PM vows to turn flood catastrophe into opportunity, build better Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani on Monday vowed to turn the flood crisis – which affected 20 million people across the country – into an opportunity and build a better Pakistan, which inspires hope and confidence among its people.“While the scale of destruction caused by the floods is, no doubt, colossal but greater still is our resolve to rebuild a better Pakistan, which inspires hope and confidence among its people.“We would turn this crisis into an opportunity. I am sure that a better Pakistan would emerge from these testing times and we are committed to making this happen”, Gilani said while addressing a post-flood meeting with the heads of leading NGOs in Pakistan here at the PM House on Monday night.The Prime further said during and after the catastrophic floods of August 2010, Pakistan has entered a new phase of phenomenal challenges virtually on all fronts, adding, but “Our past bears witness to the fact that our great nation has always risen when confronted with challenges”.
Speaking about the impact of devastating floods, the Prime Minister, “as we enter rehabilitation and reconstruction phase, we have to understand that over 20 million have watched their entire lives, their homes, their crops, their cattle, their assets washed away in 82 districts”, adding, “1974 people lost their lives and about 3000 gravely injured”.he said education and health sectors suffered the worst losses as over 471 health facilities were damaged.Likewise, the Prime Minister said more than 12593 public schools and colleges were either completely or partially damaged.He said the initial estimates reveal that 1.65 million houses were damaged and a crop area of 20,000 sq km was inundated, adding, according to an assessment of the ILO, about 5.3 million jobs have been lost.
Damage to communication and energy sectors has also been phenomenal that runs into billions of rupees, the Prime Minister said and added consequently, “we are faced with serious challenges in sectors of the economy, energy, environment, education, food security, livelihoods, physical infrastructure, and re-generation of our agriculture”.
“In such a grave situation, it becomes the national duty of all citizens of Pakistan to rise above all differences and divisions, and to work together to face this unprecedented crisis”, Gilani stressed.The Prime Minister said the Government of Pakistan immediately recognized the scale of the disaster and deployed all available resources including the civil and the military to conduct rescue and relief activities with our own available resources and facilities.The provincial governments, AJK and Giltgit-Baltistan also activated their own respective departments to steer the rescue and relief efforts, he added.The Prime Minister said represented by all the federating units, the federal government established National Oversight Disaster Management Council (NODMC) to oversee the release, flow and utilization of the funds to the flood affectees in a transparent manner.
“I have also invited the Chairman of Public Accounts Committee and the Auditor General of Pakistan to monitor the entire process and conduct the audit of the funds being released”, he added.The Prime Minister said the Finance Ministry is already reviewing the budget so that maximum resources can be made available to meet the needs of rehabilitation.
The government has frozen expenditure at last year’s level besides cutting down non-development expenditure and promoting the culture of austerity in the government’s departments, he said and added tax structure is also being reviewed with a view to widening tax net, and increasing tax to GDP ratio by 13% in the medium term.
“These measures are aimed at mobilizing indigenous resources for the flood victims”, the Prime Minister added.The Prime Minister said in order to ensure that the aid money reaches the deserving without any hiccup, the government has started the registration process with the help of NADRA.
“We have already distributed the first installment of Rs.  20,000 through the Watan Cards to be followed by payment of remaining Rs. 80,000. Initially, an amount of Rs. 40 billion has been earmarked for this purpose, out of which 50% will be contributed by the Federal Government”.Besides this, Gilani said, the Benazir Income Support Programme, Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal, and other agencies are also busy in providing relief and assistance to affectees round the clock.Prime Minister Gilani said he was proud to note that almost immediately after the natural disaster, the entire nation responded to the best of its ability.“One of the extra-ordinary manifestations of the capacity of the people of Pakistan to give practical shape to their sympathetic emotions is the role rendered by hundreds of non-governmental organizations”, he added.The Prime Minister said some of the NGOS already existed and had existing networks and their own organizational infrastructure on the basis of which they were able to enter the field of flood relief work.
“At the same time, there are examples of some organizations which were created overnight to bring citizens together to face a new emergency. Such groups also joined the campaign to render relief to the affectees whether formally or informally”, he added.
The Prime Minister thanked the NGO sector of Pakistan for its dedicated and valuable contribution before, during and after the floods of 2010.
He also lauded the role of the media in making the nation and the world at large instantly aware of the scale of devastation and deprivation caused by the floods.
“Their presence in the field, their providing victims with the opportunity to express their feelings and depict their conditions, their continuous scrutiny of relief efforts made a vital contribution to mobilizing and accelerating the overall efforts”, he added.
The Prime Minister assured the representatives of NGOs that the Government is fully committed to complete transparency and accountability in the receipt, management and use of funds and resources.
He, however, added that “We are confident that the NGO sector will also ensure equivalent transparency and accountability”.Later responding to the queries of NGOs representatives during the question-answer session, the Prime Minister said the local bodies elections would be held in the country next year.In response to a question, he said, over 100,000 lady health workers were mobilized to reach and help the flood victims across the country.
The Prime Minister also appreciated the role of all the political parties, their workers and civil society in the relief and rescue efforts after the floods.
To another question, the Prime Minister said, the recent catastrophic flood cannot be compared with the 2005 earthquake, as the earthquake had affected a specific area of Pakistan, whereas the floods hit all the four provinces as well as Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.
He said according to the UN standards the recent flooding in Pakistan was one of the major calamities on the planet, which cannot be tackled by any single nation, adding, the government had devised a three-pronged strategy – including relief and rescue, rehabilitation and reconstruction – cope with the challenge.He said the relief and rescue effort in the hilly areas like Swat was hampered by bad weather, adding, but despite difficulties, the country’s armed forces continue the rescue work and evacuated foreign tourists from the area.Besides the country’s armed forces including Army, Navy and Air Force, who worked day and night in the relief and rescue of flood victims, the Prime Minister said, the international community also extended full support and the friendly countries provided their helicopters and aircraft to supplement the Government of Pakistan in its relief and rescue efforts.
Prime Minister Gilani said the next challenge for the government would be to provide shelter mainly tents to flood affectees in coming winter.He said it was heartening to note that despite fears there was no outbreak of epidemic in flood hit areas and no shortage of medical supplies occurred.He said the provinces which have representation at the Council of Common Interests (CCI) are backing the national strategy to rehabilitate 20 million flood affectees through disbursement of cash grants of Rs. 100,000 each in transparent and speedy manner.He said cash through Watan cards is being distributed without discrimination on the basis of political affiliation.
The provincial governments are distributing the grants despite the fact that the federal government has given 50 percent of the funds, he mentioned.Assuring of transparency in the distribution of funds to flood victims, the Premier said the process of cash transfers of Rs. 160 billion will be completed in six months.The foreign donors will get a roadmap by seeing how the government was distributing aid to affectees, he added.Gilani said the neighbouring countries contributed to relief efforts. However, he said voices were raised by foreign donors about transparent utilization of funds even when financial commitments in support of flood affectees are still to be realised.Eighty percent of the money is offered by the donors through their own systems while 20 percent aid goes through government, he clarified.
The size and nature of each and every assistance received through various means and its arrival to the affectees can be tracked through a website, Gilani added.
To a question from the mediamen present on the occasion, he said Pakistan had raised its stature at international level and its nuclear capability was recognised when it attended a summit on nuclear issues at a conference in Washington.“Defence of Pakistan was in safe hands and no effort will be spared to ensure the integrity and solidarity of the country,” he added.Gilani said Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi would lead a delegation to hold Strategic Dialogue with United States. Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will also represent Pakistan.
He said Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) established its credibility and with the completion of the poverty survey, deserving people will benefit from it through an automated system.Minister for Finance Dr. Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, Minister for Social Welfare Samina Khalid Ghurki and Minister of State for Finance Hina Rabbani Khar also shared their views on how to bring change in economic and social structure of Pakistan by taking advantage of the available opportunities – App