Pakistan as winter looms

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

  • RS2096_DR-ULHAQ-lpr.jpgDr. Ulhaq in a clinic run by CWS in Pakistan. Mobile health teams supported by ACT member CWS have provided more than 36,000 consultations.
  • RS2097_FAMILY-lpr.jpgA family in Balokot being attended to by CWS in Pakistan
  • RS2100_FOOD-DISTRIBUTIOn-3-lpr.jpgUnloading grain that is part of the response of ACT member CWS in Pakistan. 16,540 food packages, amounting to 1,938 tons of food have been distributed.
  • RS2104_FOOD-DISTRIBUTION-7-lpr.jpgMen unloading food in Pakistan. 16,540 food packages, amounting to 1,938 tons of food have been distributed.
  • RS2115_MEDICAL-SHOT-4-lpr.jpgA young man is attended by a doctor on one of ACT member CWS's mobile clinics.
  • RS2116_MEDICAL-SHOT-lpr.jpgThe response has also included providing health services through mobile health units and basic health units in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
  • RS2120_NOOR-2-lpr.jpgFlood survivor Mr Noor shows some of the damage caused by the monsoon flooding.
  • RS2123_OVERALL-FLOODS-lpr.jpgThis house now overhangs an area washed away by the floods.
  • RS2125_WAITING-IN-LINE-FOR-MEDICINES-lpr.jpgPeople wait in line for medicines from a mobile clinic provided by ACT member CWS in Pakistan.
  • RS2126_WIDE-SHOT-lpr.jpgAt the height of the flooding, destructive river waters had risen by many metres.

By Chris Herlinger/CWS

BALAKOT, PAKISTAN – You needn't go far to discover how long-standing problems and immediate and long-term challenges are converging in northern Pakistan.

Not many weeks ago, the prospect of approaching winter was already on people's minds in the mountainous northwest region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province. This is an area that faced the challenges and difficulties of winter after the calamitous 2005 earthquake. Now it must do the same after the recent disastrous floods.

One struggling institution is Balakot's hospital, which has long received support from Church World Service.

With about three-quarters of the hospital's equipment now lost and the hospital building effectively uninhabitable because of heavy flood damage, medical personnel were scrambling. Medical technician Basharat Ahmed said the hospital's maternal unit had been set up at a temporary locale, while personnel look for another location.

The need to rebuild is crucial, Ahmed and others emphasized, because the hospital was the primary health facility for a surrounding region of some 300,000 persons. “All the valley depended on this hospital," said hospital director Zia Ulhaq. "We need a hospital immediately.”

This is a story being repeated thousands of times over as Pakistan continues to find its bearings three months after the start of the devastating floods -– and at a time when the emergency is fading from international view and concern.

"If you don't intervene, it will be devastating," said CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan Associate Director Dennis Joseph, noting specifically the importance of providing tents as part of the CWS response. "A lot of people will die."

While Dr. Ulhaq, Joseph and other Pakistan humanitarian workers continue their work to assist those affected and uprooted by the floods, there are real worries that considerably more remains to be done as winter approaches in Pakistan.

On Friday (Oct. 29), United Nations officials in Pakistan warned that additional humanitarian resources are needed as the country, with winter approaching, faces a serious threat of having insufficient food, clothing and temporary shelter for flood survivors.

Unless new international assistance is forthcoming, Martin Mogwanja, the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, warned that emergency food supplies will run out in December, the UN News Service reported.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said seven million Pakistanis still do not have adequate or sufficient blankets, clothing or shelter as winter approaches. OCHA also reported that the UN's $2 billion appeal for assistance for Pakistani flood survivors, the largest-ever appeal for a natural disaster in UN history, has only been funded at 39 percent, the news service reported.

CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan Director Marvin Parvez has warned since the floods began that sustained international focus on the disaster would be difficult given the realities of Pakistan's current geopolitical position. Compounding that concern is the current international crisis-driven media, which tend to drop news coverage of a disaster when the immediate crisis is over.

Parvez said the approaching months are among the most critical for responding to the floods, given the overlapping problems of the approaching winter and the gaps in the overall international response.

"The international community has to act fast and act now generously or it will be too late for millions of Pakistanis," Parvez said on Nov. 1.

Even without these problems, the response in Pakistan has always had substantial challenges.

During a recent food distribution near Dubair -- something of a cross-roads community in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa -- Imran Munir, a CWS senior project officer, reiterated the numerous problems workers faced. These included problems of access due to destroyed bridges and roads; the geographic isolation of affected villages; the understandable demands of tired and frustrated communities that are, in some cases, receiving humanitarian assistance for the first time ever.

"That has made it worse -- the region is an example of neglect as far as overall development," Munir said.

Agencies such as CWS are doing their best in distributing food and other assistance, he said, but there are obvious limits to what humanitarian groups can do given the considerable overall needs. "We do have limitations," Munir said. 

Munir paused to point out rubble where once stood Dubair's market, which only weeks before had hosted some 200 merchants and their stalls. Munir marveled sadly at the destruction he saw before him. "It's all gone."

CWS staffer Chris Herlinger was recently on assignment in Pakistan.

Response of ACT member CWS
As of October 22, CWS's response in Pakistan had included the distribution of 16,540 food packages, amounting to 1,938 tons of food; some 7,840 non-food items, including 500 tents to families in Thatta, and temporary shelter supplies and household items to families in Khairpur and Sukkur. The response has also included providing health services through mobile health units and basic health units in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, the mobile health teams have provided more than 36,000 consultations.