(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Many cyclone victims still struggling seven months on

Many of the 350,000 people displaced by Cyclone Yemyin which struck the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sindh last summer have yet to fully recover from the storm that wreaked havoc on their lives.

Pakistan officially stated that nearly 300 people were killed in the disaster, while over 2.5 million people were affected.

The Pakistani government, assisted by international agencies, staged intensive relief operations as the full scale of the calamity became obvious, with temporary shelters set up for affected people and the worst-hit victims moved to camps.

But seven months on, the plight of cyclone victims appears to have been forgotten: Many international relief agencies have since withdrawn, while aid provided in the immediate aftermath of the disaster has for the most part dried up.

In short, people have been left in many cases to re-build their own lives, area residents now complain.

Balochistan

"No one has bothered about us. Those who could manage it have repaired their homes or put up new structures; others struggle on in temporary shelters," Naveed Baloch, 27, told IRIN from the town of Awaran, about 100km inland from the Balochistan coast.

The area was one of the most severely affected by the torrential rains that followed the cyclone. Towns and villages further upstream were hit by hill torrents triggered by heavy rains.

Such dissatisfaction was shared by Fareed Ahmed, provincial coordinator in Balochistan for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

"Very little help has reached the cyclone victims and about 100,000 are still without adequate housing. Those who lack resources to construct homes are literally living in shacks made of canvas and wood, which offer no protection at all," he told IRIN.


Photo: Paradela/UNICEF
Access to safe drinking water remains a challenge in some parts of the affected area

However, the district mayor of Awaran, Khair Jan Baloch, disputed this assertion: "The cyclone victims were provided help, including food and medical aid, and they have now largely recovered."

Some affected communities air their dissatisfaction with post-cyclone relief measures in other parts of the province. One example is Jhal Magsi District, about 170km southwest of Balochistan's provincial capital, Quetta, where almost the entire population of 140,000 were forced to temporarily leave their homes after the cyclone.

There was also large-scale loss of the livestock on which many area residents depend.

"We were shifted to camps, where disease spread, and since then, though some medical and financial aid was provided, we have been forgotten," Alidar Magsi, 50, said.

Adding to the public’s discontent was the large-scale contamination of many of Balochistan’s few safe water sources as a result of the flooding, coupled with the lack of sanitation or sewage facilities; an obvious factor in increasing the many health hazards in a region where only a minority of Balochistan’s 10 million inhabitants have access to health care.

Longstanding grievances

Compounding these grievances further is the longstanding perception in Balochistan of neglect by the Islamabad government.

The province is the least developed of Pakistan's four federal units, has been affected by periodic nationalist uprisings, and harbours a brooding resentment against what is viewed as deliberate discrimination.

According to education experts, Balochistan’s current literacy rate stands at just 34 percent, compared to Pakistan's national average of 52 percent.

"These feelings exist across Balochistan, and whether or not the complaints are genuine, the fact is that attitudes are shaped by them," Iqbal Haider, an experienced politician and secretary-general of the HRCP, said. 


Photo: IFRC
More than 2.5 million people were affected with the cyclone struck Pakistan’s southern coast

Sindh Province

For the time being, recovery, on the whole, seems to have been somewhat better in the province of Sindh, lying east of Balochistan.

Though acres of agricultural land in areas bordering Balochistan came under flood waters, farmers like Akhtar Chandio, from a village in Dadu District, said: "We have now been able to reach a situation of some normalcy."

But as almost inevitably happens when natural disaster strikes, it is the already unprotected and weak that suffer most.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 17,000 women were left vulnerable to neglect, abuse and violence, in the wake of the cyclone.

Many lost their belongings, and the fact that women in rural Pakistan frequently lack national ID cards meant they were unable to apply for compensation.

“Child-and-women-friendly spaces” have been set up in 54 locations in Balochistan and Sindh for such victims by non-governmental organisations working with UNICEF, and run by volunteers to offer support, recreational activity and training in crafts or other skills. 

''No one has bothered about us. Those who could manage it have repaired their homes or put up new structures; others struggle on in temporary shelters''

"We try to encourage local communities to see these places as belonging to them," Kamleshwar Lohana of the Indus Resource Centre, one of the groups working with UNICEF, said.

Meanwhile, the sea along Pakistan's coast is now calm. Fishing boats have returned in strength and there is little evidence of the 130 kmph winds that lashed the area seven months ago.

For those directly affected by the cyclone - one of the worst in years - the memories linger on, as do the adverse effects the storm left behind on their lives and welfare.

kh/ds/cb

See Also:
Cyclone leaves devastation across Balochistan Province
Aid agencies to assess flood-hit areas on 24 July
UN launches flash appeal for flood-hit provinces
Livelihoods at stake as flood-affected areas struggle to recover
IDPs in worst flood-hit areas struggle to cope

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