Humanitarian Emergency in Pakistan
Mohamed Mechmache reports on Action Against Hunger’s response to the crisis
A conversation with Action Against Hunger’s Emergency Field Coordinator based in Pakistan.
What is the situation currently like?
Last month Pakistan was hit by the worst flooding in its history, affecting an estimated 20 million people. The flooding began in the north but has since moved south, washing away homes, bridges, roads, irrigation systems and some of the country’s most fertile and productive lands. In the southern province of Sindh, the Indus River has spilled over its banks, leaving fields and entire villages buried in muddy water. Millions are displaced, and families have lost literally everything—their homes, their crops, their livestock, and their livelihoods or small trades.
"In 2009 over two million civilians in this area were already displaced by ongoing fighting, so this was another blow to families who have already suffered through a lot."
The situation is much worse than the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir that left three million people homeless, in part because flooding in the northwest hit a population that was reeling from last year’s drought and conflict between the Pakistani Army and the Taliban insurgents. In 2009 over two million civilians in this area were already displaced by ongoing fighting, so this was another blow to families who have already suffered through a lot.
What are the biggest concerns at the moment?
In Pakistan, like other places that have experienced natural disasters, deadly water-borne illnesses can spread exceedingly quickly. The death toll from these diseases might exceed the current death toll from flooding itself (over 1700 have died) if we do not address this concern properly and rapidly. Water and sanitation infrastructure has been damaged and destroyed throughout Pakistan, forcing people to drink from contaminated sources and use the bathroom out in the open. I can’t emphasize enough how big a risk this is to public health, as thousands of cases of acute diarrhea and cholera have already been reported. Right now, we are very focused on stemming these kinds of illnesses.
How is ACF controlling water-borne disease outbreaks?
In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwestern Pakistan, our teams are responding to the urgent needs of 52,000 people sheltering in temporary camps or returning to their villages. We have begun organizing daily distributions of 32,000 liters of drinking water through a range of methods, including water trucking, installation of pumps and portable reservoirs, and the restoration of 100 water points and damaged irrigation systems. We’re constructing 600 emergency latrines, hand-washing stations, and showers to help make sure conditions are sanitary in the camps and nearby villages. And to meet basic hygiene needs, we are distributing 7,500 kits with essential items like buckets, soap, detergent, sanitary pads, and water purification tablets.
"Our teams are responding to the urgent needs of 52,000 people sheltering in temporary camps or returning to their villages."
We’re also training families on effective emergency hygiene practices and launching programs to spray affected areas with insecticide. In addition, we are beginning a cleaning campaign to clear areas of dangerous, unsanitary debris through cash-for-work activities that will help community members select adequate food, improve their livelihoods, and recover their autonomy.
In the Sindh province in southeastern Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of people were recently evacuated because of surging floodwater, we are gearing up to deliver emergency programs in water, sanitation, and hygiene to help 80,000 people. Similarly, we’ll be trucking in water, repairing water points, distributing hygiene kits, and constructing latrines, along with other activities to help make sure deadly diseases like cholera and diarrhea don’t spread.
"Our cash-for-work and fresh food voucher programs are going to provide financial support to more than 10,000 families in the months to come."
What other help will people get from Action Against Hunger?
As mentioned briefly before, our cash-for-work and fresh food voucher programs are going to provide financial support to more than 10,000 families in the months to come. These programs are focused on helping restore their ability to feed themselves. In the same spirit, we will support hundreds of traders and small business owners, including women, through access to business restart grants while rehabilitating small scale community and market infrastructure. We’ve also identified the most vulnerable households in the areas where we’re working to receive cooking utensils, blankets, sheets, mosquito nets, and mattresses so that they can slowly begin to rebuild their lives.