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The wait continues

January 01, 2013

IT seems the floods in Pakistan are becoming an annual feature. For the past three years, vast areas of the country have stood inundated with flood water, displacing and affecting millions of people every year. The worst was in 2010, when almost 20 million people were affected by the largest floods in living memory which left a fifth of the country submerged by water. Flooding in 2011 impacted over nine million people, with Sindh being the worst-affected; the waters submerged more than 4.5 million acres of farming land, damaging an estimated 80 per cent of cash crops. This year some 350,000 people have been forced from their homes and another 4.7 million people affected by the flooding.

With winter at its peak, millions of displaced people are still without warm clothing or blankets. Providing food and shelter as well as medicine and healthcare to millions of people is an uphill task and requires huge resources. For a developing country like Pakistan, it is difficult to meet these expenses on its own. For the past two years, the government had been asking the international community for assistance but this year it has decided to handle the situation with its own resources. The prime minister had announced Rs4 billion for Sindh and Balochistan’s disaster management needs, but the provincial administrations have reportedly complained that the amount is not sufficient to compensate the losses.

As the water receded, the displaced people started going back to their villages, though many are still in shelters. But this is not where their miseries end. Statistics might show that most people have been rehabilitated as the camps have been evacuated, but rehabilitation does not mean vacating the camps and going back home. In the absence of a proper recovery/rehabilitation plan, they find themselves destitute as they return to their homes with nothing to resume their lives with. Even if the government/humanitarian organisations give them money to rebuild their houses, they have no money to buy the seed, equipment or cattle to start cultivation; they are still in need of food, shelter, drinking water, sanitation facilities and medicine as whatever little infrastructure was there is no longer in place.

They find the schools either damaged or being used as shelters for the homeless, so children still have no chance to begin their studies. People need to be provided hygiene kits, including water purification tablets as in the absence of safe water supplies, they, especially children, are more vulnerable to deadly waterborne diseases.

The situation is compounded as the affectees of one year’s floods are barely recovering from the aftermaths of the devastation when they are hit by another flood. The government, too, with its limited resources, finds it difficult to provide the much-needed facilities.

As these floods are more a result of climate change, it is important to pay attention to preventive measures like the strengthening of dikes and embankments to ward of excess water from the mountains, and not allowing people to live too close to the river beds, taking steps to control deforestation, etc. The writing, otherwise, is very much on the wall.