Floods, Funding Shortages Undermine Recovery in Pakistan

Critical funding shortages leave millions of flood-affected Pakistanis in need

Charmaine Brett is our Desk Officer for Pakistan and Nigeria and has worked in emergency humanitarian relief for some of the world’s top agencies in countries across the globe. She holds a Bachelor degree in International Development Studies from Trent University in Ontario, Canada and is certified in First Aid, Emergency Management, Security Management and Risk Management through several international aid organizations. She is one of our humanitarian experts.

The curious line stretched across the wall of a village house, deep in the Sindh province of southern Pakistan. It was high—taller than my five feet and eight inches—and the village elders kept pointing at it as we stood in an otherwise spotless community outpost. They kept telling me about the progress they had made with the help of the international community in the year since the devastating floods of 2010. But what did the mark symbolize? I wondered. Then, the stark realization finally hit: it was a six-foot high watermark.

Four months ago, in August, I took my first trip to Pakistan as Action Against Hunger’s new Desk Officer. The country was rebuilding, slowly but surely, after the devastating 2010 monsoon season caused extensive flooding all across Pakistan, affecting over 21 million people, destroying 62,000 square miles of land—an area larger than England—and leaving 2,000 dead and another 11 million homeless. Action Against Hunger intervened during the emergency and later supported the recovery with programs to counter the widespread loss of crops, seed stocks and household income. Our programs have had a real impact, but were it not for the spirit of the people we work with, Pakistan would not have made so much progress in a year. During my trip, workers approached me left and right, brandishing their new tools and training certificates for duties around the village—one woman showed me her cleaning kit for latrines, another man gave me a demonstration on fixing a water pump. I was awestruck.

A month after I witnessed these amazing signs of reconstruction, monsoon rains once again inundated Pakistan. Flood waters killed more than 200 people, damaged or destroyed some 670,000 homes and affected more than five million people. In less than a week, much of the progress I had witnessed was wiped out.

As winter approaches, humanitarian agencies are scrambling to help millions recover, but we’re running into funding shortages that could seriously curtail our efforts: A recent UN appeal for $357 million in emergency funding has received only 27 percent of its request ($79 million), according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with the very real possibility of supply shortages despite documented humanitarian needs.

Though this year’s floods spared the North, the southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan were inundated, submerging some 2.2 million acres of cropland, destroying 94 percent of all housing, damaging 75 percent the harvests in 16 districts, and placing millions at risk of water-borne illness and malnutrition. As the country’s breadbasket, the agricultural losses in the Sindh will mean higher food prices and general shortages elsewhere in Pakistan.

Returning Home to Stagnant Water

In the immediate aftermath of the floods, Action Against Hunger’s teams quickly prioritized the provision of clean water to local villages, initiating emergency water trucking, providing 1,000 households with chlorine tablets, and installing 50 water storage tanks serving 61 villages and 12 IDP camps, which gave 9,544 people 90,000 liters of drinking water per day. We also installed 68 emergency latrines and distributed Family Hygiene Kits, which include a bucket, jerry can, mosquito net and soap, to 1,500 households. Still, the water and sanitation envelope of the UN’s Pakistan Flood Response Plan remains just 16 percent funded, presenting a major bottleneck as humanitarian organizations move to scale up their response.

Now that families are beginning to leave the temporary displacement camps to return to their homes and livelihoods, they are in need of critical support as they try to rebuild. Arriving home also puts them at risk of dire health and hygiene conditions. The floods damaged or destroyed 94 percent of all housing and 46 percent of the region’s health facilities. Latrines are also scarce, with 80 percent of victims left without proper waste disposal. The stagnant waters have brought risks of dengue fever and cholera—in addition to skin disease, diarrhea, malaria and acute respiratory infection. To combat the potential outbreaks, ACF workers passed out 1,000 hygiene kits in October alone.

The Race to Restart Food Production

Where the floodwaters have receded, it is critical to resume agriculture activities as soon as possible. For many communities, the recent floods compounded their 2010 losses, threatening their ability to plant winter staples like the wheat, barley and vegetables that are essential to replenishing household stocks in 2012.

Action Against Hunger’s food security & livelihoods teams have responded with conditional cash grants designed to jumpstart local production and supply households with an infusion of money. Working in collaboration with a local bank and its mobile van unit, ACF has provided 622 households (reaching 4,354 people) with cash grants of approximately $115 per household to help cover food and other basic needs, as well as to assist in the rehabilitation of small shops, the revival of pastoral activities and the retooling for the planting season.

We’re taking a two-pronged approach in Sindh, meeting immediate needs while rebuilding for the near future. But unless the international community fully funds this recovery, tens of thousands will face further life-threatening conditions as winter approaches.

Emergency Supplies in Peril

Above all, hundreds of thousands of people remain in critical need of food assistance. Action Against Hunger and our colleagues on the ground have managed to reach 49,000 people in October with distributions of lentils, rice, and vegetable oil, along with therapeutic Plumpy’nut for severely malnourished children. Given the funding shortfall, however, food supplies could run out before the end of the month.

To witness such disruptive disasters is frustrating, to say the least; it seems as if things work backwards at times. Despite these setbacks, however, the people of Pakistan persevere, and continue to work to rebuild their homes and communities. I know ACF is making a difference, and I know the communities recognize this—during my trip in August, I received so many hand-woven scarves from village women in appreciation of our efforts, I could barely take them home.

We at ACF are determined to continue helping, but we need the international community to play its part and fulfill its pledge to support this recovery. Tens of thousands of lives are at stake. If only others could see the watermark I saw and the difference we’re making, the funding levels might equal it.