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Red Cross Remains Committed to Helping Pakistan Flood Survivors One Year Later

One year after unprecedented monsoon floods swept through Pakistan, millions of people continue to live in makeshift shelters vulnerable and exposed to the threat of further flooding during the current storm season.

“Many families have not yet had the chance to rebuild their homes,” said Nilofar Bakhtiar of the Pakistan Red Crescent. “It will not take a lot of rain this year to leave them in a very precarious situation.”

Last year’s floods hit the poorest of the poor and had a devastating impact on the economy. The cost of bricks quadrupled, making it impossible for flood survivors to rebuild their homes. Families instead scraped together what materials they could salvage, piecing together rudimentary shelters that offer little protection against the harsh Pakistan climate.

“I lost my house, the only property I had, in the floods,” said Kulsoom Bibi, a widow with four children living in Pakistan. After the floods, the price of wheat, sugar, eggs and poultry skyrocketed. Bibi’s modest income was not enough to meet the basic needs of her family, much less allow her to rebuild her home.

To help people like Bibi whose homes were completely destroyed by the floods, the Red Cross and Red Crescent provided her and her family with a cash grant to build a new home.

“We want to empower the homeowner to make their own choices about their housing recovery needs, which is one reason why the Red Cross and Red Crescent chose to provide cash grants along with guidance on building back safer structures, as opposed to just building a house for them,” explained Iru Serra-Lasa, shelter advisor with the American Red Cross. “Cash is a flexible system that allows the homeowner to decide what size of a house they want and what materials they want to use.”

This program, which will continue for at least another year, will provide cash grants to 11,500 families to help them rebuild their homes. The cash is provided in three installments, which allows the Red Cross and Red Crescent to monitor progress and guide homeowners to ensure certain milestones are met for each new installment. Families will also receive technical guidance to ensure the homes are constructed to withstand future disasters.

“I am very glad that I have my own shelter,” said Bibi. “If the floods come this year, I am safe because of the structure of the house. My children are happy here. I can lead my life the way I want.”

But even with improved shelter, the inability to earn an income will continue to mean an uncertain future for millions of Pakistanis. Food prices continue to rise, and acres of farmland remain unusable.

Red Cross Response

In July 2010, heavy monsoon rains began to sweep through large areas of Pakistan, pummeling the country for months. As the rains continued, they caused unprecedented floods that submerged homes, roads and cropland, impacting more than 20 million people across 70 percent of the country.

From the earliest days after the floods began, local Red Crescent volunteers provided search and rescue assistance, household goods, emergency shelter supplies, clean water, and latrines. Soon they were joined by international teams sent to help meet the growing needs. The American Red Cross lent extensive support to these efforts, ultimately contributing $8.2 million and multiple disaster specialists to the response.

“Food insecurity and malnutrition due to the lack of vitamin-rich and nutritious foods are real threats, particularly to children and women,” said Bakhtiar. “Failure to effectively respond could result in another humanitarian crisis in communities that are still feeling the devastating effects of last year’s floods.”

Survivors have said that while they appreciate food donations, what they really need is to be able to generate their own income.

To date, the Red Cross and Red Crescent has reached more than 617,000 people through the distribution of seeds and fertilizer, and thousands of families have received technical training to improve the yield of their crops. Many families have received cash grants to help them re-establish their livelihoods through activities such as tailoring, transportation, grocery sales, food carts and handicrafts.

Going forward, the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network will continue to help families recover, as well as to focus on increasing their resilience to future disasters. A disaster preparedness program, supported by the American Red Cross since 2009, is building the critical response skills of communities and the Pakistan Red Crescent, and connecting community-based disaster preparedness to national emergency response systems.

To learn more about the Red Cross and Red Crescent response to the 2010 Pakistan floods, read the progress report released this week by the American Red Cross.