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One year after Pakistan floods, humanitarian efforts for victims continue

News Stories, 28 July 2011

© UNHCR/J.Tanner
A resident of the Azahkel Afghan refugee village in Pakistan walks through the rubble after it was destroyed in floods last year.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 27 (UNHCR) One year after the onset of the worst flooding in Pakistan's history, efforts to aid those who lost everything in the disaster continue, with UNHCR working to provide 45,000 vulnerable families with new homes.

The permanent shelters are being built to house some of the most vulnerable flood victims, those unable to restart their lives on their own. Elsewhere, the UN refugee agency has nearly completed construction on more than 30,000 transitional shelters for families who plan to repair or rebuild their homes.

Last year's devastating floods, which began in late July, displaced more than 4 million people and destroyed an estimated 1.7 million homes. UNHCR was first asked to assist in providing aid to flood victims by the provincial government in Balochistan, but the agency's emergency operations rapidly expanded to three other affected provinces. It eventually provided humanitarian assistance to some 2 million flood victims, including tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.

Fifty families belonging to Pakistan's minority Hindu community expect to move into their one-room shelters in the coming weeks. The village of Kot Sabzal, in Punjab province, was submerged by more than a metre of water in last year's floods and while there were no fatalities, families lost everything they owned.

Today they live in makeshift shelters adjacent to their new brick and mortar homes. The men carry out the construction using materials supplied by UNHCR.

While eager to move into their first homes not made of mud, they remain concerned for the future.

"Earlier every member of the community, men and women alike, were working in the fields but now most of us are jobless and living hand to mouth," said 30-year-old Tjirat Jeen.

The residents of the Azakhel refugee village in western Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are less certain about when they will be able to return home.

Azakhel, settled 30 years ago by Afghans fleeing war, was home to 23,000 refugees at the time of the floods. The refugees lost their homes, livelihoods and businesses in the disaster. Since then they have been living with relatives, in rented accommodation or in makeshift shelters. Provincial authorities have said the refugees should relocate to another settlement.

"That so many people have restarted their lives after such a destructive natural disaster is a testament to the strength and resilience of the people of Pakistan," said Mengesha Kebede, UNHCR's representative in Pakistan. "As our assistance to flood victims continues, we believe a decision to allow these refugee families to return to Azakhel would enable another community to rebuild."

In western Pakistan, in the picturesque Swat Valley, a small UNHCR-financed hydro-electric station is providing power to 200 families living in remote villages. The elevation of the hilltop homes meant the communities were spared major flood damage. But overflowing rivers and streams ripped out power pylons, leaving the settlements, many of which can only be reached by foot, without power.

Abdul Majeed's house in the village of Gishar has sweepings views of the valley and the terraced farmers' fields carved into the hills. His family and those in neighbouring villages spent months without power after the floods and were relieved and surprised when it was finally restored.

"Usually relief projects only help those villages by the roadside, most don't reach remote areas like ours," he said. "We are grateful not to have been forgotten."

Across Pakistan, all but five camps for the flood displaced have closed. All are located in Jaffarabad in Balochistan province. Several thousand people remain in makeshift settlements, mainly in Sindh and Punjab provinces. The residents of these settlements say they have not returned home due to the cost of rebuilding, outstanding loans or property disputes.

By Tim Irwin in Islamabad, Pakistan




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 Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

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.