PAKISTAN : Civil society groups protest diverted flooding

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) – Civil society, politicians, and the media in Pakistan are raising their voices against the phenomenon of "diverted flooding" that has caused suffering and displacement for millions of poor. As Fides has reported in recent days, during the floods some landowners sought to save their land by building dams and diverting the floods into areas with villages and lands belonging to small farmers and poor peasants, often of religious minorities.

Raza Haroon, Minister for Information Technology in the Sindh province, has called for the formation of a special legal commission, to determine those responsible for the diversion of the waters, asking that judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan be included on the case. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other NGOs, from diverse religious backgrounds, are demanding a government investigation and the intervention of the Supreme Court.
"The fact that water is diverted to the detriment of the poor has caused extensive indignation in public opinion. Rich landowners have sought to save their fields, building channeling structures without addressing the consequences. They are wealthy, influential, and also directly present in Parliament. They think they can act without consequences," Fides learned in an interview with Mehdi Hasan, a journalist and academic, President of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an NGO working for human rights. "We have presented the government with an official protest for the abuses that have affected at least 2 million people in Sindh and Punjab. Along with the slowness of aid, this is one of the motives behind the increasing frustration of the refugees," says the International Red Cross. "We ask the government and the courts to investigate and ascertain those responsible...and, if it appears that there are members of Parliament [implied], that they initiate action against them for a specific charges and payment of damages," he added.
The Commission confirms the fact that discrimination occurs in the distribution of aid, to the detriment of religious minorities: "We've also expressed our strong disagreement with this situation. The problem occurs when the aid passes through the hands of Islamic fundamentalist charitable organizations," he says. "First, there is a political issue: the feudal lords of Pakistan enjoy strong support and influence in high places. Secondly, it is a social and cultural question: the Pakistani army is trying to defeat extremism by force, but it should act instead at the cultural level. They need to take another look at the education system in Pakistan and the formation of the younger generations, under the banner of the values of democracy, respect for religious freedom."
Sajid Ayub, a Catholic, is Director of the Pakistani NGO called the Organization for Development and Peace (ODP), which is non-denominational and is led by the Dominican Fr. Raphael Mehnga. The ODP is committed to humanitarian work in 5 districts of South Punjab, the most affected by the floods. "In the area of Muzaffargarh – he told Fides - there were also Hindu and Christian communities affected by the diverted flooding. It occurred mainly in Sindh, but also in Punjab. The small farmers will especially need help to recover at least the grain to be planted for the next autumn harvest. Otherwise, famine will strike the area...The government must take responsibility for these people. In a joint statement, signed by several NGOs, we have also requested the intervention of the courts." (PA) (Agenzia Fides 09/03/2010)