Anger replaces fear as cotton belt attacks its politicians' 'lies'

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The Independent Online

There is little left in Rajanpur, one of southern Punjab's worst affected districts. "Everyone's lost everything," says Shehryar Mazari, a landlord from the area. "We tried to save our homes, our lands; they are now a part of the Indus (river)."

The only areas that endured the deluge were Umarkot and Rojan. There, a local provincial parliamentarian diverted the civilian administration to protect his own lands, leaving the rest of the area vulnerable. Mr Mazari's 200 acres are now submerged, a fate that he shares with many other landowners across Pakistan's wealthiest and largest province, where agriculture accounts for over a quarter of the economy and employs half its workforce.

"Cotton is our main export crop," says Mr Mazari. "Southern Punjab is known as the cotton-belt. That's all gone now. We need wheat seed to be able to grow wheat at the end of the season, but that's gone too. We are the ones feeding Pakistan. What will happen now?"

He would have also grown sugarcane, but water shortages throughout the past year prevented him from doing so. In a wretched irony, Pakistan's floods came after several parched months. First the land suffered, now it is devastated.

The disaster could at least have been mitigated, says Mr Mazari, if officials had not played down the scale of the flooding that was to submerge them. "I don't know why politicians lie, but they did. If we had known how bad it was going to be, we would have evacuated people in time, but now we have women and children hanging in the trees, waiting for rescue."

The rescue effort came with people buying boats and dispatching them to mount rescue efforts. "The army only turned up on Sunday," Mr Mazari adds. "As for the government, there's no sign of it."

But the problems in Rajanpur are long-standing. The government has never built dykes to try to prevent flooding in the area, Mr Mazari says. They were all built privately. When residents wanted to build fresh ones, the irrigation department allegedly demanded hefty bribes. And in the weeks before the floods hit, they were not emptied, raising the risk of flooding. The problem, says Mr Mazari, is that decades of neglect, corruption and inefficiency, mostly under military dictatorships, meant that the scale of the disaster was much larger than it should have been.

"The tragedy of Pakistan is that everyone's fattening their accounts, while no one gives a damn about the average Pakistani."