Flooding has devastated Pakistan – and Britain’s imperial legacy has made it worse

Shozab Raza

Devastating flooding in Pakistan has killed more than 1,100 people this summer, injuring and displacing thousands more. Among Pakistan’s political elite, some have claimed that the floods are simply a natural disaster, while others blame climate breakdown. But both groups have failed to address another crucial factor: empire. Pakistan gained its independence from the British empire in 1947, yet the reverberations of imperialism have endured. As a consequence, peripheral regions such as south Punjab, Balochistan and rural Sindh are resource-starved, exploited and poverty-stricken – factors that have grossly exacerbated the flood’s disastrous effects.

Take the story of Bashir Dasti, a tenant farmer I met a few years ago while doing fieldwork in south Punjab. Two weeks ago, his mud house was destroyed by flooding, as was the land he rented, the cotton he cultivated and the cattle he had spent years rearing. Many other farmers and agricultural labourers I got to know in Rajanpur, now a centre of the flooding, have also lost their homes and livelihoods. The Pakistan government has tasked local officials – patwaris – with administering relief for flood victims, yet when Bashir approached one, they tried to extort him: he was told that he would only be added to the list if he paid 10,000 Pakistani rupees …