Monday, August 16, 2010

Guest Voices: Pakistan floods: a disaster of epic proportions

Here is the next post in our series from Concern Worldwide. Lucia Ennis has just arrived in Pakistan and asks people in the developed world that may be weary of disasters to dig deep once again. Concern Worldwide works with poor people in the under-developed world to help them survive poverty and hunger.

I arrived in Pakistan the beginning of week two of this massive emergency. There is an adjustment to be made as you step off the plane and take in the enormity of the damage and human suffering. Here the adjustment is colored with a sense of incomprehension as to why—so many days after the floods began—there is not a sense of greater urgency outside of Pakistan.

As of this writing, there are 14 million plus people affected by the flooding. The situation is truly unprecedented. The media here are covering the story 24/7, calling it a disaster of epic proportions that is unrivalled by any other natural catastrophe the country has ever suffered. International media must follow suit by providing the kind of coverage that can prompt Western audiences, governments and other institutions to respond on a scale required by this unprecedented crisis.

I have spent many long hours since I’ve been here in Concern’s head office in Islamabad, the nerve centre for our response. The team here has not only been managing a massive relief effort, but also churning out reports, documentation and funding proposals virtually around the clock since day one.

This is the invisible but essential work of emergency response on the part of a core team of experienced, highly qualified Pakistani professionals who have seen their share of large-scale emergencies. It’s one of our strengths here and it will drive our response. The same is true for or many other organizations. But without international attention and the funding and resources that go along with it, this expertise will be squandered.

Concern is currently targeting 10,000 families—or 80,000 people— but this number will grow with the increase of funds donated by the public and donors, hopefully soon giving us the capacity and resources to reach at least double that number or more. To motivate the public in Europe and North America, though, news coverage of the disaster is crucial. Many of us in the aid community are simply stunned that Western media have given the story such relatively meagre coverage.

We are very much in the full on emergency phase, with all the agencies mobilizing resources, carrying out assessments, sending funding requests to donors, organizing logistics, getting supplies ordered and out to where the need is greatest. Access and time remains the largest constraints at this critical stage.

Concern was one of the first agencies to reach victims in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Province, as we already had a presence there in the northwest of the country. We were one of the first to start distributions of food, clean drinking water, and set up medical camps in the area; we’ve now scaled up and plan to work in six districts in KPK during the emergency relief phase. Waters have receded there, but the needs are still enormous and many have lost everything.

We have also begun delivering aid to a district in Punjab, in central Pakistan, and are targeting a second. But the rains and the flooding are ongoing there, making access extremely difficult. On yet a third front, we started an assessment, along with our local partners, in the Sindh province, and we will soon come to the aid of flood victims there whose numbers, the UN reports, are simply staggering.

Concern comes to the situation with a lot of experience gained in the 2005 earthquake and in last year’s enormous displacement in the KPK region as a result of government troops fighting insurgents. Ever since the earthquake and the more recent conflict displacement in 2009, we have put an emphasis on readiness in the case of an emergency and our local partners play a key role in this regard. We have arrangements in place with 35 Pakistani NGOs who are committed to work with Concern in a crisis—we are already working with 13 partners.

This is not to say that we are following a set script or routine. Everyone works enormously long hours. Earlier this week one of our staff returned from an assessment in Kohistan, a remote district in KPK. The trauma of what he saw rendered him speechless. He had met a family that lost six children in the floods, and found the land unrecognizable, all just muck and river, with massive bridges and the road network left in ruins. There are stories like this every day on Pakistan radio and television.

Compounding the suffering in affected areas is the sharp increase local prices for food and general supplies, and growing shortages of both. Factories in Punjab are closing because of damages and there have been reports of very limited gas supply. Such logistical and systemic breakdowns are the next big hurdle, which cannot begin to be adequately addressed until the end of monsoon season.

Meanwhile, it is crucially important that the public understand the magnitude of this natural disaster. The world has seen many emergencies, but this is something on a scale that nobody has ever dealt with before. I can only talk to you about things that we’ve seen. It’s like an iceberg – we’ve only seen the top of it. We haven’t yet been able to get access to the communities that have been completely cut off or washed away. And the death toll, which currently stands at some 1343, will surely rise the longer it takes to reach people and get them support.

My message to the people in the West: dig deep into your pockets and help to reduce some of the suffering. This country is going to take years to get back on its feet. We’re focusing on the emergency now, but Concern will be here for the long run and begin focusing on recovery in the next month or so. We will work with communities to re-build and develop livelihood opportunities and to re-establish the markets. Along with other agencies, we will put a premium on getting basic services operating again—schools, hospitals and agricultural production back up and running. Any size donation will go a long way in this very difficult and situation.

1 comment:

Bahar Salimova said...

It is indeed a very tragic disaster and as you mention despite all of the relief efforts, there is still a lot to be done. In one of the recent article, Vinod Thomas and Ronald Parker from the Independent Evaluation Group discuss measures important for securing lifelines during disasters. They point out that, for instance, in Haiti, Chile and other countries, potable water could not be provided to victims in reasonable time, and emergency medical facilities dropped off-line just when needed most. Additionally, around 50 developing countries face recurrent earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other disasters, yet many governments and international agencies do not seem to recognize that they will recur and acknowledge the risks. Here is the link to the article -