Six Months After Pakistan Floods, Challenges Remain

Recently I traveled to Pakistan to see some of the relief and reconstruction work that the Open Society Foundations have been supporting. What I saw came as a complete surprise.

I had the chance to visit a few villages in Charsadda district of Kyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan. Mohmand Agency, a district in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan where the army offensive on terror groups is continuing, starts just across the river.

The floods came in August 2010. The sudden downpour upstream had swelled the rivers to the extent that they inundated villages that normally did not get flood waters. In some areas the water was more than 10 feet deep. Even now one can see the water marks on trees and buildings. And then there was rain too: rain that continued for many days.

When we visited these villages it had already been six months since the floods. The water was gone. But as you walk through the lanes of the villages and into the fields the massive extent of the damage stares you in the face. Hardly any house was left standing in some of these villages. The only structures that survived were the pucca (brick) government schools or mosques (usually made in elevated places and usually pucca).

But it is the fields around these villages that really surprised me. These lands are known for sugarcane crops but as we stepped into the fields I saw a lot of sand, very fine white sand, in the fields. The accompanying farmers told us that the rivers brought tremendous amounts of debris with them, mostly sand. These villages are on a plateau and just beyond its edges one can see hills. But I did not think that these hills were so dry that all that the flood waters would bring down would be such fine white sand. In some areas the sand brought by the waters was as high as four feet or more.

And sand was everywhere. Within minutes our clothes were full of it; I could feel the crunch in my mouth and I was definitely breathing a lot of it. Although the villagers, with whatever help they have been able to muster, from within the community and from NGOs, have tried to clear their fields so that they can start sowing their crops again, one could see piles of sand on the edges of plots of agricultural land. There is just too much of it and the cost of removing the sand, without access to heavy machinery and with only tractors, trolleys, and manual labor, is just too high.

We visited some of the houses in these villages too. The better off have been able to reconstruct or repair their houses and return them to being homes. Most of the poor are still struggling. They do not have the resources to clear land and rebuild their houses, most of which have been almost completely washed away. Relief assistance was mainly food and medicines, and it is almost gone now.

The government, though it had promised that it will provide funds for reconstruction of houses, has done nothing. And given the macroeconomic condition of the country and government efforts to reduce the deficit, there is no hope for any government funding right now. People feel abandoned by the government and know they will have to make do, somehow or the other. But with very limited funding coming from abroad, this is going to be a huge struggle.

There were hundreds of children just milling around. The village, six months after the deluge, does not have a functional school. The government school was damaged and has not been repaired. The children just spend the days walking around, playing in the sand, and enjoying themselves the best way they can. All of them were covered with sand, and they must be breathing it in too. I wonder what sort of health issues will crop up in due course.

We only saw a few villages and only met with a few people. But their struggles to get a life back, to make things go back to how they were, to have green fields and some livestock, to have shelter and a few changes of clothing, were clear. And these are struggles—though issues might vary by location—that cut across the millions that have been affected by the floods, across the length of the country.

Most of these people were poor to start off with. The floods have left them without shelter, and without even the minimum they had accumulated with huge effort over decades. They are a very resilient people and they will survive, though this is going to be a tough struggle. The question is, Can we help?

The Open Society Foundations, though not a traditional relief organization, funded food relief in the initial days after the floods. We currently fund community organization and rebuilding through help with land clearance, rehabilitation of water courses, water and sewerage rehabilitation, and distribution of seeds and fertilizer, among other things. But the needs are obviously much larger than what any single organization can do.

6 Comments

Timely and important reminder.
Unfortunately Pakistan remains in the press for all the wrong reasons. Millions are suffering post floods and the government, facing an economic crisis and suffering from poor sense of prioritization, has forgotten all about them. The media too has moved on... The flood affectees, however, continue to live in a desperate situation.

Pakistanis generally and the diaspora particularly has become very insensitive to the plight of their country men. The affluent and the well endowed are not playing their part. The governement is both corrupt and incompetent and nothing can be expected of it.

The government, though it had promised....has done nothing – that could be the refrain of Pakistan’s national anthem.

Thank you for your reports in general, this one specifically. In 2006, I travelled in Pakistan and fell in love with the people and the country. I returned to write a book about it in an effort to have those on this side of the world come to see Pakistanis and their country in the glorious light that also shines on them (also to promote tourism, which they needed badly then and moreso now. The book remains unpublished and the conditions in the country have deteriorated under a government whose record (never mind the words)showed little intention of changing things. I continue my relationships with those I met there and here, and pray for the neglected. Cheers to OSI for their remarkable work the world over.
Denise Dailey

Thank you for this article Faisal. The state of Pakistan is not only sorrowful but overwhelmingly disturbing. Its true that the government literally fails to fullfill their (so many) promises, its also true that foreign aid to Pakistan cannot compensate the loss...and its even true that there is a fear of it continuing like this.

This is quite satisfactory to note that the people are just trying to win sympathies by just mourning over the plight of the less fortunate in our society. However, nobody is heeding to or touching the real cause of all the ills and worries of the People.
the over grown size of the population of this country is perhaps going unnoticed. We mourne over the performance and rebuke the governments, however, without pointing to the causes. We have not brought this realization home to ourself that the over population will not allow us to resolve our problems so easily. So please please everybody should try to highlight this problem and impress upon the international donors and national governments to come up with a strategy to bring down the population growth to minimal for few years and try to resolve the problems. otherwise this mind bogling addition to our population and limited resources would send this country to dogs forever.

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