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"It's time we learned this lesson"

By Timothy Allen
Husna La Shari struggles to rebuild her life

A newly published Oxfam report , “Ready or Not: Pakistan’s resilience to disasters one year on from the floods”, says that millions of people are still struggling to recover from last year’s floods and will fall even deeper into poverty if hit by floods again. Reconstruction after last year’s floods is estimated to cost more than $10 billion, almost a quarter of Pakistan’s national budget; and further disasters will put an additional strain on the country’s economy.

The mega floods of last year would have challenged any government, but the emergency response led by Pakistani authorities saved thousands of lives. However, Oxfam has expressed concern about the pace of recovery and reconstruction, which has left millions of people unnecessarily exposed to another disaster.

Still vulnerable

Husna La Shari is one survivor who is struggling to rebuild her life in Khawand La Shari in Shikapur, Sindh.  Her family and community were hit hard by the flooding last July.  Husna has 7 children and an elderly husband.  She is responsible for providing for her entire family as her husband is too old to work.  Before the floods last July, she worked on fields farming and harvesting.  But after the floods, the fields are no longer fertile and Husna is struggling to feed her family.  Oxfam is working in Husna’s village providing latrines and rehabilitating water pumps.  Husna took part in Oxfam’s Cash for Work program in her village, clearing rubble and cleaning irrigation channels in the fields.

“It was difficult for me before the flood and it is now more difficult for me as there is no farming or harvesting.  We cannot cultivate the land here this year…  PDI (Oxfam’s partner) came and gave us money for doing labor.  We collected whatever remained of our houses and we put it all in one place and together we cleaned the village.  My husband was not capable, so I did it, I earned the money.  PDI gave us kitchen pots, blankets, quilts and buckets and we are thankful as they helped us a lot.  I am still in trouble to get food.  How will I feed my family?”

Around 37,000 people affected by the 2010 floods are still living in camps in Sindh alone; and across the country, many of those who have returned to their villages have inadequate housing, with some still living in tents.  More than 800,000 families are still without proper homes and many flood defenses, such as river embankments, destroyed in last year’s floods, have not yet been properly repaired. This increases the likelihood of breaches in future floods. For example, embankments in Sindh province have reportedly been increased by only two or three feet rather than the recommended six feet.

Neva Khan, Head of Oxfam in Pakistan, said:
“Pakistan needs to act now. Investing in measures today that reduce the impact of disasters is essential to save lives and safeguard development gains in the future. It will ensure schools built with aid funds are not washed away and that farmers can keep the crops they have toiled over. A year after Pakistan’s mega floods it’s time we learned this lesson.”

Some lessons learned

For children in the Shikapur district of Sindh, playing an interactive game is one way to avoid the risk of illness which often comes in the wake of a natural disaster.  Julia Moore, a hygiene promotor for Oxfam, teaches children basic hygiene activities such as washing their hands and faces and showing them how to use a latrine.

“Pakistan is a disaster-prone country and has been flooded 67 times since 1947. Climate change will only increase the threat of floods. But while floods and earthquakes are inevitable, widespread devastation is not. For years, not enough has been done to protect ordinary Pakistani men, women, and children from disasters before they strike.”  Says Kahn.

Lives and scarce resources could be saved in the future if the Pakistan government, with support from international donors, invests more in measures to reduce the impact of disasters. This could include flood resistant housing, and effective early warning systems – especially at the village level. In order to implement these programs, more funding is needed for local authorities and organizations that play a frontline role in preparing for and responding to emergencies.