The floods in Pakistan may have begun six months ago, but the disaster is far from over.
Today, more than 4 million people remain in a desperate situation without adequate shelter, and huge areas of land in the southern province of Sindh are still engulfed by floodwaters.
The majority of people have left the tented camps established after the floods in safe, unaffected areas. However, spontaneous settlements are now popping up throughout the country, as people return to their villages but are unable to live in their damaged houses.
“The cruelty of this disaster is that millions of people were driven from their homes by the floods,” said Gocha Guchashvili, flood operations coordinator in Pakistan. “They have endured miserable conditions, living for months under canvas or (tarps). Now they are returning home to almost nothing. Their houses, their fields and their livelihoods are ruined.”
The floods, which began in late July 2010, destroyed 1.7 million homes, damaged 5.4 million acres of arable land and left entire communities without a source of food or income.
The Red Cross Red Crescent responded immediately by providing tents, tarps and shelter kits to 75,000 families, which benefits more than half a million people.
“There is nothing in our house,” said 31-year-old Wali Mohammed, a farm laborer from Fatah Pur, Sindh. “When I first got back, I searched for my things, for the contents of my house, but there is nothing left. Everything is gone. That is why we need these items today, the things the Red Cross is giving us for our house.”
In the north, families are living through sub-zero conditions in the remnants of their homes. Many roads remain blocked or damaged, leaving villagers no option but to walk for many miles to seek help.
“We are distributing winterized shelter kits to 70,000 people in this region, to help protect families from the freezing temperatures,” said Andrea Lorenzetti, shelter coordinator in Pakistan. “In many cases, we can only transport the materials as far as the roads will allow – after that, people have to carry them on their backs over the mountains for many hours.”
These kits include tarps, corrugated iron sheets, galvanized roof sheet, rope, tools and thermal blankets.
Plans for longer-term recovery also include the provision of cash grants and/or materials for 280,000 people in Sindh and Punjab to assist in the rebuilding of their homes.
Across affected provinces it is estimated that more than 70,000 children are severely or moderately malnourished, and villages in the south remain surrounded by contaminated water, creating breeding grounds for diseases.
In many areas, thousands of people have been treated for anemia, skin diseases, acute respiratory tract infections and diarrhea. The Red Cross Red Crescent continues to provide emergency and basic health care services through 12 health teams, which have helped close to 200,000 people to date.
The American Red Cross and its Measles Initiative partners are especially concerned about the millions of unvaccinated children and the potential for highly contagious diseases like measles to spread rapidly in these post-disaster conditions.
This month, the American Red Cross has committed $1 million to help local healthcare workers continue a mass immunization campaign that will run through April. With the aim to protect 25 million children nationwide against measles, the Red Cross Red Crescent is helping to ward off an outbreak which could easily occur given people are living in such close quarters or are isolated by flood waters from healthcare services.
Additionally, many survivors continue to suffer from trauma, enduring flashbacks, nightmares or disturbed sleep.
“When the flood water started to enter our village we were all here. We were worried that we would not escape, it came so fast,” recalled Mohammed. “It was the day the dam broke, and there was no time to take anything. There was only time to take our children and elders, and then we got out on the only road that was open…”
In Sindh, Red Cross Red Crescent teams are providing psychosocial support through informal education, group sessions, sports and singing. To date, almost 22,000 people have benefited from these activities, the majority of them children.
Water and Sanitation
In the past six months, more than 600,000 people have utilized the water and sanitation programs managed by the Red Cross Red Crescent.
These services include the production of more than 68 million liters of clean drinking water (1.1 million liters per day) as well as the distribution of more than 915,000 water purification tablets/sachets.
Today, reconstruction of village water systems is beginning in targeted areas, which will ensure the communities have a sustainable supply well after this disaster and for many years to come. Throughout the next few months, the Red Cross Red Crescent expects to reconstruct 150 hand pumps, 100 bore holes and spring gravity flow systems for this initiative. The Red Cross Red Crescent has also constructed more than 1,000 emergency latrines in KPK and Sindh and promoted safe hygiene practices for more than 12,000 people in Sindh.
Livelihoods and Food
As well as providing emergency relief supplies to more than 2 million people, the Red Cross Red Crescent is carrying out early recovery programs to support the returning population, providing food, seeds and agricultural tools.
More than 3.7 million acres of arable farmland were damaged or destroyed in Sindh and Punjab, the main cotton, rice and sugarcane-producing areas. And in Sindh, thousands of acres of farmland remain submerged under floodwater or mud and silt deposits.
“Food security remains a major concern and support from the international community is vital,” said Guchashvili. “Without it, the survivors of this crisis will slide further into poverty.”
To date, more than 2.25 million people have received food parcels from the Red Cross Red Crescent. Of that group, 350,000 of the most vulnerable people in the Sindh and Punjab provinces are receiving a second round of food distribution. These parcels include staples like wheat flour, sugar and cooking oil.
“We used to live better than this,” said 92-year-old Khanzadi Nababux from the Ghulam Hussain Ghadi village. “I do not want people to think this is how we always lived. We are famers; we had land; (and) we had homes… I am happy that I have the food from the Red Crescent. For this I thank you and give you many blessings.”
Seed, fertilizer and toolkits are also being distributed to more than 400,000 people in Sindh, KPK and Balochistan to assist in the recultivation of their lands. This sustainable program offers seeds for tomato, spinach, peas and turnip planting, along with instructions, and provides families with the opportunity to grow their own food for the winter.
In total the American Red Cross has committed more than $7 million in financial support and supplies as well as deployed two disaster specialists to Pakistan to assist our global Red Cross Red Crescent partners in helping hundreds of thousands of families recover from this disaster.
Although a great deal of assistance has been doled out and families are returning home, it will take time and many resources to truly help people get back on their feet, but it is a commitment encapsulated by the motto of the local Red Crescent society in Pakistan: “The first to arrive: the last to leave.”
Additional reporting contributed by Natalie Martino with the American Red Cross and Penny Sims with the British Red Cross.