Ambitious Goals Six Months After Pakistan’s Devastating Floods

Alex gray

Alex Grey, Deputy Team Leader, Save the Children – Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan

Friday, January 28, 2011



Six months after the severe floods devastated the whole of Pakistan from the north to the south, an area greater that Great Britain, the crisis for Pakistan’s children is far from over. Cases of disease and malnutrition are increasing; millions are without adequate clothing and shelter during the freezing cold winter nights and in the worst-hit region, the southern province of Sindh, large areas still remain underwater. Many farmers will not be able to plant winter crops, meaning their livelihoods and access to food in the coming months and years is severely affected. Government officials say some of the worst-affected areas could take up to six months to dryout.

I recently arrived in Pakistan to take over as the deputy team leader for Save the Children’s flood emergency response. I decided to take the role after visiting in October, almost three months on from the floods, when I saw what a massive crisis this was (something that did not come across in the global media the same way that the Haiti earthquake crisis had earlier in the year). I had recently returned from Haiti, which was hit by the astonishingly devastating earthquake in January earlier that year, and I had not expected to land in Pakistan and see a disaster on the scale of which I did. After spending two weeks with the extremely hard working and dedicated team here in Pakistan who launched and were in the middle of a massive (and somewhat successful from Save the Children’s part) response, and after being confronted with such a massive crisis on the ground and seeing the dire need here in Pakistan, I knew I wanted to come back and work here.

Having just arrived into my new role, and having went into the field and spent two weeks in Punjab and in Sindh, the worst hit by the floods, I realize there is still a massive amount to do to restore the lives of the flood affected communities, and I worry that things will not improve in Pakistan for a very long time. I say this, because I have sat and chatted with children in our temporary learning centres and child friendly spaces (huge tents that we constructed to replace damaged schools where kids come together, learn and play in a safe environment) and heard from them how, that even when the school building was there before the floods, they had not attended school in two years because the government-paid teachers had not come to teach them. If this was the case before the floods, I fear what the future will look like for these children. That’s why Save the Children has ambitious aims.

During my first two weeks in the field, I spent a lot of time in flood affected communities with children and parents hearing their stories about what happened during the floods, in the immediate aftermath and listening to and observing their needs now, 6 months on. One of the most pressing and immediate needs that children and parents alike conveyed to me time and again was still shelter, warm clothing and blankets. It’s warm and sunny in the days, but bitterly cold in the evenings – I have experienced it myself but nothing compared to what the flood affected communities here have to endure. The majority of children (and parents) I spent time with have one set of clothes, thin as they were wearing them in the summer, and the rest of their belongings (clothes, blankets, furniture) were washed away in the floods, often along with their houses. Some are now living in tents, some are building back mud houses themselves, which will more than likely only be washed away in any future floods, some are building temporary shelters (with the help of Save the Children and other actors), but some are still living under tarpaulins without blankets and warm clothing. Save the Children has been providing shelter,blankets and winter clothing and is still distributing these life-saving relief items but it is still not enough despite the massive scale and number of beneficiaries we have reached.

Another major concern is with health and nutrition. I visited a stabilization centre run by Save the Children in Shikarpur in Sindh, where severely malnourished children were referred to by our mobile and static health and nutrition teams in the field. I met with four mothers and their severely malnourished children and was moved to tears to see a young boy almost 2-years-old who was so malnourished that he looked only 5-months-old. Another boy could not stop crying, but no sound was coming from him because he was so malnourished that he didn’t have the energy to make a sound. I could see the pain in his eyes and in his face, and then I spoke to the mothers of these poor children, who were largely malnourished themselves, and heard their stories and of the pain that they felt because they did not have the means provide food and nourishment for their own children.

I thought of what that must feel like for a parent, to not be able to provide for yourself and for your children, and the indignity of it. Again, I felt my eyes welling up. The positive thing about the experience is that all these children who I spent time with were going to live because of the intervention of Save the Children and our wonderful staff who go out to the communities and mobilize them and work hand-in-hand to identify and address their immediate needs. In addition, the mothers’ details were taken and our livelihoods program will ensure that they will receive a cash grant which will hopefully see that their family do not go short of food and survive until the worst of this crisis is over. That day spent in the hospital with the malnourished children, their mothers and our dedicated staff of doctors made me realize how important it is for the government, donors and international community to keep responding as we move into the“recovery phase”, and we are all working hard and hoping that we can continue to build back better these communities in the months and years ahead.

As we look forward at our recovery strategy I am asking myself what we can do to improve the lives of children in Pakistan in the future. It’s what everyone is talking about 6 months on from the floods. However my first impressions and observations after spending two weeks in the field is that it’s hard, even impossible, especially for the flood affected communities in Pakistan, to think about or focus on the future when there is still so many basic immediate needs that have yet to be met.

We have had a great response so far and I am so proud of the 2,000 amazing and dedicated staff here working 7 days a week who have been distributing relief items, providing shelter and protection and safe spaces for children ensuring their health needs are met and that their education continues.The work here is far from done and it will take a very long time for Pakistan to recover, but when I visit a hospital and speak to a mother whose young boy’s life has been saved due to our good work, I am inspired, thankful and hopeful for the future of the children whose lives were (and are) at risk after the floods six months ago.

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Learn more about our emergency response to the flooding in Pakistan 

 Help Us Respond to the Pakistan Flood Emergency. Please Donate Now.

Education and psychosocial support to the most vulnerable children

Faris-headshot Faris Kasim, Pakistan Senior Communications Coordinator, Save the Children

Islamabad, Pakistan

Friday, January 28, 2011


Six months since the floods struck Pakistan, Save the Children’s relief work has reached the most remote and distant corners of the affected areas. From the cold, mountainous hamlets of northern Swat to the devastated plains of Dadu in Sindh, our teams are working diligently to assist people across the length and breadth of the world’s sixth most populous country. More than 2.6 million men, women and children have benefitted since August 2010 from our work. Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to one of the worst affected places in Pakistan, district Rajanpur in south Punjab.

Rajanpur is a narrow, 20 kilometers wide strip of land sandwiched between the Indus River on the East and the Sulaiman Mountain range on the West. Monsoon floods occur almost every year in Rajanpur, but in 2010 the scale and impact was much more severe. The local people were not prepared at all. In August last year, floods struck the district from both sides – banks of the Indus bursting on the east and hill torrents from the west – inundating 33 out of the 44 union councils in the district.

Overnight, a vast majority of the population in Rajanpur found themselves engulfed on all sides by an unending expanse of water, five to ten feet high. Currently, Save the Children is the only organization providing wide scale humanitarian assistance in Rajanpur. In an area called Bosangang, Save the Children’s mobile health teams have walked for several kilometers in knee deep floodwaters to provide people with basic healthcare services. I was visiting temporary schools built in places where public schools were completely destroyed.

As the ‘Psychological Assessment’ of flood affected children, conducted by Save the Children reveals, I realized how many students were facing several child protection issues, especially behavioral and psychological problems. Of all the children I met during the visit, I distinctly remember 9-year-old Jamshed at the government boys’ primary school in village Shahnawaz. Like other children in the school, he was busy writing Urdu from the blackboard but unlike others he seemed oblivious when one student began reciting a poem in front of the class. I walked towards him and asked him his name. I received no response. I foolishly asked louder and learned the reason for his indifference from the teacher.

J at school
Jamshed
, along with two older siblings, is deaf. His father is a poor farmer who cannot afford special education for his children. Jamshed has been attending the primary school for two years and even without any hearing abilities, has learned how to write alphabets, grasp the meaning of basic words and make simple sentences.

The floods had submerged his village in six feet of water and displaced the people two kilometers away to a higher and safer ground. Jamshed stayed on this small patch of dry land with his family for over forty days, cut off from the rest of the world. With nowhere else to go, his family depended on helicopters and boats to provide food and drinking water. After the floodwater receded, Jamshed’s home suffered minor damages however the classrooms of his school were destroyed, furniture ruined and the teachers unable to reach the school due to destruction of the roads.

Jamshed’s cousin was incidentally near the school and helped me communicate with him using sign language. I was surprised to learn that Jamshed is a natural artist; he had made a television, cell-phone, bull cart and books from clay while his notebook was full of beautiful rural landscapes. He wishes to study till 12th grade and become an artist when he grows up. However, his cousin mentioned that since the floods Jamshed has become more shy and expressionless. He hesitates going to the nearby town of Kotla for errands with his father and is terrified whenever he hears about rain. Save the Children’s Child Protection team has also set up a Child Friendly Space in the vicinity of the school in village Shahnawaz. Specific psychosocial support is being provided to flood affected children at the CFS and identified child protection cases are also referred to service providers in the district.

Jamshed was very pleased to show me the handmade models of electronic items he had made. Like any other 9-year-old, he smiled at every question I asked, interpreted by his cousin and replied fervently with calculated hand gestures. J holding art

I thought about all the hard work Save the Children has done in Rajanpur since the floods: dispensing huge amounts of aid, distributing tons of relief goods and putting in thousands of man hours. We work in areas that have been neglected for decades. Education is rare and seldom do families escape the harsh cycle of poverty and deprivation. Our effort to educate one such poor child to gain even primary level education makes it all worthwhile. Like Jamshed’s cousin said, ‘If education is promoted here, there is still hope for children like Jamshed.’

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Learn more about our emergency response to the flooding in Pakistan 

 Help Us Respond to the Pakistan Flood Emergency. Please Donate Now.