ISLAMABAD (DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Considering the magnitude of the disaster that has struck Pakistan, relief and rehabilitation efforts need to be carried out on a massive scale to bring back a semblance of normalcy to the lives of millions of flood-hit people.

To put it bluntly, this country needs all the help it can get at this difficult time. Yet obstacles are being placed in the way of international NGOs by the state. This will only hamper relief work, and prevent much-needed help from getting to the vulnerable.

In this regard the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum, an umbrella group of 38 registered INGOs working in Pakistan, has said that the government is not giving permission to many foreign outfits already active in the country. Considering that the state itself has appealed to the international community to do its bit in the flood-relief effort, creating roadblocks for INGOs is both self-contradictory and counterproductive.

In past disasters, such as the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 super floods, foreign relief organisations did a commendable job in helping Pakistan cope with the natural calamities. Perhaps the hesitancy in granting INGOs the freedom to work stems from the mindset of the security state, which has an obsession with control and centralisation. Possibly some within the establishment are uncomfortable with INGOs working in troubled parts of Balochistan and KP.

While certain areas of the country may indeed present valid security concerns, it is the state’s responsibility to provide protection to foreign outfits working in the humanitarian sector.

The INGOs want temporary exemption from obtaining no-objection certificates as well as a smoother registration process. These legitimate demands should be met. If the administration thinks some outfits – foreign or local – are involved in illegal work, by all means it should deal with them as per the law, but it should not create bureaucratic impediments in the way of groups doing good work.

Massive amounts of funds and expertise are required to deal with the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase in the flood-hit areas. Pakistan, which is going through financial turbulence, lacks the resources to deal with the disaster on its own.

Credible INGOs, on the other hand, have global networks and access to funds that will be crucial in the rebuilding phase. Moreover, many foreign governments and multilateral bodies prefer channelling funds through trusted INGOs for purposes of transparency. Therefore, for the government to place hurdles in their way is unwise.

Rebuilding after the disaster requires the input of all stakeholders: the aforementioned funds and expertise of INGOs are invaluable; local community-based organisations are also key to the process because they are best informed about the situation on the ground and have strong local networks, whereas the state should play the role of coordinator and facilitator.

Blanket bans on foreign humanitarian outfits must be done away with, and all those willing to help Pakistan should be welcomed.

  • Dawn is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media organisations.