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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Haiti One Year On: Implementing Sustainable Development

Maite_alvarez Maite Alvarez, Food Security and Livelihoods Manager,  Save the Children

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I worked in Haiti in 2004, when I responded to two natural disasters and civil unrest in Cap-Haïtien. Six years later not much has changed.

On top of the earthquake, Haiti has faced four emergencies in the last 10 months: hurricane season (Tomas flooded many of the flimsy tents around Port-au-Prince), then came the cholera epidemic and finally the pre- and then post-election violence. How can any country have the opportunity to bounce back let alone recover in such circumstances?

I was in Juba, Southern Sudan when I heard that an earthquake had struck Haiti. I could not believe my ears! Haiti has always held a very special place in my heart, maybe because I met my fiancé in Cap-Haïtien and because all the wonderful moments we experienced with all our Haitian friends dancing kompa and talking about why they would never leave Haiti. 

I work as part of the Food Security and Livelihoods team with Save the Children. We are 16 in total, 15 national staff and me. Sadly I am the only woman in the team, but we are trying to rectify this!

After the January 12, 2010 earthquake, a large proportion of Port-au-Prince residents lost all their belongings. Women, both as family providers and as small-market traders, have borne the brunt of this loss and income. One disastrous consequence is that without a reliable income families are no longer able to pay the school fees to keep their children in school. In Haiti it is the women who generate the majority of the household income.

Livelihoods underpin sustainable development. Save the Children’s goal is therefore to improve and diversify livelihood activities to enable families to provide appropriate care for their children, send them to school and ensure that they are healthy and well nourished. As we transition from the emergency phase to longer term development, our Livelihoods programme aims to support Haitian households to do this. 

My work is to increase and improve people’s access to employment opportunities, with a particular focus on the market traders who sell their wares in the Croix des Bosalle market – the major market in Port-au-Prince.

We also want to help small businesses such as carpenters and blacksmiths with grants to rebuild their industries. But in order to receive these grants, the entrepreneurs are required to take part in Business Development Services (BDS) training. By linking small-scale market traders to business development and microfinance services, we support traders to develop business plans and increase their knowledge of management capacities and knowledge and access to micro-credit and savings plans.

Our programmes also supply small grants with which people can recover the tools and household assets they lost during the earthquake – with the money a plumber can buy a wrench; a carpenter hammers and nails and a mother can buy pots and pans to cook for her children.

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Haiti One Year On: Change That Makes A Difference

Shaye Gary Shaye, Haiti Country Director, Save the Children

Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I’ve been working in Haiti since April and I’ve seen quite a bit of progress, especially over the past few months. 

But first before I share with you what we’ve doing to help Haiti’s children, let’s take a moment to reflect on the events of January 12, 2010.

As most people know at least 230,000 people died in the earthquake in a country that was tremendously poor even before the disaster. Indeed before the quake only about a third of Haiti’s population had access to safe drinking water, and half of Haiti’s children weren’t in school. 

The quake occurred here in Port-au-Prince – Haiti’s capital – the nerve centre of the heavily centralized country. Not only did the earthquake impact people in Port-au-Prince but also in places like Leogane, and along the south coast. Much of Haiti’s essential infrastructure was damaged, but I was especially shocked to learn that 4,000 schools were destroyed. It was a catastrophic event.

IMGP0268_64470A three-story building reduced to rubble.
Photo Credit: Kate Conradt 

Save the Children immediately responded to the earthquake. Because we’ve had a presence in Haiti for over thirty years we were able to mobilize staff both here and from around the world to mount one of the largest humanitarian responses in the agency’s 91-year history.  

Following the disaster, Save the Children focused on child protection, health, education, and livelihoods. We expanded our programs, and began work in Léogâne, as well as Jacmel, which is located along the southern coast where we had not previously operated.

Until recently there were 1.3 million people, about sixteen per cent of Haitians, living in tents. When I say tents we’re really speaking of plastic sheets and poles. These are not tents that people would take camping anywhere in the world. These are tents that are more like kite plastic held up by a few wooden poles. To believe it you really have to see the situation in which people are living. It is a standard below what I would say is sub-human.

HAITI-8552_71137Residents outside their tents at the Camp de Fraternite shelter camp.
Photo Credit: Lee Celano/Getty Images for Save the Children

During a strong hurricane there is absolutely no way that these plastic sheets and poles will withstand the wind and rain.

Beyond that another 500,000 people relocated to live with family and friends in rural areas. They’re part of the hidden earthquake-affected population that are not visible. They place a huge burden on their families in the rural areas who already had a hard time feeding themselves before the earthquake. Now these families have permanent houseguests who didn’t just come for a meal or a visit, but for the unforeseeable future.

The challenges that we face are multiple. The government, which was not strong before the earthquake, was further weakened since the disaster took the lives of many government workers as well as destroyed much of the existing infrastructure. Although NGOs have some successful partnerships with the government, more often than not the NGOs themselves either provide the service like, say, a health service, or it does not exist. All of us would certainly prefer that this was not the case, but this our reality.  

An example of that would be the fact that 80 per cent of the schools are privately owned in Haiti. These are not private schools like in Europe, the United States, Canada or Australia. These are schools whose owners operate them in the community as a service or small business. Many of these schools were destroyed last January, and many of the families whose children attended these schools can no longer afford the annual school fees of a few hundred dollars. As a result too many children are missing out on the chance of an education.

But when our team and I talk to Haitians, education is always the highest priority. It’s where they want to invest in their children’s future. It’s critical to them that these private schools open as soon as possible. That’s why in 2011 Save the Children will partner with 154 schools through teacher training and resource materials, enabling 45,000 children to get an education.

DSC_6683_74579Students file into a Save the Children school in Port-au-Prince.
Photo Credit: Susan Warner

On top of the quake in late October cholera came to Haiti starting in the Central Plateau, and has now expanded throughout the country. As of today, there have been 3,600 deaths as well as over 150,000 confirmed cholera cases.  

But these are just the reported cases. Many people living in rural areas don’t have access to cholera treatment centres, where literally within one to three days a person who has cholera can walk out healthy. 

The tragedy though is that we can save lives from cholera, but then people walk back into the conditions which are breeding grounds for the potentially deadly bacteria – dirty water, poor sanitation, and crowded conditions – all of which contribute to the rapid spread of cholera, and if left unchecked, can be deadly, especially to young children.

R10-HA___2021_81255Will, 3-years-old, washes his hands at a Save the Children health clinic.
Photo Credit: Susan Warner

Nevertheless Save the Children is saving lives through our tensoon to be sixteen cholera treatment units, and also through our water and sanitation community outreach programs where we promote safe hand washing, and basic sanitation practices. While these are simple practices we need to reinforce the messages and repeat them over and over, while also addressing basic sanitation issues. 

However, in a country where only half the people have completed fifth grade, it’s a challenge to get our message out about safe sanitation practices.

One year since the earthquake we understand why some people would be disappointed with the slow pace of recovery in Haiti, and why things are not better.  All of us working here would very much like to accomplish more. But it’s important to remember that things were bad in Haiti – the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation – long before the quake.

Nevertheless we see progress. These past weeks I have visited programs together with some of our Save the Children supporters from around the world. I was in Leogane – the epicentre of the earthquake – where one could see rubble clearance, evidence of rebuilding, people restoring family assets, and refurnishing their houses. There is definitely a commitment and steps being taken here to help rebuild lives. 

That said the process has been slow.  All of us would admit to that – all of us who work cooperatively within Haiti’s NGO community. Indeed after I finish writing this blog I will attend the weekly meeting of NGOs where we share what’s working, what’s not working, and what type of support we need. We ask ourselves what we can do collectively to improve the situation. 

I’m proud to say that since January 12, 2010, Save the Children has extended a lifeline to over 870,000 Haitians – more than half of them children. Today we continue to work with local partners, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, and others to bring basic services to the Haitian population.

I believe in our work in Haiti. I believe we do make a difference. On Wednesday I visited the Eddie Pascal School – a school that was destroyed during the quake. Now children study in tents. In schools like these, where we provide assistance like teacher training, it is a delight to see Haiti’s children receive an education. And with all of the constraints that we face, I am pleased when I see one more child in school, and another child receiving quality medical care as well as lives being saved at one of our cholera treatment units. While seeing progress on a one-by-one basis may seem slow, it is precisely the kind of change that does make a difference.

R10-HA___1759_80097Rose, 10-years-old, attends a Save the Children school in Leogane.
Photo Credit: Susan Warner

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