A Silver Lining in Pakistan’s Floods
Friday, December 10, 2010
With the devastating floods that began in July, Mother Nature has left an indelible imprint on Pakistan-its geography, its people, its national psyche. But it has also created an opportunity to change the destiny of millions of flood victims who traumatically lost their loved ones, homes, and livelihoods in mere days. This natural disaster may have given the country an opportunity to tackle a recurring point of contention in Pakistan-feudalism.
Academics, journalists, and analysts have frequently pointed to feudalism as a reason for the huge inequalities in Pakistan, claiming that many landlords treat their tenants and peasants like slaves. According to a 2009 estimate by campaigner Anti-Slavery International, debt has forced more than 1.8 million people to work for their landlords with no pay. If there is truth to this today, in even a few cases, perhaps the floods have delivered Pakistan an opportunity to empower those trapped in decades of feudalism and poverty.
The question is how to capitalize on this potential opportunity. Land reforms in 1959, 1972, and 1977 failed to redistribute land more equitably and are not expected ever to be legitimately carried out by any government, due to political constraints. What is possible today, in a post-flood scenario, is a collaborative effort among the private sector, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and foreign donors to be creative about job creation, even if only on a small scale. If successful, at least some of these landless flood victims could be given an opportunity to rebuild their lives outside the feudal context.