Pakistan: "Where there is a will there is a way"

UNHCR and its partners go to extraordinary lengths to bring relief to the stranded in Pakistan

UNHCR's partners ferry emergency supplies across the Swat River in Kabal Tehsil, Pakistan.   © UNHCR/F.Khaliq

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 19 (UNHCR) - Some of the worst damage from the floods of 2010 has been to Pakistan's infrastructure. In the rugged Swat Valley, for example, 25 bridges were swept away in the first days of the crisis, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded without adequate supplies for up to three weeks and posing a grave challenge to the government and aid agencies attempting to reach the vulnerable.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. In Mata Tehsil and Kabal Tehsil in Swat district, home to some 700,000 people, UNHCR and its implementing partner Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) struck on an effective solution: to carry supplies across the swollen river, they built four rafts, locally known as 'Jala', out of rubber tubing, bamboos and rope.

The rafts' pilots say they have no choice.

"Crossing the river this way is very dangerous but we have to do it," says Omer Khan, who operates one of the rafts. "If we stop, people across the river will starve to death."

UNHCR through its partners has now used the make-shift rafts to deliver more than 350 kits of plastic mats, blankets and cooking sets and other non-food items to the far side of the swollen river. Our local partner has also built a separate, large raft to carry tents to the most remote areas. On Wednesday 50 tents were transported to Mata Tehsil in this way. Overall, UNHCR has distributed 1,156 "non-food item" kits to different parts of Swat while the distribution of 1,000 tents is underway.

"It was an amazing achievement to actually get the relief items to people who believed that nobody would reach them," said Arif Syed, field staff of the SRSP.

"We manufactured four rafts - two each for Matta and Kabal Tehsil - to deliver non-food items to the stranded people across the Swat River - fighting with the merciless waves!" he said.

Fazal Hadi, who was running a shop in Tehsil Matta, received food and non-food items through these rafts. He has been able to reopen his small shop, as a result. The journey in a 'Jala' is an open invitation to death, he says, since they can easily capsize, but he says he and his neighbours see no alternative.

"It is good to see the resourcefulness of our people on the ground," says UNHCR country Representative Mengesha Kebede. "While the amount of relief items going to these two Tehsils might seem small, they are certainly helping a number of families bridge these difficult times."

"If there is a will there is a way."

The Refugee Agency has so far assisted more than 339,207 people through delivering 20,116 tents, 122,960 blankets, 40,320 quilts, 26,050 kitchen sets, 48,120 mosquito nets, 30 tonnes of soap, 49,220 jerry cans, 42,220 plastic buckets, 89,540 sleeping mats, and 79,372 plastic sheets since the flood disaster hit Pakistan in the last week of July.

By Qaiser Khan Afridi in Islamabad

  • A boy makes his way through thick mud and debris carrying belongings he managed to salvage from his family's home, Pir Pai.
    A boy makes his way through thick mud and debris carrying belongings he managed to salvage from his family's home, Pir Pai.  © A. Fazzina for UNHCR/Noor
  • A young goat herder collects driftwood on the muddy shoreline of the Swat River near Chakdara.
    A young goat herder collects driftwood on the muddy shoreline of the Swat River near Chakdara. © A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • An Afghan family transports their recovered belongings back to their temporary shelter via donkey cart, Pir Pai.
    An Afghan family transports their recovered belongings back to their temporary shelter via donkey cart, Pir Pai.  © A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • Afghan refugees salvage their belongings from the mud.
    Afghan refugees salvage their belongings from the mud.  © A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • A man surrounded by salvaged goods rests in an impromptu camp on a median strip of the Grand Trunk Road, near Nowshera.
    A man surrounded by salvaged goods rests in an impromptu camp on a median strip of the Grand Trunk Road, near Nowshera. © A. Fazzina for UNHCR/Noor
  • A woman washes her young daughter in muddy water as traffic rolls by.
    A woman washes her young daughter in muddy water as traffic rolls by. © A. Fazzina for UNHCR/Noor
  • A makeshift camp along the trunk road. People without any means to rent accommodation have been forced onto this patch of high ground.
    A makeshift camp along the trunk road. People without any means to rent accommodation have been forced onto this patch of high ground. ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • Ten year-old Naida prays in the water-damaged sitting room of her family's home in Nishath Mill Village. Until two days ago, the house was submerged in one meter of flood water   and Naida and her six brothers and sisters were forced to sleep on the roof .
    Ten year-old Naida prays in the water-damaged sitting room of her family's home in Nishath Mill Village. Until two days ago, the house was submerged in one meter of flood water and Naida and her six brothers and sisters were forced to sleep on the roof .  ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • A fight breaks out over a bag of cooked rice. With more than three million people affected by flooding,  food supplies are running dangerously short.
    A fight breaks out over a bag of cooked rice. With more than three million people affected by flooding, food supplies are running dangerously short. ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • A young Afghan refugee, covered in mud and dirt, stands in her family's water-damaged home in the village of Nishath Mill. Surrounded by dark brown water, her family has no clean water to drink or food to eat. Their remote village has yet to receive any assistance.
    A young Afghan refugee, covered in mud and dirt, stands in her family's water-damaged home in the village of Nishath Mill. Surrounded by dark brown water, her family has no clean water to drink or food to eat. Their remote village has yet to receive any assistance. ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor

  • An aerial view of the flooded village of Tali in the Sibi district, in Balochistan, western Pakistan.
    An aerial view of the flooded village of Tali in the Sibi district, in Balochistan, western Pakistan. © UNHCR/N.James
  • Residents walk on a flood-ravaged road outside Tali village in Balochistan.
    Residents walk on a flood-ravaged road outside Tali village in Balochistan. © UNHCR/N.James
  • A man in Balochistan digs through the rubble in search of personal belongings to salvage.
    A man in Balochistan digs through the rubble in search of personal belongings to salvage.  © UNHCR/N.James
  • A young boy feels his way through flood waters using a walking stick.
    A young boy feels his way through flood waters using a walking stick.  © UNHCR/N.James
  • The ruins of homes destroyed in the worst flooding Pakistan has seen in decades, Tali village, Balochistan.
    The ruins of homes destroyed in the worst flooding Pakistan has seen in decades, Tali village, Balochistan.  © UNHCR/N.James
  • At the UNHCR warehouse in Quetta, trucks are loaded with tents, jerry cans, buckets, kitchen sets and plastic sheets for distribution to survivors of the floods.
    At the UNHCR warehouse in Quetta, trucks are loaded with tents, jerry cans, buckets, kitchen sets and plastic sheets for distribution to survivors of the floods.  © UNHCR/D.A Khan
  • A convoy of UNHCR trucks loaded with relief items for flood survivors in Charsada district in north-west Pakistan.
    A convoy of UNHCR trucks loaded with relief items for flood survivors in Charsada district in north-west Pakistan.  © UNHCR/Z. Jamal
  • Transporting relief items to the affected areas is extremely difficult as flood waters have washed away many roads and bridges.
    Transporting relief items to the affected areas is extremely difficult as flood waters have washed away many roads and bridges.  © UNHCR/D.A Khan
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