Pakistan: cycle of loss and destruction tests resilience

Thursday, August 12, 2010

By Chris Herlinger

Since the 2005 earthquake devastated parts of Pakistan, not one year has gone by in which Pakistanis have not suffered disaster. The years 2006 and 2007 brought floods which cost people their lives, homes, crops and livestock. In 2008, a powerful earthquake left several thousand homeless in Balochistan, right at the onset of winter. In 2009, about two million people were displaced by the conflict between the Pakistan military and militants in Khyber Pakhtunkwa and Waziristan.

Throughout these years, severe drought and water shortages plagued agricultural communities, which constantly live with the reality of food insecurity. Now, 2010, a year that was supposed to be a time of new beginnings from disasters has turned into a record-breaking year for flood destruction - not just in one province but the entire country.

Resilient is a word often used to describe the people of Pakistan but this cycle of loss and destruction is truly testing this attribute. Thousands of people have been living in pre-fabricated shelters still trying to regain what they lost five years ago.

Entire communities began to revive. But now these same people must start over again after the floodwaters are gone. Displaced people, many who have only recently returned home to Swat and other areas, once again find themselves without homes and property. Farmers already struggling with food insecurity have lost or may lose this year’s harvest, pushing them farther away from achieving food security for their families.

Undoubtedly the floods have caused widespread damage to agricultural and crop lands, adding further threats of food insecurity to flood-affected families. Particularly affected are crop lands in Pakistan’s breadbasket, Punjab province, exacerbating the country’s problems. As food supplies remain underwater, families face the possibility of being unable to harvest and sow crops. Worsening the situation is the rise in prices for essentials like sugar.

What is most worrying is the harsh test of time, and the cycle of never-ending disasters. Flood-affected families in Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balakot had already experienced massive devastation in the 2005 South Asian earthquake.

“People in the affected areas are most vulnerable and they had hardly managed to get their lives back together after the earthquake. Again everything they had is taken away from them,” said CWS Pakistan associate director Dennis Joseph. It is not only material welfare but also physical well-being that is important.

Mehr Nisar, a 50-year-old widow from Punda Balla village, lost her husband in the earthquake and had to live in a pre-fabricated shelter with her son. That structure was destroyed when half the land under the shelter was recently washed away. Many more people like Mehr Nisar, whose lives are at a standstill, await better times.