Flooding victims displaced for second time

Telling the Human Story, 4 August 2010

Gul Hassan, an Afghan refugee displaced by recent floods, shelters with his family on a roadside near flood-devastated Hajizai refugee village in north-west Pakistan.

Gul Hassan, 70, is no stranger to adversity. Back in the 1980s, fighting in his native Afghanistan forced him to flee along with his family to neighboring Pakistan, where he started a new life in the refugee settlement of Hajizai, located on a riverbank in the northwestern part of the country.

But over the past week, the most severe flooding in over 70 years inundated his old home and forced him to flee for a second time.For six days, he and his sons have been living in the open on the pavement of a roadway, while his wife and daughters are sleeping with friends.

"It was midnight, when the water levels suddenly began to rise, Hassan told me recently when I visited the area as part of a UNHCR effort to distribute tents to the region. His remaining belongings, those the family had managed to carry with them, lay heaped under plastic sheeting on the pavement. " There have been floods in the past too," he said, but these were the worst in living memory. "This was devastating".

Flood waters are still flowing through the nearby settlement and it is raining again. On a nearby bridge, a crowd of children has gathered to watch as the dark brown waters begin to rise again . UNHCR trucks unload tents, kitchen sets and other supplies at a local school located on higher ground.

Hassan is one of the more than 1.5 million people dispaced by the worst floods Pakistan has seen in a generation. Included in that number are some 700,000 people like Hassan, who have already been dispaced by conflicts-in Afghanistan or in Pakistan itself-and who therefore find themselves homeless for a second time. Hassan's family is among some 10,000 Afghan families living in four refugee villages destroyed by the swirling flood waters. Relief organizations are struggling to reach victims in areas that have been cut off by the flooding as roads and scores of bridges have been washed away.

Down the road between Peshawar and Charsadda, I met Jan Bibi and her family. Like Hassan, she is living on the road because it is higher ground. All around, houses lie half-submerged by flood waters. She told me that when the waters began to rise last week, she was stranded on her roof top for two days. She watched helpless as her cattle and livelihood floated away.

"The water level kept rising," she told me. "I was worried about my (five) kids who were all stranded with me. I thought that we would not survive." Finally, after 48 hours, she was rescued by a passing boat. "I feel lucky because at least, I am alive and together with my family unlike many others."

Miskeen, 55, is one of Jan Bibi's neighbours. "I only thought of my family and my young children," she told me of her own ordeal. She too was stranded for two days on her rooftop before being rescued by boat and taken to higher ground. "I went to see my house and there is three feet of mud! I have lost everything I had." She gestured to submerged houses visible from the road way where we stood. Over 1400 people have perished in the floods.

UNHCR, working through local authorities, has distributed 10,000 tents so far, along with other relief supplies which have assisted some 50,000 people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

"We are working in close coordination with the government of Pakistan to provide emergency relief to the flood affected people," said Ahmed Warsame, Head of UNHCR Sub-Office Peshawar, adding that an additional 20,000 tents have been ordered.

By Rabia Ali in Peshawar




2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Torrential rains and flash floods have affected around a million people in parts of southwest and northwestern Pakistan. More than one thousand people lost their lives when water inundated their homes in the past week. Though monsoon rains are nothing new for Pakistanis, it rained more than expected, washing away homes, roads and other basic infrastructure, creating the worst flood disaster in the country's history. UNHCR launched a relief response to support the authorities to help people affected by the flood. The local relief authorities in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces have started distribution of UNHCR-provided tents and other relief items. More relief items are on the way.

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

UNHCR country pages

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

More than 1.5 million people flee their homes in North-West Pakistan.

Fighting between the army and Taliban militants in and around the Swat Valley in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province has displaced more than 1.5 million people since the beginning of May. Some of the displaced are being sheltered in camps set up by the government and supplied by UNHCR. Others - the majority, in fact - are staying in public buildings, such as schools, or with friends and extended family members. Living conditions are harsh. With the onset of summer, rising temperatures are contributing to a range of ailments, especially for villagers from Swat accustomed to a cooler climate. Pakistan's displacement crisis has triggered an outpouring of generosity at home. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is urging a "massive" assistance effort from abroad as well.

Pakistan: Fleeing to Safety

Pakistan: Finding Refuge

Pakistani civilians continue to stream out of the region around the Swat Valley to find shelter in Mardana

More than 2 million people, according to local authorities, have been forced from their homes following Pakistani efforts to drive militants out of the region around north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley. Some 200,000 are living in camps set up by the Pakistani government and supplied by UNHCR and other agencies. The remainder are staying in schools or other communal buildings or being hosted by families. The heat is intense, reaching 45 degrees Celsius, and many of the displaced are suffering from heat-related infections and water-borne illnesses, although conditions are improving. UNHCR is providing tents, cooking sets, plastic sheeting and jerry cans, among other aid items. Award-winning photographer Alixandra Fazzina has spent the last two weeks documenting the plight of the internally displaced, from their arrival in safe areas, to the camps, schools and homes in which they now find themselves.

Pakistan: Finding Refuge

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
Pakistan: Helping the HostsPlay video

Pakistan: Helping the Hosts

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
Pakistan: Pushed to SafetyPlay video

Pakistan: Pushed to Safety

Thousands are forced to flee the fighting in Pakistan's Khyber Agency on the border with Afghanistan.