Floods in Pakistan displace 5.4 million
Torrential monsoon rains have triggered severe flooding in Pakistan, primarily in Sindh Province, Reliefweb has reported. Before the monsoon season began, forecasts predicted 10% below normal rains for Sindh and the southern parts of the country for the 2011 monsoon season. However, by 10 August, heavy rains began affecting districts of southern Sindh and extended to the northern regions of the province and adjoining areas of south Punjab and north-eastern Balochistan. While this spell lasted till mid-August, another more debilitating and sustained rain spell heavily affected areas across the entire Sindh Province from the end of August until 14 September. Concurrent impact in adjoining vast areas of Balochistan has resulted in serious humanitarian consequences including in South Punjab. In Sindh, the central and southern districts have been the worst affected.
These rains caused widespread breaches in the agricultural and saline water canals, particularly in the Left Bank Outfall Drain, which exacerbated flood impact in Badin, Mirpurkhas and Tharparkar districts, among others. Continued rains have seriously impeded delivery of emergency services and flood impacted mitigation works. Outflow of the draining flood water is compromised due to poor infrastructure and lack of maintenance of the drainage routes. Some parts of Karachi and Hyderabad have also experienced urban flooding. Flood waters are likely to stagnate in most of the affected regions for the foreseeable future.
As the monsoon season continues, the impact upon the population is intensifying with 5.4 million people affected to date. In Sindh, in particular, the concentration is most severe and all 23 districts have been affected to some degree. It is expected that the population will continue to be uprooted from their homes to seek refuge in the short term as more areas are affected. While some are housed in Government appointed shelters, more seek higher ground along bunds and roads. In Balochistan, five districts are affected and notified (considered seriously affected by the national authorities).The Government of Pakistan, through the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and utilising the Armed Forces’ logistical capacity, has taken the lead in responding to the disaster with the deployment of rescue and life-saving relief operations.
IRIN News has reported that heavy monsoon rain in southern Pakistan is in many ways hitting children worst of all, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which says five million people are affected. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says children are among the most vulnerable in the kind of situation that prevails now in Sindh Province: “Up to 2.5 million children have been affected by severe monsoon floods in southern Pakistan – and with many still recovering from the worst floods in the country’s history just a year ago, UNICEF says more help must reach them fast before the situation worsens.”
Media in Pakistan quoted disaster management authorities in Sindh as saying at least 270 people have been killed in the province’s 23 districts. The provincial government, which has called on international agencies to help, says 1.2 million homes have been washed away, while the aid agency Oxfam has reported that more than 4.2 million acres of land (1,699,680 hectares) has been flooded and 1.59 million acres (643,450 hectares) of standing crops destroyed in Sindh. It also warned the “situation could worsen” over the coming days.
“The nature of this disaster in some ways poses challenges that are more complex than those of 2010,” Kristen Elsby, a spokesperson for UNICEF, told IRIN from Islamabad. She said the main factor in this was that displaced populations were scattered, with many based along roadsides. “We did not know where to go when the rains swept in, took away our goats and destroyed the vegetable crop we had cultivated,” said Azrah Bibi from Badin District. She and her extended family of eight are currently camped along a roadside near the town of Badin. “We saw some people here and joined them. Some people delivered one lot of food, but there has been very little since, and it is hard to cook anyway since we have no facilities other than a fire from bits of timber and scrap,” she said.
“Children, in particular, need access to clean water and also sanitation to prevent illness from breaking out.” Like many others affected by this year’s flood, Azrah Bibi and her husband, Gulab Din, 45, were also affected by the floods of 2010, widely rated as the worst in the country’s history, which partially damaged their home and also their rice crop. “This year things seem equally bad to me. The wrath of Allah has hit us twice,” she said.
Another IRIN report has said that Sindh is facing disaster once more with heavy rains over the past five days, according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). “Two million people in 15 [out of 23] districts have been affected,” PDMA Director of Operations Sajjad Haider told IRIN. He also said crops had been devastated. Eighty-five people are reported to have died and provincial authorities have announced disaster relief measures, including compensation packages for victims. Haider said crops had been devastated.
“My sugarcane crop, which was ready for harvesting, has been lost. I am still recovering from last year’s losses of crops and livestock. Who knows what will happen now,” said Majeed-ud-Din, 40, from his village in Khairpur, one of the worst-hit districts. In the remote Kohistan District of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP) flash floods triggered by heavy rain last week are now confirmed by District Coordination Officer Syed Imtiaz Ali Shah as having killed at least 33 people. Media reports put the death toll at almost double that figure, with dozens of houses including an entire village swept away by torrents pouring down hillsides.
The UN Rapid Response Plan has said that in Sindh, of the approximately 5.44 million people affected, 49% are women. The number of deaths has increased to 223, of which 60 are women and 37 are children. To date, 665,821 family homes have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly 297,041 people (77,175 women, 139,661 children) are currently living in 2,150 relief sites.
The situation of the people who have been forced to leave their homes is dire, and there is clear evidence of growing humanitarian needs. People have sought refuge on higher ground, along roadsides and on bunds, while others are housed in public shelters. Access to safe drinking water is compromised, although health services are reaching out. Due to damaged infrastructure, however, it is difficult for the population to access existing services and efforts to avoid a major disease outbreak must continue. With an increasing number of people uprooted as a consequence of the situation, ensuring emergency shelter and food for the population is critical.
Across both provinces, Sindh and Balochistan, there has been a significant impact on people’s lives, especially related to the loss of livelihoods, most predominantly those related to agricultural activities. The UN Rapid Response Plan has said that approximately 80% of Sindh’s rural population’s livelihood is dependent upon agricultural activities, such as crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry. According to preliminary information from NDMA, 1.6 million acres of crop area have been destroyed by the floods, and pre-harvest crop losses include rice, vegetables, cotton, and sugarcane. The survival and health of animals in flood-affected areas are at risk due to loss of fodder reserves and animal feeds. These combined effects are likely to severely affect the availability of and access to adequate food for a large proportion of the affected population over the coming months.
The floodwaters have devastated towns and villages, washed away access routes, downed power and communications lines, and inflicted major damage to buildings. Many key roads and major bridges are damaged or destroyed. The prevailing socio-economic conditions along with flood have exacerbated the living conditions of women, men, boys and girls residing in the flood-affected districts. Additionally, female and children are not always able to access basic services or humanitarian aid. Vulnerable people in general are potentially experiencing a higher risk of disease, in addition to the challenges of limited access and mobility.