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