Emerging from the Floods in Pakistan
By Linda Unger*
February 24, 2011—“The people who were very poor in Pakistan were made poorer by last year’s flooding there,” said David Sadoo, International Disaster Response executive for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). “Lay that natural disaster on top of already existing security issues, and it’s a very difficult situation.”
Sadoo was in Pakistan last December to assess UMCOR’s continuing response to the emergency. He traveled to the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) in the north and Sindh in the south, which suffered extensive damage in the flooding that rolled through Pakistan for three months last summer.
During his week-long visit, Sadoo traveled with personnel from Church World Service (CWS), an agency which, along with Muslim Aid and GlobalMedic, has been an important partner in Pakistan from the start of the emergency.
Emergency that is far from over
The Indus River, which runs the length of the country, floods every year, Sadoo said. But in 2010, heavier than usual monsoon rains provoked inundations not seen in Pakistan in 80 years—or, by some accounts, ever. Floodwaters covered 20 percent of the country, a land mass greater than the size of England.
“Unlike the earthquake in Haiti, which shook the country for about half a minute, the flooding in Pakistan was a slow-moving disaster. Floodwaters rose by inches at a time starting in July,” Sadoo explained. By late September, the retreating floodwaters had left massive destruction.
Nearly 1.9 million homes, 400 medical facilities, and 7,000 schools were damaged or destroyed in the disaster. Some 5,000 miles of roads and railways were wiped out, and 5 million acres of farmland were lost, according to Government of Pakistan estimates.
“Homes, livestock, crops, fields: all gone,” Sadoo said. “Infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and water systems, was severely damaged.”
In all, the flooding affected nearly 20 million people and provoked material losses estimated at more than $7 billion. “This implies a huge economic impact,” said Sadoo. “People lost their homes and their livelihoods, which directly impacts the security of their families.”
Layers of calamity
By the time Sadoo and the CWS delegation arrived in Pakistan in December, most of the people who had been displaced by the flooding had found shelter crowding into the homes of extended family. Their efforts to recover from the disaster are complicated not only by the scale of the emergency but, also, by the layers of calamity that underlie it.
In KPK, located in Pakistan’s northwest, the delegation visited Kohistan District and Swat Valley. Long before the flooding, these areas already had seen much of their infrastructure destroyed and population displaced because of years of armed conflict involving the Taliban and other militant groups.
Residents of Swat Valley had just returned to their homes a few months before the flooding when the Taliban was routed from the area. Once considered the “Switzerland of Pakistan” because of its rugged beauty, Swat Valley has seen its natural beauty marred and infrastructure destroyed in the violence.
Security in both Swat Valley and Kohistan remains a significant issue, with travel by night prohibited because of likely attacks by militants and “old-fashioned bandits,” Sadoo said.
Education opportunities in Kohistan are rare and literacy rates are extremely low, about 10 percent for men, 0.5 percent for women. Malnutrition, especially among children and women, is pervasive.
In Sindh province, which suffered the brunt of the flooding, international responders discovered alarming rates of already existing malnutrition, according to UNICEF.
Feudal economic relations that have kept farmers in this southern province in indentured servitude were apparent in the aftermath of the floods. Small farmers were obliged to sell the crops they’d salvaged to their landlords at a low price, while landlords turned around and sold the produce at much higher prices to local processing factories.
Relief and recovery
As the emergency unfolded last summer, UMCOR, through its partners CWS, Muslim Aid, and GlobalMedic provided immediate relief in the forms of clean drinking water, relief from dehydration, emergency medical care, food packs, tents, and hygiene kits. Thousands of families benefited.
Nevertheless, nearly six months after the floodwaters began to recede there is still widespread need both for emergency relief and long-term recovery across Pakistan.
During the December trip, Sadoo and his colleagues visited a CWS-run program to rehabilitate a water system in Kohistan that was damaged in the flooding. They also observed a hygiene program designed to improve the health of the men, women, and children of the villages.
A demonstration was offered to village elders and local religious leaders on the benefits of hygiene. Ninety-five percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, and religious leaders are revered. Their approval of relief and recovery programs is important for establishing trust with the village population.
The demonstration showed the benefits of washing one’s hands. A little boy was selected from the gathering and asked to wash his hands using only water. He then placed his hands on a flip chart, and dark water ran down the page. When he did the same after washing his hands with soap and water, the page was left clean.
“Here, women and children can be the agents of change,” said Sadoo. “Mothers see the effects in their kids, who when they use proper hygiene, don’t get sick.” Because of strict gender roles, Sadoo said, women don’t have many rights in this part of Pakistan, “but they can impact the home.”
How to help
“The effects of the flooding in Pakistan impact people every day in huge ways,” Sadoo said. “Everyone is affected, from the individual, to the village, to the entire country—which already was in a fragile situation.”
Needs persist for food support, food security, permanent shelter, health services, and the recovery of lost livelihoods.
“The Pakistani people are ordinary and real and living a humble existence,” Sadoo continued. “With a little support, they can pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”
*Linda Unger is UMCOR staff writer.