In Pakistan’s northwestern Swat Valley, where the floods that swamped the country in August began, shock has given way to a new determination among communities to get back on their feet.
“We really have no choice but to do so. Temperatures in this mountain valley will soon drop to minus 10 or 15 degrees Celsius; it will snow, many of our houses are damaged and we have lost bedding and warm clothes. We have to act now to survive,” said Zewar Khan, 40, in his village near the town of Kalam, in the north of Swat, one of the worst-hit areas.
Along with dozens of other men from his area, Zewar Khan has helped build a 50km road leading up to Kalam, allowing access to other towns in the region – essential for the transportation of food, medicines and other goods in winter. “The road is rough in places, but it is passable,” Zewar told IRIN. Fifty bridges were destroyed in the area, and have now been rebuilt – at least in rudimentary form – by men working with picks, shovels and their bare hands.
“The army engineers working in the area gave us some help, but they had a lot else to do. We realized it was up to us,” said Khan.
“These people have done great work,” noted volunteer engineer Muhamad Zubair, 40, who offered his technical skills when he could travel to the area from his home in Mingora, the principal city of Swat.
Women are a central part of the recovery effort, knitting sweaters, working together in villages to stitch and fill quilts with cotton wool and to make warm clothing for children. “We lost all this when the floods swept into the homes. We need them now, especially for the children, and it is good to play a role to rebuild lives,” said Jamila Bibi, 30.
Organizations such as the UK charity Oxfam have encouraged the initiatives, as a way of overcoming trauma. “It is important people help themselves and not just depend on others to do everything for them. This is psychologically and practically important in an emergency of this scale,” Anwar Kazmi of the charitable Edhi Foundation, which has been active across Pakistan, told IRIN.
Charity begins at home
The underfunding of the international aid effort, and the limitations of the government’s response, makes self-help all the more important. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, only US$945 million of the $1.9 billion requested for the Pakistan Floods Emergency Response Plan has been received – just less than 50 percent of needs.
“People and organizations are helping, but we must also help ourselves as much as we can,” said Wasim Rehman, a carpenter, in Matta, Swat. He said in his area teams had been formed to build houses “collectively and quickly”.
International relief organizations are aware of the challenges of the approaching winter, especially for the displaced still in camps. “It’s difficult to predict the number of people likely to remain in camps during winter; however, in view of the slow pace of water drying out, we believe that the camps are likely to remain there for two to three more months, particularly in Sindh,” Duniya Aslam Khan, public information assistant for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), told IRIN.
UNHCR has started distributing winter packages and will provide extra quilts, blankets and other warm items. The agency is building transitional shelters for families to provide at least one warm room in time for winter. The project will also provide latrines, kitchens and boundary walls.
Construction is under way in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkwa (KP) and nationwide some 40,000 shelters will be built to help the most vulnerable flood victims. In Balochistan the organization plans to finish 16,000 shelters by 31 December. “One-hundred-and-eighty tent shelters in Utror and Lower Swat, 50 in Mohib Banda and 10 in Lower Dir have been completed in KP. Work is in progress in 133 units in Utror and is expected to be completed soon,” Khan said.
Health is another concern. “We are preparing for the cold winter season and the associated health threats, such as acute respiratory illness and resulting complications such as pneumonia. Pre-positioning of medicines and over 55MT of blankets and nutritional supplements to snowbound and vulnerable flood-affected communities in Upper Swat Valley and Buner district, targeting nearly 27,000 children under-five years of age and pregnant and lactating women is under way,” said Waqiur Rehman, communications officer for the international health agency, Merlin.
“We appreciate all the outside help, including seeds being supplied by the US, but the Pukhtoons [the majority of people who live in KP] are proud people and we are determined to help ourselves,” Suleiman Khan, 60, told IRIN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions