One month after the floods first reached disastrous levels in Pakistan, the flood waters continue to rise with 500,000 people forced to evacuate their homes in recent days. Many areas are still cut off and millions of people are in desperate need of immediate help. As the aid effort struggles to respond to the increasing catastrophe, international aid agency Oxfam today warned that reconstruction efforts must begin immediately to avoid devastating long-term consequences for the country.
Neva Khan, Oxfam’s Country Director in Pakistan, said:
“One month into a crisis we would have expected the situation to have stabilized and the long term planning to have begun. But we are still in phase one of an increasing catastrophe, evacuating people, providing them with shelter, trying to get clean water and sanitation to those people who need it. Pakistan doesn't have the luxury of waiting for the emergency phase to be over before starting the reconstruction."
More than 17 million people have now been affected by the floods, more than the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Kashmir earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined. Five million have been left homeless after their homes were washed away by the waters. And while the waters have largely receded in the north of the country, towns and villages across the south are still being threatened by fresh flooding.
Khan said, “Two thirds of the population are dependent on farming. There is a real danger that many of Pakistan’s farmers will miss the winter planting season which is just round the corner in September because their land is still under water or they have been forced to flee.
“Pakistan’s children should have gone back to school in mid-August but with more than 7,000 schools destroyed or damaged, and a further 5,000 being used as temporary shelters, they face months of disruption to their education. And the clean-up operation will take months, meaning millions of people are facing winter spent in temporary shelters or out in the open.”
Oxfam is urging the international community and the Pakistani government to work together to begin reconstruction efforts immediately. While the US this week announced $50 million in aid for the early recovery effort, billions will be needed to rebuild schools, hospitals, roads and bridges.
The aid agency also said the reconstruction efforts must look at ensuring the country is better placed to cope with future crises. In recent years, Pakistan has been hit by a number of emergencies, notably the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the mass displacement in the middle of last year of more than 3 million people from the Swat valley.
Khan continued: “The floods will have a far greater impact in the long-term on the entire country than the earthquake and last year's crisis. Rebuilding the country is a process that must be led by the Pakistani people. But they will need the help and support of the international community for many years to come.
“The international community responded generously to the earthquake in 2005, and the national economy was able to recover reasonably well. But we fear that the impact of this crisis may be much harder for the economy to absorb. Now is the time for us all to start thinking ahead so as to ensure we're able to provide the long term support that will be required."
Khan continued: “We know that careful planning and preparation can save lives. However devastating these floods have been, the death toll could have been far higher. In some areas, Disaster Risk Reduction strategies had been implemented properly over the last few years. Early warning systems were in place, boats were provided and communities were mobilized in time to rescue hundreds of thousands of people. The challenge ahead now is to help the state to do this on a far bigger scale. Nobody should expect the reconstruction process to happen overnight.”