Assisting Impoverished Marginalized Communities in Floods Ravaged Rural Sindh
The Government of Pakistan needs an estimated USD 50-60 million to reach vulnerable communities affected by the floods in Sindh and build back better.
It’s perturbing to see hundreds of women and children lining up to a water purification tanker with buckets and utensils to fetch clean drinking water for their families in Umerkot, Sindh. These families are waiting patiently for their circumstances to change as they battle all sorts of difficulties in accessing nutritious food, sanitation facilities, and even shelter. They have been left homeless by the unprecedented flooding in the province.
With the Pakistan government already grappling with the COVID-19 crisis, the Sindh flooding brought to fore even more challenges to act swiftly to support vulnerable households and strengthen their resilience.
Situation in Rural Sindh
The heavy rains in the monsoon season (about 3 times hugher than average) contributed to heart wrenching agony for the already marginalized groups in rural Sindh affecting more than 2.4 million people. The unofficial count may be more than 3 million. Gruesome scenes unfolded as whole families who managed to survive the floods were forced to leave their drowning possessions and find shelter on the side of the narrow broken roads- in the open air. There was little or no access to clean drinking water, food items, hygiene products, or basic facilities like toilets. The flooding not only left the populations barehanded, it also destroyed the major source of livelihoods for the next six months, their livestock and the cotton crop, just as it was ready for harvest, plunging them deeper into poverty.
While the media focus has mainly been on mainland Karachi and the flooding in relatively better off localities, the vulnerable minority communities in the rural south have borne the brunt of this calamity. South Eastern Sindh already has the lowest development indicators in Pakistan, at par with Balochistan and the newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The floods happened during the COVID 19 pandemic and just as the cotton crop was to be harvested, which takes place twice a year. Cotton growing is an arrangement between landowners who provide the land in return for a tiny share of the harvest; smallholder farming families borrow finances to purchase seeds and fertiliser. The women from these families are the main harvesters, therefore they have been particularly affected by this shock. Men who tend to work as daily labourers in construction have been seeing their livelihoods significantly impacted by the COVID pandemic and the imposed public health restrictions (lockdowns, halt in construction, etc).
The men, women, elderly and children who managed to survive the floods have been sleeping under the open sky on the roads in makeshift shelters made of thin plastic tents forced to relocate every few days. Their homes, traditionally made of mud and thatched straw, have collapsed or have been severely damaged forcing them to stay on the streets, in the open, surrounded by flooded fields, without access to clean drinking water, with no toilet facilities and vulnerable to vector-borne diseases and other infections. Most people have lost a large part of their livestock and they are struggling to provide fodder for those animals that managed to survive.Chronic malnutrition and stunting is very visible. All the conditions are in place for high morbidity and an increase in mortality.
Response to the crisis
The United Nations in Pakistan has been supporting every effort of the Government in reaching the vulnerable populations that include ailing babies in urgent need of vaccination and life-savings medicines, at-risk populations to COVID-19 and other diseases like diarrhea, malaria and dengue.
While the government has been responding since the onset of the floods, the scale of the needs dwarfs the available resources. PDMA and NDMA assistance has been in the form of shelter with provision of tents- the most affected people cite shelter as their priority, along with food, water and mosquito nets.
As the UN Provincial Programme Team organised a Rapid Needs Assessment for 9 districts, WFP has distributed food rations for thousands of families; UNICEF and WHO have provided millions of water purifying tablets; WHO has provided bednets and medical supplies. The Humanitarian/Resident Coordinator has released the remaining USD 2.5 million of the Pakistan Humanitarian Pooled Fund. The additional USD 3 million from Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is being directed to strengthen the assistance efforts for food availability, empowering communities by distributing cash, water and sanitation facilities, as well as critical health interventions focusing on women and children..
Building back better
While there has been a provision of aid and support, both from the government, the UN and partners, the challenges remain colossal and enormous efforts are still needed to help an already vulnerable population. More needs to be done to ensure better risk management and ensuring that communities are better prepared and more resilient to future shocks. The road is long for recovery and rehabilitation, yet immediate action is necessary to prevent loss of life. The humanitarian community is currently working on a concerted Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021 which will be augmenting the Government’s support to the vulnerable population while calling on other partners to ensure better mitigation of future shocks, provide more funding channeled to restore and repair infrastructure.
The UN in Pakistan is strongly committed to supporting the NDMA, the PDMA and other government authorities at Federal and Provincial levels to quantify the situation, raise awareness and support the response. The UN country team will continue to support immediate lifesaving activities focusing on food insecurity and health for vulnerable communities with a focus on women, minorities and the disabled.