A man leads his children through the waters in Nowshera (Courtesy: Guardian)
The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Pakistan is tragic at many levels. These are the worst floods in Pakistan’s history and have affected over 4.5 million people and taken over 1500 lives. And it’s not over yet. As the flood waters continue downstream to Sindh, they will cause more destruction in their wake. The images from NASA of before and after the floods bring home some of the scale. The disaster has also brought into sharp focus two other aspects: the lack of disaster preparedness in Pakistan and the fact that poor people are most affected.
Save the Children has commented that this disaster could be worse than the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan in which over 80,000 people lost their lives. Although the loss of life was much graver in the earthquake, this disaster is considered worse for its scale and geographical reach. It has caused destruction in all provinces of Pakistan, particularly Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, and has displaced over a million people.
Talat Hussain, one of Pakistan’s most respected journalists, has been travelling all over the country to report on the floods and talk to affected people. Reporting from a town in Mianwali, he brought home the point that the disaster in that area, like many others, was avoidable if precautions had been taken in time, or at least if an early warning had been given people would have been able to evacuate in time. However, the lack of investment in infrastructure or prioritized disaster response meant we saw unnecessary loss of life and property. So while the heavy rainfall was a natural phenomenon, the scale of the flooding was a manmade disaster.
Another dimension of this disaster that has become apparent is that the poor are the worst affected as they live in the rural and low lying urban areas that have poor infrastructure and lack of sewage and drainage. The internally displaced people due to the conflict in Pakistan are now more vulnerable than ever. Oxfam has commented that the floods are a double catastrophe for the people of Swat valley as they had just begun to return to their homes.
“Those affected were already vulnerable and mostly poor and now they’ve been made homeless and in need of help once again. People desperately need clean water, food, shelter and healthcare”, said Neva Khan Oxfam’s Country Director in Pakistan.
The floods will make poor people poorer and those who were on the brink would be thrown into poverty.
The priority now is immediate response to alleviate some of the impact. If you can please give:
- In the UK contribute to the DEC appeal
- In Pakistan, you can contribute to Human Relief Foundation, Thali, Future Leaders of Pakistan, or any trusted organisation that you support.
For grassroots fundraising taking place in Islamabad, please contact the following individuals:
Abdul Basit Khwaja, Human Relief Foundation, +923315248814
Atif Siddique, Future Leaders of Pakistan, +92 333 555 2843
Thali, 03335600082, 03458562843, 03345110013
This is a slightly updated version of the article I wrote for ch16.org.