Episode 92: Danish Ali Bhutto on the Pakistan Floods

In this episode, Dominic speaks to Danish Ali Bhutto, speech writer for the Pakistani parliament, writing in an effort to make all voices heard, on the risks associated with the natural disasters happening as a result of the Pakistan floods.

Danish has vast experience in fighting for equality in various volunteering positions focusing on women and healthcare. His work on inclusion also contains parliamentary position as councilor or advisor for equality and specifically for women’s rights at the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. Currently he works at the national assembly and deals with all which means public policy on equality, fairness, advocacy, program coordination and management that needs to have a speech written for, as he is a speech writer.

The International Risk Podcast Transcript

Dominic:

Good morning my name is Dominic and I’m the host of the International risk Podcast. Today we’re joined by Danish Ali Bhutto. Danish works right at the heart of Pakistan as a deputy director and speech writer at The Pakistani parliament. His work focuses on making all voices heard by writing for Parliament’s about women youth and their rights. Danish also holds parliamentary positions as an advisor for equality and women’s rights at the Women’s parliamentary caucus Danny’s study at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the University of Cambridge. Welcome to the podcast stay Danish.


Danish:

Thank you very much Dominic, good to meet you. And good evening from my side because it is almost 26 here in Pakistan.


Dominic:

Well, thank you very much for joining us in the evening. And with 8 million people forced to find somewhere new to live because of the current flooding in Pakistan, as well as 7 million children requiring immediate access to nutrition services, 4 million children lacking access to health services, and nearly 6 million people who no longer have access to safe drinking water, as well as the billions of dollars in damage to crops and critical infrastructure across Pakistan. How are the people responding to the ongoing floods and health disasters in Pakistan today?


Danish:

A good portion of eight districts that you just mentioned are very serious natural and the floods that we’ve seen in Pakistan have enough biblical nature and it is sort of unprecedented grants, which haven’t been recorded in history previously. And you rightly pointed out the women, children, and all sorts of people have been victims of recent floods and torrential rains in Pakistan. I may point out right there that if you look at the CO2 contribution to the world climate change and environmental degradation, Pakistan falls in the lowest 10. It is not. It doesn’t even contribute 1% of the CO2 emissions. But if you look at the vulnerable, most vulnerable countries, Pakistan is on the eighth number. And that is what has been with testing the recent floods and rents that Pakistan has to bear the brunt of those countries, those developed countries who are major contributors to CO2 emissions and environmental degradation. You rightly pointed out that all segments of society in Pakistan, millions of women, millions of men, and hundreds of thousands of children have gone homeless because of these trends. And because almost 85 districts of Pakistan have been damaged and have been under water for many weeks and months have passed and the condition was still quite dismal. When we took a look at the response government obviously right its limitation is trying to respond to these manmade kits Ostroff, I would call it ribbon many NGOs, local and international NGOs and humanitarian organisations. They’ve come forward and tried to reach out to the people who have been affected by the floods providing them with the tents and eatables and drinking water because all of these things are in a huge shortage indoors when people are starving. People are lacking basic health and sanitation facilities. They have been 700,000 women who are pregnant of all those affected, and almost 70,000 of them are expected to deliver maybe in the next couple of weeks, but the has health facilities are quite dismal. So it is basically the community, people who are trying to reach out and helping them The government is also playing its part by providing with the cash disperse disbursements to the people who have been affected through the binary income support programme. Local leaders are trying to reach out and help the affected people, local NGOs, international NGOs, like alphabet Foundation, Ed Foundation, they are trying to reach out to these far flung villages where people are stuck because the infrastructure have been completely destroyed. They have been totally disconnected from the the cities, almost 24% of the villages came under water because of the floods. But then it’s a good mix of all of the people. But obviously, all the support that is being provided to the people, the damage, and the catastrophe is of such huge scale, that all of those relief and rehabilitation efforts are not enough. And the international community obviously has to come out for support the call from the UN, from the European Union, it’s not enough, there’s a lot more needed because the estimated loss of because of the floods, economic losses estimated is at around 30 billion US dollars. And the support is very big.

Dominic:

Those area lot of points, you raised your stand donation, I think it’s really important to unpack them. And I think I’d like to really explore it and understand and share with our listeners when 700,000 pregnant women living in you know, just abysmal conditions. I mean, the flooding, we’ve heard so many stories about buildings being completely submerged, given power poles completely submerged. I mean, the level of flooding that will completely cover a house and submerge power power and telephone poles is really quite significant. And if we talk about the 70,000 women who are expected to live in new babies in the coming weeks, can you perhaps explain to our listeners, what does that mean? What does it mean to be pregnant or lactating woman with a young baby giving birth in the flood conditions at the moment?

Danish:

It’s very alarming situation out there that I mentioned that their example of this 18 year old girl from one of the villages who was seven months pregnant, didn’t receive proper food for two weeks after the events in floods broke out. Then there was another girl whose husband is a drug addict. And he saved himself and ran off in his pregnant wife and kids back home because he couldn’t provide for them. He couldn’t rescue them. Then there’s another girl Wanda Molly, she’s just 21 She was also seven months pregnant when these floods broke out. She has been suffering from back ache and cough but then nobody could reach out to her in time and she had to suffer during the pregnancy and critical months of her pregnancy with the backache and cough. So these are just a couple of examples. There have been examples like that because if we look at the health facilities, they have been totally destroyed more than 1/3 One of the A survey respondents they were carried out by the UN, they said that people don’t have access to any health facilities 37% almost it is a huge number. If you look at the low income rural area for almost 2/3 of the population that lives there, and health facilities and sanitation and drinking water are already a challenge there. But then the floods sort of worsen that scenario and the livelihood of women, 4 million children like health care services, let alone talk about those 700,000 who are expected to be delivered in the next few months. But existing children don’t have basic life facilities, malnutrition is on the rise. 10 thing is on the rise among the children already, almost 50% of the children born in the rural areas are already stunted. And then these crashes are going to exacerbate food shortage, making it almost impossible for mothers to not just deliver healthy children. But once they are delivered, providing them with the food and basic nutrients would be next to impossible for them if not provided with the with the with the relief and rehabilitation support. If you look at the lack of drinking water, almost 5.5 million don’t have that. So if pregnant women are not going to have clean drinking water. So the situation we can imagine what would be and obviously it will result into stunted growth of the baby there is going to be born 14 point 6 million people require emergency food assistance. So that is the situation and one of the very goal picture that came out during these floods was a foetus that was found in the debris of a house that drowned during these flats water. And that very young bond infant, even with the umbilical cord attached with him was found from the debris. And fortunately he was alive. But nobody knows that where his mother was wiped away. Because of those torrential rains and floodwater. These pictures are haunting. And the world must realise that these pictures like their bees are going to haunt them for their entire lives. An infant was born in that flood, and the mother just perished who must have delivered that baby during those turns children’s and floodwater, soon approaching her
sick, you’ve raised a really important point, you’ve talked about stunting. And for anyone that unfortunately, many of our listeners will never have been exposed to stunting before. But there’s you know, stunting is largely irreversible. And it’s no child cannot recover the same height and weight that they might have lost due to a variety of things. It might be inadequate nutrition, and might be recurrent infections, it could be chronic diseases, or even poor nutrient intake. And the consequences include poor cognition, education, performance, light, adult weightages, lower productivity and lost productivity really across a lifetime. It can even be accompanied sometimes by excessive weight gain later in childhood, but really consistently about an increase in nutrition related chronic diseases throughout adult life. So when we talk about the 4 million children lacking access to emergency nutrition, so we’re talking about 4 million children potentially at risk of having lifelong difficulties from learning to lost income, lower productivity, and chronic diseases. So these really significant issues. You mentioned before Dhanesh, about community surviving by relying on community networks, government handouts and support from humanitarian organisation. I first responded to the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, and had the real blessing to be able to support communities in the Kashmir region of Pakistan. It was such a such a beautiful, beautiful place to be working with such resilient and proud and really courageous communities. But I understand that there’s been a significant reduction in humanitarian support from international organisations since 2013. After changes in legislation in Pakistan in response to the killing of Osama bin Laden, have you seen in these floods in 2022, a change in the dynamic or a change in the response from international organisations?
Yes, things have changed. What you’re referring to is the regulation by the government of the international NGOs. But that is also very interesting case study. I’m it’s there because I was part of the parliament and I had been looking at the progress on those registrations by the international NGOs. And one unfortunate thing that I noticed was that policy was aimed at regulating those organisations first, for example, looking at what their sources of funds were from, what are the areas that they were working on, but more than 60% of organisations never returned? So generally, it is rumoured that many organisations found it very be hard, and they were not provided with the level playing field and provide with the facilities or ready to read terrorism was the issue there. But the unfortunate thing is all those organisations, especially Chairman organisations, and some other UK based organisation, and even during this vast organisation that we were working with, they initiated and participated in all those registration processes and screening and all of that scrutiny and all they got through, but they were many dozens and even the scores of organisations that never returned. So which was unfortunate. And you’re right, that there were many NGOs, which were otherwise working in the last decade, and especially during the flood during the earthquake that you mentioned, disappeared often. So that has obviously affected the amount and the level of relief that kids reach to the flood affected people in all those areas of sin, Balochistan, KP and South Punjab. But still, it is more like self help, and community health sort of phenomena that is going on, because as I mentioned that 13,000 kilometres, like almost four to 5000 miles of roads were totally destroyed, and there was no connection for transportation to reach out to those far flung villages. And then there were almost many hundreds of 1000s of bridges that were destroyed totally disconnecting the infrastructure from rural areas to the urban areas. So debt relief operations were pretty much disrupted because of that. And apart from the reason that you mentioned, that infrastructural damage, the destruction of bridges were also another important reason that the relief support could not reach to those people who were affected by those rains and floods and damage.

Dominic:

I understand that Pakistan has received up to 190% more rain than average this year. And that’s, you know, flooded the country with just huge amounts of water, as we’ve discussed. And I understand that July was actually the wettest month on record since 1961, with the most significant cause being climate change. Now, as you said, Pakistan is a limited contributor to the environmental risks globally, but it is experiencing the impact and it’s experiencing the impact much more than many other countries which are significant contributors to climate change. What does this mean for Pakistan? And what can be done to rectify the balance?


Danish:

Like you mentioned that we had first record level of friends with which was never expected. Metapod never forecasted that that intensity of Rennes and the damages it would call. So everybody was obviously taken by surprise, even if our Disaster Management Authority was prepared for the floods because every year year, we have monsoon rains and July and August, so they weren’t prepared for them. But the level of damages and the level of torrential rains that we faced was unprecedented, then that was not just that, apart from the rains, we’ve had flash floods, then we have glacial melt down because majority of the glaciers are in this part of the world because of our geostrategic and location, geopolitical geostrategic location and our geography as well. We have hundreds of glaciers so so the water was coming from everywhere. It was coming from the skies, and then from the north glaciers, and then they were flash floods because of our irrigation system, because we are an agricultural country. So we have this chain of canals and rivers running across the country, we have this index, huge industrial, and there are other rivers as well. So all of that combined, it made things worse.

Dominic:

You mentioned that Pakistan doesn’t contribute much, but it is at the receiving end of the climate catastrophic, and it’s one of the most vulnerable countries in the world.

Danish:

So obviously, the world needs to come out with the climate preparations. That was what our plea was, we had organised recently interparliamentary union regional seminar of the Asia Pacific Pacific Parliament September, mid September. So they was on climate change and disaster, it could bring about two other countries as well. So because it is Pakistan today, it could be any other country tomorrow. So a joint strategy has to be formed. That was why the joint resolution and joint communique of that organisation called for reparations for the damages by those countries that are major contributors to the co2 emissions. And then the same was put forth in the Annual General Assembly for the Annual General Assembly of interparliamentary union conference happening in Rwanda and the last week, but then, obviously, regarding the rules and policies of the Ipu, only one resolution has to be taken to the general FMD as the emergency item. And obviously the world once again, didn’t think of I’m at Cato straw fast emerging, approaching climate catastrophe as the important emergency item, because they had other priorities, and due to lack of some of the votes that resolution couldn’t get through, and the resolution and Ukraine, which obviously I don’t deny is a very important security and risk issue. But then Ukraine resolution was taken as an emergency item for the General Assembly and climate catastrophe that could bring about an end to this planet, unfortunately, God forbid, was again overlooked.


Dominic:

And when we look at risks, we look at the horizon and we try to understand what risks might be emerging the velocity that they might be coming towards us, and then of course, the likely impact and the likelihood of the actual events or the risk materialising and we know that Pakistan has been, and will likely be the victim of future floods and more severe floods as we continue to experience greater levels of climate change. So what flow that risk mitigation would you like to be seeing taken to either prevent future plugs or to manage the current flooding or expected floods in the coming years?


Danish:

What an understanding of this issue, especially of climate change is something that can’t be tackled alone, first and foremost, the entire world comes to like needs to come closer and formulate a giant strategy to counter that. And the major contributors to CO2 emissions and the climate degradation need to realise that, and not just that they need to reduce carbon emissions. And they need to abide by all the climate related convention and international conventions. And they need to follow the Paris Agreement. The true legend, spirit, obviously, not just Pakistan, but the entire world needs to shift to renewable energy resources, and specifically about Pakistan. As I said, we have this very robust irrigation system. But then we saw recently that it was not enough to encounter all those diverse rents and torrential clouds. So we need to modernise our irrigation system, which is sort of very old. And then for the disaster preparedness and response, there is a need for a joint strategy, a very multi pronged strategy, I would say that needs to keep into consideration children, women, elderly, people in the cities and villages, as well as urbanisation is on the rise. So countries need to be prepared for that as well for the disaster preparedness, preparedness and response. We saw recently that there needs to be a strong oversight of the parliaments and strong scrutiny by the government at the from bottom to top up, because there was so much exploitation food shortage was created. We are unfortunately looking at the future and look, hoping that things may not get as worse. But obviously, because of the distractions of crops and agricultural land, we are looking at more food shortage in the future.


Dominic:

Just ask vulnerable and marginalised groups, they’re often the most affected by disasters. And we see that in Pakistan. And we see that in every country that’s impacted by a disaster. And most often these marginalised and vulnerable groups are also the ones who are least engaged during a response. And this usually extends to women youth, in the context of the current floods in Pakistan. Do you believe or have you seen that there are groups that are more vulnerable, that are less engaged that are more affected by the current flooding, and what can be done to address this risk?


Danish:

Obviously, young women and children are always diverse hit by all those disasters, whether it is war, or natural calamities, they are the worst hit they are because they are not economically empowered, they are not part of decision making. So the policy that I made, are in silos. When we look at the population, women are almost 50%. But when we look at the decision making bodies and Parliament’s their representation is bigger 20%. When you look at the youth, Pakistan has more than 65% youth population, the 220 million people, but then the participation of young people who are under the age of 30 was just for which it’s not even one person, which is quite unfortunate. So it is important for policymakers to not just engage young people, and women and all those who are not part of the decision making policymaking needs to be inclusive, that is something which can never be compromised, but which has not been the case, unfortunately. And then if we look at the transgenders, especially Unix in our country, there’s a huge population of those we have relevant law and all but then they are always the marginalised people their needs and wants are not taken care of and tarnished.


Dominic:

Pakistan has a really rich in a vibrant political environment and it’s certainly a country that I really enjoy following the politics in and watching the various evolutions. How has the political situation in Pakistan helped and hindered flood prevention, and flood response activities?


Danish:

Now, I would have a mixed response to that. On one hand, we have a current government, which is an alliance of all political parties. If you go back to March or April, before that the current government, the Coalition of government was in the opposition. And the one party that was which was in the government is now in the opposition, because we had a vote of no confidence. So the good part is that all the major political parties are part of the government. And they are working together to curb the effects of this, these floods and rains and whatever the damage is that it has caused. But on the other hand, we have political party, which is in opposition, and then they claim which they believe our goodwill of the country and its people, their statements have proven counterproductive, which have created a little bit of lack of trust in the current current government. So, if you look at the current population, we have polarisation on the rise. So, it is either us or none at all. So that is the concept that is going on the country. So on one end, the political actors are trying to reach out and help the government has the people and the masses, there are suffering, but on the other end, we have this political instability going on. And because of that political instability, many important things are many important Relief and Rehabilitation operations are sort of disrupted because of that. And because of lack of trust, as well, one reason why many international donors you can say are people who contribute otherwise to the Sirleaf oppression are a little reluctant, but that is, again, part of the democratic processes and government. So that keeps on happening. And
it is a complex environment, for sure. And then, Ganesh, when you look at Pakistan holistically, not just the floods, but when we consider the culture, the security, the political landscape, and the people. What do you see as the greatest opportunities in Pakistan, as well as the most significant risks?
There are multiple things I would say. I already mentioned that one of the very potential strengths that Pakistan can use to its advantage is our youth demographics, our young population comprises of more than 65% of the population. And then if we look at the vibrant women in politics, so currently, there are only 20% women in the Parliament of Pakistan. But if you look at the contribution of business to the Parliament, almost 50% of the businesses contributed by these 20% Very vibrant women parliamentarians. So these are, I would say, opportunity that are untapped and more women can be engaged in the policymaking processes, young people can be engaged in the policy making process. And these opportunities can be taped, geopolitical and geostrategic location is, I would say, both an opportunity and a risk as well. We have gone to stand on one side of the border, India on another, we’ve had like historic conflict going on with with them since you mentioned you’ve been to other Jammu and Kashmir. So you would know that that conflict goes on and on for 60 years. We have China strategic alliances strategic partner when it comes to parliamentary and governmental diplomacy, China, Pakistan Economic Corridor, and regional connectivity, I would say is a great opportunity, but because of different reasons, on and off, it gets disrupted. But if it smoothly completed, it is going to be there very important dividends for the country and its people and they’ve done
a show we just have one minute more.

Dominic:

But you know, you’ve raised the geopolitical situation. And I think that’s really interesting. I know, Pakistan’s being in the media the last couple of days do I think the Pakistan foreign minister said that they will be willing to buy Russian fuel. And this is compounded by the fact that the former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was actually in Russia. On the 24th of February on the day Russia invaded Ukraine. How do you think these things increase risks in Pakistan?

Danish:

Yeah, I think it’s positive sign that we have to stay neutral. I would say, rather than neutral, I would say, nonpartisan and not join any particular block, which is important for the country, because we have suffered enough by taking sides after the 911. And for like, almost two decades, we’ve had lots of problems going on in our country and the challenges that we have had to face with the security situation and economic turmoil and losses of over 1000 70,000 people and almost $120 billion of economic losses because of that war on terror and taking sides. So I think it’s important to keep looking for opportunities and what is in the best interest of the country, while at the same time not compromising the broader regional and international interest as well.

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