Saturday, December 11, 2010

Guest Voices: Local Partners are Key to Recovery in Pakistan

Next up in our continuing series of guest posts from Concern Worldwide, is this look at recovery efforts in Pakistan. Press Officer Joop Koopman says that relationships with other NGOs and community members have helped to look to speed recovery efforts from the summer flooding.

Susan Finucane, program officer at Concern Worldwide US, and I have come to Pakistan to report on the progress of Concern’s large-scale emergency program in response to the megadisaster caused by summer’s unprecedented heavy rains and massive flooding that left an area the size of Italy underwater.

Upon our arrival, Dorothy Blane, Concern Worldwide Country Director in Pakistan, briefs us on Concern’s immediate priorities and our approach to this particular disaster, which is informed by a long track record in both long-term development and emergencies in Pakistan.


What gives Concern vital reach and flexibility, says Dorothy, is our network of local partners and our long-term relationships with community members in the poorest parts of Pakistan. Dorothy tells us that working with local organizations is “a powerful way to build up civil society.” Concern offers capacity building and technical expertise that benefits and strengthens local NGOs so that work can be sustained in the long term without Concern. The local NGOs Concern partners with in Pakistan closely involve the communities they serve through Community-Based Organizations, an approach strongly encouraged by Concern in its programs throughout the world.

The purpose of Susan’s and my field visit is to see firsthand the impact of the disaster on communities in Pakistan and document the ongoing humanitarian needs, as well as to document the emergency response programs that Concern is overseeing in Sindh and Punjab provinces. Compared to KPK, where the recovery and reconstruction process has begun in earnest, people in Sindh and Punjab still face enormous needs and challenges.

In Sindh, only 30 percent of people displaced by the flooding have been able to return to their homes, with significant parts of the province still underwater, and silted soil has ruined the first post-flood harvest. Many of those who have returned to their villages are still living in makeshift dwellings pending the construction of more permanent dwellings. In Punjab, where most of the water has receded, the big challenge is to make the destroyed crop lands productive again. In KPK, in the north, the advent of winter and cold weather are making the construction of solid housing an urgent matter.

For example, Concern gave 900 farming families from the village of Basti Noon Wada, in District Muzaffargah in South Punjab, 50kg bags of wheat and basic farming tools just before wheat planting season ended in early December. The orderly distribution process managed to serve 500 people a day.


In the spontaneous settlement of Sonda Eid Gab, in District Thatta in Sindh, 128 families are living in tents and make-shift shelters just up a hillside from where their community once stood at the river’s edge. The remains of a wall are among the few reminders of the existence of a once thriving village, the majority of whose men made their living fishing. Concern built latrines in this settlement to reduce health threats from poor sanitation, and has also been providing clean drinking water to meet the population’s daily needs, along with hygiene education programs. All of these are safeguarding an extremely vulnerable community against waterborne diseases and other health risks.

For the nearly 200 families in the village of Abora Jakhro, a few hours’ drive from the camp, Concern is also building new latrines—complete with permanent plumbing—and the new hand pumps are the pride of the community. “Before we simply never thought about hygiene,” said Nooran Merbahar, a mother of five children. “We were plagued by mosquitoes, and we had to rely on dirty water. All of us got sick.” Those days are now behind her.

Nearly 20 million people have been affected by this disaster, with 7 million in urgent need of shelter, food, water, seeds and tools, livelihood opportunities and repairs to infrastructure such as roads, bridges and, especially, permanent housing.

Through its commitment to local partners, Concern empowers local groups that would otherwise not have the capacity to jump into action or be eligible for significant funding. And once projects get underway, Concern’s monitoring mechanism also ensures ongoing support and training for such local organizations.


“It often makes no sense for us or other international NGOs to set up and staff local offices when so many committed and capable civil society organizations are already in place,” Blane insists. Local and community organizations have a wisdom and experience that INGOs need in order to ensure local sensitivity, appropriate solutions, and sustainability.

In fact, though Concern began working in Paksitan in 2001, the history of INGOs in Pakistan is a relatively short one, explains Mubashir Ahmed, Concern’s Assistant Country Director. It wasn’t until the 2005 earthquake that INGOs built up a significant and lasting presence in Pakistan, as the crisis highlighted Pakistan’s widespread poverty.

Similarly, the long-term needs of Sindh and Punjab—both suffering from extreme poverty—were not really on the radar until the devastating floods. There was momentum after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake to help build the affected areas back better. That call to action applies even more powerfully today, as Concern is helping lay the groundwork for long-term recovery for millions whose assets and homes were literally washed away by the floodwaters.

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