers. This approach has reduced Pakistan to a beggar state which can no longer think, leave aside act, on its own without receiving its next cache of alms. (Pakistan received $ 16.7 billion from foreign donors in the last 10 years for social sector development. Considering that the situation on ground is worse than before, it is not difficult to guess where this money has disappeared.) Any new reform, restructure and empowerment initiative must therefore adopt a different path based on at least four fundamental and clearly articulated principles. These are: a. Not acting as beggars to receive any foreign funding, charity, grant or loan. b. Not working in a manner that will make beggars out of those who are the intended beneficiaries of this development c. Collaboration and partnerships with other Pakistani groups and organisations. d. Undertaking no activity if it does not result in empowerment of people or improving their socio-economic status.
An important feature of development should be to avoid falling for clichés like ‘model village’, ‘model school’, ‘model hospital’ or ‘model women police station’. The Sharifs have already inaugurated a ‘model village’, equipped with toilets, separate bedrooms for ‘maal maweshi’ and other niceties. Much more of this gimmickry accompanied by pictures of VIPs inaugurating these ‘model’ institutions will surface in the days to come. Any new initiatives should not create one time ‘models’, but aim for long term actions to build skills, self reliance, employability, economic opportunities, cultural changes, social development, tolerance for diversity, awareness of rights of every citizen, civic behaviours and responsibilities, ability to stand up to feudal and state injustices, indigenous applications of using alternate energy, preventive health care and sanitation and building environment friendly communities. In short the focus of development should shift from large, high-sounding, foreign-funded, donor-driven, almost never-completed projects to small, doable, indigenous, community based, empowering and participatory projects that could have a meaningful impact upon the lives of ordinary people.
The task of qualitatively changing the lives of a large population is far more difficult than making brick and mortar structures. However this can be achieved if civil society groups and organisations are willing to venture into flood affected rural areas and build community development centres that grow these “food for thought” services. Each such centre could be built on 50-60 acres of land and could serve many hundred adjoining villages. Each centre could be equipped with a 10-20 bed secondary care hospital, a mobile primary care unit, a high school for boys and girls, an industrial home, a skill development centre, an industrial development unit for local produce, a teacher training unit, a community centre for arts, crafts and entertainment that uses arts for creating socio-political changes, a volunteer development unit for engaging local youths, a library to introduce reading habits, an adult literacy centre, play grounds that host inter-village sports, a micro-finance facility and residential accommodation for doctors, teachers, volunteers and other staff. Each such project could also have a technology development centre that prototypes and teaches new technologies for local applications. These could include water filtration and sanitation technologies, low cost construction techniques, recycling technologies, alternate energy technologies, agricultural produce related technologies and a host of other processes that could act as a catalyst for the much needed socio-economic change.
A powerful message of social equality can be delivered in these centres by making the big landlord and the poor ‘hari’ stand in the same queue and served with the same respect and equality. Hundreds of villagers when exposed to dozens of such examples of good service, justice and equality would begin to demand similar treatment in other walks of life as well. Thus a hundred such centres operating in each province, engaged in multi-pronged physical, cultural, social and thought level changes could rapidly begin to transform our society – a task no bricks and mortar will ever accomplish.