Pakistan: One year after the floods

Now I have returned, to see what life is like here one year after the floods. Over the past week, I have been visiting villages like Nehal Khan Burchand. And I’ve been meeting with people like Lutaf, the representative of a local non-governmental organization. As we talk, he shows me the foundations of the new one-room shelters that, with his organization’s support, will be completed in the next few weeks. A new brick school house has been constructed, including two latrines. 

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The day after we visited Nehal Khan Burchand, we travel to another small village outside the town of Dadu, in a district that was ninety percent affected by the floods. The road to the village was washed away, and we travel for almost an hour across the barren landscape. Three months ago, this area was still flooded. Human and animal footprints are still visible in the once-deep mud, now dry and cracked in the 100 degree plus heat. 

Rafique, who also works for a local NGO, tells us that the five villages in this area have not received assistance because they are too far away and hard to access. Rafique explains that most of the families here used to live in “kacha” or mud houses. While these kacha houses are suitable for both the cold and extreme heat of Sindh’s harsh climate, they “dissolved like biscuits in milk” during the floods. Now, the families are living in temporary shelters made of sticks, mud and plastic sheeting, or in tents bearing logos such as UNHCR and USAID. But like hundreds of thousands of other poor people across the country, they are unlikely to receive any further assistance.  

As these examples demonstrate, over the past year, the response to the flood has been far from perfect. But for the most part, it has been effective. Millions of people received emergency relief. And potential secondary disasters such as a food crisis or the outbreak of water-borne diseases were averted. 

But the recovery has been slow. And it is impossible to meet all the needs. For the vast majority of the displaced who have returned home, the lack of shelter is their main concern. While 350,000 homes have been built, 825,000 families still remain without permanent shelter.

There are those within the United States who suggest that aid to Pakistan be reduced. This is due in large part to the growing mistrust between the two nations. But when it comes to humanitarian aid, this would be a mistake. Punishing the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of Pakistani society because of the actions - or inactions - of its leaders is a strategy likely only to escalate tensions and cause further suffering. 

The U.S. government now has an opportunity to rebuild trust with Pakistan. The U.S. can demonstrate its continued support and commitment to the people of Pakistan by helping the country’s most vulnerable flood victims get back on their feet.

Alice Thomas is the program manager of The Ken & Darcy Bacon Center for the Study of Climate Displacement at Refugees International, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding.