- Title: PAKISTAN: Armed Forces take lead in flood relief
- Date: 7th September 2010
- Summary: SUKKUR, PAKISTAN (SEPTEMBER 6, 2010) (REUTERS) WIDE OF TENT VILLAGE SET UP BY PAKISTAN AIRFORCE FOR FLOOD AFFECTED VARIOUS OF FAMILY SITTING OUTSIDE TENT WOMEN WORKING INSIDE TENT WOMAN GETTING SAUCEPAN TO PREPARE MEAL WOMAN LIGHTING FIRE WITH SCRAPS OF PAPER FAMILY EATING MEAL/ CHILDREN PLAYING ON MAT ON THE GROUND VARIOUS OF FAMILY EATING MOHAMMAD RAMZAN SMOKING CIGARETTE/ ENTERING TENT
- Embargoed: 22nd September 2010 13:00
- Location: Pakistan
- Country: Pakistan
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes
- Reuters ID: LVAD90Q8VTU374XEZROM6DWZ6HGL
- Story Text: Pakistan Air Force set up this camp in Sukkur on August 14, almost two weeks after the worst floods in Pakistan's history started thundering from the north of the country to the southern province of Sindh, marking a trail of destruction.
As the floods swamped towns and villages in Sindh, panic-stricken people fled, leaving behind all they had.
More than 3000 people have taken refuge in this camp, perhaps one of the best-organized relief camps that have mushroomed across the country.
All three branches of the military -- army, navy and airforce -- have taken the lead in providing relief to the flood victims.
"The Pakistan Airforce -- for whom we never voted, who we never even looked at -- they came to rescue us. Then aid started coming from outside, from the Punjabis and Mohajirs. Saudi Arabia also started sending relief goods. Top Air Force officials personally visit us, talk to us with love and affection," said Ramzan who has been living in the camp with his family of 14 members.
"But our Sindhi rulers, who we had voted for, have not even come to ask about our welfare," he added bitterly.
Around 430 large families are living the camp which has a school for children, a mosque, a water filtration plant and a medical facility that cares for, not only the camp inmates but anyone who is sick in the nearby region.
Air Force doctors in the camp say they have looked after more than 14,000 sick people mostly suffering from water-borne diseases and snake bite.
The army, which became deeply unpopular in the final years of former president Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999 and stepped down in 2008, had already clawed back considerable influence over foreign and security policy.
But in the flood relief it has become very visible as the only national institution with the manpower, the organisational skills and the equipment -- including helicopters and boats -- to help the some 20 million affected by the floods.
Across the country soldiers work around the clock to assemble packages of emergency relief. With leave canceled and rations donated to the cause, the sense of pride is palpable.
"We took shelter on the bypass and sat there. When the tents were set up, they came and told us: 'come and live here'. Whatever these poor soldiers can do, they are doing for us. They give us food three times a day, also clothes and other things. Whatever they can take out of their own rations, their allowances, they share with us," said Naseema Bibi, 25-year-old mother of five small children.
Other flood victims said the officials in charge of the camp had been on the go since the camp opened around three weeks back supervising things, almost without getting any sleep.
They have even set up a cricket pitch and a volleyball court to keep the flood victims occupied.
That is in stark contrast to the sluggish response of the civilian government, and the departure of President Asif Ali Zardari on a visit to France and Britain when the floods began.
Technically, the army is working on the orders of the government, and at the operational level, civilian and military authorities are working together closely.
The army has no incentive to take over when the country faces so many problems, and it also benefits from having a civilian face authorising military operations against Taliban militants, for which public support is essential, analysts say.
Yet at the same time, the army is in a stronger position to call the shots if the government is seen as weak, and to deflect any attempt by civilian authorities to limit its power.
In a country rife with rumour and conspiracy theories, it is impossible to predict exactly how the politics will play out. What is clear, however, is that the popular refrain in the last year's of Musharraf's rule -- that "the worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship" has lost its sheen.
And the army, which has ruled Pakistan on-and-off since independence in 1947, has been able to present itself again as the saviour of the country
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