By Kathy Mueller in Pakistan
Farmers in Pakistan welcome the rainy season. Following the dry months that precede it, the rainwaters irrigate their fields of wheat, rice, maize and cotton. Water is life.
But for those who barely escaped with their lives during last year’s monsoon floods, and for those who lost family members, livestock, homes and jobs; this year’s rainy season is reigniting fears that more of the same may be on the way.
“Some people are still afraid of the sound of running water,” says Ea Suzanne Akasha, psychosocial delegate with the Danish Red Cross. “Some are having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Some now fear the next flood is going to come and they don’t know how they are going to cope.”
Reshma Bhugio is one of them.
An illiterate mother of four young children, Reshma was eight months pregnant when she and her family fled to Larkana in northern Sindh last summer as high waters forced them from their home. For many nights they lived outside under the stars, until help arrived and they were given a tent. Three months later they returned home for the first time to find their one room mud home completely washed away. “Everything was running smoothly before the floods,” says Reshma. “We had work and I could feed my children, but now it has become so difficult. I cry because I can only afford to give my children one meal a day, sometimes not even that.”
One year on
One year later and this family continues to live in a very desperate situation. They do not have the money to rebuild their home. Using two walls of neighbouring homes, they have put up bedsheets to create a room and some privacy. Their grass roof leaks when it rains. It won’t take much to leave Reshma and her family exposed to the elements once more.
“We will be in a very bad state if the floods come again,” she says . “I don’t know what we will do. I don’t know where we will go. We are poor. My husband cannot find work.”
She is not alone.
Sixty-five percent of the annual rainfall in Pakistan falls between the months of June and September. The monsoon season begins in July, but it’s not until the middle of the month that it really takes hold before tapering off towards the end of August. The country’s meteorological department is predicting a lower than average rainfall this monsoon season, except for Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) provinces which have still not recovered from last year’s monsoons. There they are expecting ten per cent more rain. Already flash floods have happened in areas of Punjab, river levels are rising in KPK, and many of the damaged dykes are still not repaired in Sindh.
The government, though, is taking action. Dykes in need of repair are being worked on, crews are shoring up river beds with rocks, and people who were forced from their homes by the rising waters last year are not being allowed to move back to their river-side properties. The National Disaster Management Authority is also working with humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross Red Crescent, to ensure contingency plans are in place should there be more flooding this year. The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), with support from its partners, is moving emergency relief items to warehouses in areas expected to experience flooding. Staff and thousands of volunteers are being placed on standby, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.
“We have learned a lot from last year’s disaster,” says Qaswar Abbas, disaster management coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). “We are putting community-based disaster preparedness at the heart of our recovery programming. That means teaching people how to identify the risks in their communities and develop preparedness plans. We will also help by registering village committees with the local government which will then link them in to the early warning system.”
New homes are also being built on higher ground using improved construction techniques to make them more resilient to flooding, and farmers are being taught how to improve the yields out of their crops to make them less vulnerable to disaster in the first place.
Since the floods, volunteers with the PRCS have been visiting communities like Reshma’s to help them prepare for the future. “It will definitely be difficult, but because of the information they have given us, we can rely more on ourselves if there is flooding in the coming months,” says Reshma.