Floods Threaten Core of Pakistan
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
September 3, 2010—The floodwaters covering Pakistan are sweeping away homes and crops and destroying the country’s schools, health-care centers and roads – the essence of its social system.
That is why faith groups must support relief efforts alongside international governments, says a United Methodist working there for Church World Service.
“This crisis is so big it threatens the core of Pakistan,” declared Sidney Traynham in a telephone interview from Islamabad.
Up to 20 million people have been affected as the waters have covered an area in Pakistan equal to the size of England. Millions are homeless, and 6.5 million acres of crops have washed away in Sindh and Punjab provinces.
“Weeks after the onset of the disaster, millions of people are still in need of immediate assistance in terms of shelter, food, safe drinking water and health services,” Church World Service reported Aug. 31. Church World Service is a partner of The United Methodist Church.
“With time, the increasing need for longer-term assistance is rapidly rising. Restoration of income-earning opportunities, reconstruction of houses, re-establishment of education and health services are top priority.”
The sequential flooding that has occurred as the rains continue to fall and the destruction of roads and bridges make it difficult to move people to safety or reach those who need food and shelter.
Earlier this week, “a million people were just displaced from new flooding,” Traynham said. “You’re entering a situation where you’ve got different kinds of needs for different sectors all across the country.”
From his viewpoint, the crisis created by the flooding represents a “massive” setback for Pakistan. Progress on human rights issues for the poor is quickly getting lost in the shuffle. Fragile social services were destroyed, he added, and money that could have been used to improve those services is going to flood relief instead.
A former staff member at the Ginghamsburg (Ohio) United Methodist Church, the 28-year-old changed careers after becoming involved in that congregation’s joint mission work in Sudan with the United Methodist Committee on Relief. He served two years with the ACT Alliance, a coalition of faith-based relief organizations, before arriving in Pakistan last October.
Traynham, who now handles funding and advocacy issues for Church World Service, knows the support of his fellow church members is crucial to the relief efforts.
Although the death toll in Pakistan, currently estimated at 2,000, is not as dramatic as the tolls for the Haiti earthquake or South Asian tsunami, “you can’t measure a disaster by the number of people who have died,” he said. “For the people who are living this disaster, it’s very, very real.”
Becoming disconnected because of the waters is a major problem, particularly for vulnerable populations. “If you can’t access assistance easily, children are most at risk,” he added.
Education in Jeopardy
The loss of thousands of schools – some destroyed by floodwaters and others unavailable while they are being used as shelters – means a disruption in education for a generation of students, Traynham noted. Pakistan already had low literacy rates, particularly for girls and women.
That’s why the effort of agencies like Church World Service is so critical. “We work very, very hard in making sure your aid reaches those most vulnerable, which are women and children,” he said.
Church World Service is providing food, shelter assistance and other items in three provinces – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh, directly benefiting more than 193,000 individuals.
The organization’s six existing basic health units and three mobile health units in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, particularly Swat, Mansehra and Kohistan, have treated thousands of patients and provided health education about waterborne diseases.
“As a United Methodist, working here with Church World Service, it’s really been great to receive support from the United Methodist Committee on Relief and United Methodists across the globe who are supporting this response,” Traynham said. “We look forward to further partnership.”
The Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey, UMCOR’s top executive, has called Pakistan’s situation a “crisis is of major proportions” and has urged church members to assist flood survivors. The agemcy has given more than $100,000 so far to ministry partners providing relief there, but has had to dip into other general funds due to a lack of donations for Pakistan.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America announced Aug. 31 that it has committed an additional $110,000 to respond to human needs in Pakistan – $50,000 to Church World Service for mobile health clinics and $60,000 to Lutheran World Relief to send to UMCOR and its partner, Muslim Aid. The denomination previously gave $100,000 to Church World Service for initial relief efforts.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York.