Pakistan's post-flood blues
Islamabad - Nearly one year after devastating floods swamped vast tracts of land across Pakistan, affecting over 20 million people, many survivors are still struggling to rebuild their lives as this year's monsoon season is about to start.
“I have patched up my house the best I could, using what few resources I could gather - but the roof consists of just plastic sheeting in some places, and it really offers little protection to my extended family of 11,” Ghulam Hussain, 40, a villager in the Thatta District of Sindh Province, told IRIN.
The first monsoon rains of 2011 have started falling, according to the Meteorological Office, and this is raising anxiety. “We have been able to repair our badly damaged home, but we are still afraid of what may happen now that the rains have begun,” Ahmed Daud Khan, in the town of Nowshera in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province, told IRIN.
The two have good reason to be afraid. Last week flash floods killed seven people in the South Waziristan tribal agency on the Pakistan-Afghan border after heavy downpours led to houses collapsing.
In Sindh Province, said World Vision Pakistan, the Indus river has already risen. Coupled with melting glaciers and snow in the mountainous north, the situation is threatening 30,000 people in 30 villages in Ghotki District.
The province was the worst hit by the floods, but media reports say 57,000 people have not received assistance. Many have been unable to rebuild or fully repair homes mainly due to large-scale mismanagement in the running of government schemes to help them.
Local residents say a government investigation into alleged scams earlier this year, achieved nothing.
Some piece-meal rebuilding efforts have continued, including the re-housing of 334 families in the Dadu and Thatta districts of Sindh in new homes built by the Pakistan Army, but a paucity of funds has adversely affected efforts. Donations, for example, have generally been slow to come in even though innovative methods such as mobile phone games were used to solicit much-needed resources.
“People want jobs," Oxfam country director Neva Khan said in a press statement. "They are not looking for handouts. They want to work their way out of poverty and rebuild a better life than before. They are calling for food they can afford, health care when they are sick, and somewhere to live - the most basic of basics."
Early this month, Ahmed Kamal, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), told the media in Islamabad that the Authority had worked out a contingency plan to tackle any new flood emergency. “NDMA is following two plans for floods, including a plan for a worst-case scenario under which a maximum of six million people can be affected, and a likely scenario under which 2.2 million people can be probable victims,” he said.
''My fields were destroyed, and my house reduced to sticks of timber, and my own wrist broken while trying to save my family...Some NGOs helped us in the beginning, but then we were left on our own. The words of government officials mean nothing to me.''
But many remain skeptical. “My fields were destroyed, and my house reduced to sticks of timber, and my own wrist broken while trying to save my family," Azeemullah Khan, a villager in the Charsadda District of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province, told IRIN. "I am still struggling to earn a living or just put food on the table. Some NGOs helped us in the beginning, but then we were left on our own. The words of government officials mean nothing to me.”
Support still needed
Locals in Lahore told IRIN that rehabilitation of the affected areas has started, but most areas are still without basic infrastructure. Similarly, the Watan Card scheme that the government started, to support those affected, has not helped many people, especially widows who were unable to get any money because they did not fulfil the “head of the family” requirement.
In Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province, Nathan Shah, an area in Sindh that was completely submerged, normalcy is yet to return. The area was to have been built into a “model” settlement, but nothing has happened.
Last week, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos warned: "Families affected by the floods continue to need support to rebuild their livelihoods. The 2011 monsoon is about to start and up to two million people are again at risk from flooding, partly due to lack of funds for reconstruction.
"Major efforts are needed immediately to reduce the vulnerability of these families and implement urgent recovery and flood preparedness work on river banks, irrigation channels and other infrastructure."
According to the UN, moderate flooding could result in the worsening of conditions. For example, on 24 May, a heavy downpour flooded Suleman Mountains
which run through Balochistan and into Afghanistan, close to the Punjab-Balochistan border district of Dera Ghazi Khan. While local authorities provided initial relief assistance to 4,000 affected people, stored wheat and the cotton crop were destroyed.
“The  flood had a severe impact on people’s homes, livelihoods and assets,” said a government assessment report: “Most people do not know when they would be able to resume their livelihoods.”
The floods, it noted, wiped out about 2 percent off Pakistan’s annual growth rate and “inflicted a massive damage” of US$10 billion on the economic infrastructure. World Vision said acute malnutrition rates reached 22.9 percent in flood-affected areas of Sindh.
“The areas affected by floods were consistently lagging behind in terms of socio-economic and educational indicators as compared to the areas unaffected by the floods,” the report said. “The loss to infrastructure and livelihood sources will push them behind further. The people most severely affected were predominantly small farmers and unskilled labourers.”
At least 1,200 people died in the floods, the world's second worst in 10 years, according to the Belgium-based Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters.
Women most affected
One group that has suffered most in the flood aftermath are women.
“Violence against women has since increased. With no steady income and homes, a lot of the flood victims vent their anger on their wives, sisters and daughters," said Sonu Khangrani, head of the Sindh Rural Support Organization. "In these societies it is considered a norm if a man barters his 10-year-old daughter for a new wife."
Some teenage girls, she added, had run away from their homes because parents tried to sell them off. “All these cases were from the flood-hit areas," Khangrani told IRIN. "We were able to help the younger flood victims with regards to trauma and hardships, [but] we could not do much apart from providing legal support to the girls."
Rahim Bux (not his real name), a 50-year-old man from Shikarpur, married away his 16-year-old daughter for Rs. 50,000 ($581) in February, but the girl ended up in a brothel. "I intended to use the money to rebuild our house, get a better roof than the thatched one that we had," he said. "What I did not know was that my daughter would end up becoming a prostitute.”
The floods, a Federal Investigation Agency official said, opened doors for traffickers."Poverty is rampant and when you offer money for a `bride’, people are more than willing to give away their daughters," the official, who identified himself only as Fahin, said.
A trip to Karachi’s red light area along Napier Road reveals that girls as young as 12 were bought from flood-hit communities. “My father thought that I was being married off," Bux's daughter Nida told IRIN at the brothel where she lives." What he did not know was that I would be sold off by my husband."
The brothel owner, Jamal Ara, wants Rs 120,000 ($1,400) to release Nida. "I got Nida for slightly over 100,000. If her parents or for that matter anyone wants to take her away, they are more than welcome to buy her back," he said.
Pakistan enacted a Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance in 2002, but it has done little to stop trafficking.
“Kashmore, Jaffarabad, Nasirabad, Larkana are districts that were badly hit by the floods," Fahin added. "These are notorious for violence against women and here the [trafficking] rings are very active. There have been cases where girls as young as seven were kidnapped and sold.
"Since it is a matter of honour, people do not register the complaints if it is a girl who goes missing. Rather the emphasis is on tracking down the victim and killing her to `redeem’ their honour."
According to the UN's Amos, more than $600 million is still needed to support early recovery activities including rehabilitating water wells, refurbishing the primary health care system and rebuilding schools.
"I am extremely concerned," she noted, "that the lack of funds is preventing the pre-positioning of necessary medical supplies and the continuation beyond July of the district level Disease Early Warning System."