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One year on Pakistan still unprepared for monsoon floods

By Oxfam

One year after the worst flooding in its history, Pakistan is still not prepared for this year’s monsoon floods and other natural disasters, international humanitarian organization Oxfam warned today.

In a new report, "Ready or Not: Pakistan’s resilience to disasters one year on from the floods", Oxfam said that millions of people were still struggling to recover from last year’s floods and would fall even deeper into poverty if hit by floods again. Reconstruction after last year’s floods is estimated to cost more than ten billion dollars, almost a quarter of the national budget; and further disasters will put an additional strain on the country’s economy.

“Villagers in areas where we work fear new flooding. Many are planting fewer crops than usual as they are worried that their harvests will be destroyed in fresh floods. In some areas, where fresh flooding has already begun, families have started to dismantle their houses and move to higher ground as they are scared of losing everything again,” said Neva Khan, Head of Oxfam in Pakistan.

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

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 increasing 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.

Two to five million people are likely to be affected by floods during this year’s monsoon season, according to the UN and Pakistani authorities. Hundreds of villages have already been affected and whole communities displaced by new flooding in Sindh and Punjab provinces in the last few weeks. River water levels are also rising in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“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,” said Kahn.

Oxfam said 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. The agency also called for more funding for local authorities and organizations that play a frontline role in preparing for and responding to emergencies.

In November, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank recommended Pakistan should invest $27 million, backed up with yearly top ups, to improve disaster management and reduce losses in future emergencies. Oxfam’s report called on the government to implement this. This is affordable; the country has spent more than this on expenses of National Assembly members over the last two years (some $32 million). Oxfam also asked the government to deliver on its pledge to ring fence a minimum of two per cent of district budgets for disaster preparedness.

Oxfam urged donors to invest in measures to reduce the impact of disasters as a part of their overall aid packages for Pakistan. The agency challenged donors to allocate at least 10 percent of humanitarian and recovery assistance to projects that mitigate the impact of disasters – a target that has been agreed globally, but has not been implemented.

Khan 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 learnt this lesson.”

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