When devastating floods struck Pakistan in July last year, an estimated 20 million people were affected by the disaster, which damaged or destroyed 1.7 million homes.
Due to the severity of the flooding, over 3 million people ended up living in camps in the months which followed. The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) provided emergency shelter to almost 2 million people as part of the overall humanitarian effort. Today, UNHCR reports that the camp population has dropped to 128,000 people spread across sites in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkkhwa provinces. Families who remain in the camps have lost their homes and have no means to rebuild them. Many have lost their livelihoods and simply have no money to move.
In the badly affected districts of Jaffarabad and Naseerabad in the eastern region of Balochistan, thousands of mud houses were washed away. Gradually, shops and markets have begun reopening in these regions and some Pakistanis have been able to start rebuilding homes. But 25,000 people remain in the 29 camps in Balochistan. The UNHCR has therefore started to help with the construction of 16,000 temporary shelters in the area.
In Sindh province, tens of thousands are still living in squalid conditions surrounded by fields of stagnant water. In this region, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Pakistan Red Crescent have recently delivered a month’s food supplies to nearly 280,000 people and expect to continue providing relief rations for some time. During the worst months of the crisis, the IRC provided parcels of food and hygiene, shelter or household items to nearly 2.3 million people. More recently, the organisation has been supporting farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan with supplies to enable the planting of winter cereals. The early wheat crop is now showing in the fields of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the first sign of recovery.
But though green shoots may be appearing in the fields, the outlook for the economy is grim. And the fundamental changes needed to revitalise the economy, such as an overhaul of the tax system, are looking extremely unlikely with the current political instability, as ministers try to run a minority government. Ongoing fighting against militants in the northwest frontier regions also continues to cause great uncertainty and fear among local populations. A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses the Pakistani government of making the situation worse by not cracking down on civil rights abuses of the military or rooting out rogue elements in the “intelligent services and law enforcement agencies”. Religious extremism also appears to be on the increase across Pakistan and HRW highlights the passive response of the authorities to persecution of religious minorities. With all these problems, 2011 is going to prove a tough year for Pakistan as people try to rebuild their communities under very difficult circumstances.