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Pakistan's flood victims seek shelter from showers, shade from the sun

Pakistan's flood victims seek shelter from showers, shade from the sun

As the United Nations launches a US$38 million appeal for flood relief in Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners step up the distribution of emergency supplies and shelter materials to affected Afghan refugees and their host communities.
18 July 2007
Abdul Rahim showing the eucalyptus tree that saved his life.

KHARAN, Pakistan, July 18 (UNHCR) - Recalling his recent brush with death, Khuda Rahim pointed to a eucalyptus tree in Kharan district in Pakistan's Balochistan province "This tree - this one over here - saved my life after the rain and the flood waters swept away my house," he shouted. The 55-year-old had perched on the branches for a whole day after Cyclone Yemyin hit the country late last month.

The flood waters may have receded, but seeking shelter in the tree's shade by day and under a UNHCR tent by night, Rahim and his six family members are among some 2.5 million affected people in south-western Pakistan. The government estimates that 280 people died while more than 360,000 are homeless in Balochistan and Sindh provinces. Houses, roads, bridges and other key infrastructure have been destroyed.

The United Nations on Wednesday launched a flash appeal for US$38.3 million to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the displaced and the affected population over the next three months. At least six countries have made initial pledges of between US$2 million and US$4 million.

As part of the appeal, UNHCR is asking for more than US$2.7 million to provide shelter materials to 150,000 people in refugee-hosting areas.

The UN refugee agency has already rushed more than 250 tonnes of emergency supplies to flood-hit Afghans in three camps and local communities like Rahim's that have hosted refugees for more than two decades. Distribution started within days of the disaster.

"Our initial assistance went to the refugees and local communities in the affected areas. These local communities have hosted and helped the Afghans for many years," said John Solecki, head of UNHCR's office in Balochistan. "We saw the need in the surrounding areas of the refugee camps, so we assisted both communities in Chagai, Noushki, Kharan, Dhadar and Jhal Magsi districts."

So far, UNHCR has distributed some 2,000 tents, nearly 7,000 plastic sheets, more than 5,000 sleeping mats and blankets, 2,600 jerry cans and about 800 kitchen sets in the flood-affected areas.

"I now realise what safe refuge means when one's life is in danger, and how sacred is the provider of that support. This tree gave me refuge, so it's a friend from now on," said Rahim as he tried to find what was left of his house boundary walls. He added that living in a tent was a new experience for him and his family, but that any shelter against the blazing sun was welcome.

Balochistan, Pakistan's largest province, is sparsely populated and aid workers have to travel long distances to reach the affected villages. "The gushing flood waters have severely disrupted roads and the communication networks in the province," said Shafiq Mengal, who works for Islamic Relief, a non-governmental organization that helped to distribute supplies in Kharan. "It takes us more than two hours to reach a village located 30 km away from Kharan town."

He added that many villages barely numbered 20 families, and to travel to the next village they had to take many detours due to flooding.

Restoring normal life will take time in the water-scarce province of Balochistan. Traditionally, the province welcomes seasonal rains to grow crops, but the severity of rains and floods this year has damaged even the existing agriculture.

"We had all our hopes for good rain so that we could harvest a good wheat crop," said Boor Jan, a father of three, while trying to salvage belongings from his one-room house 30 km outside Kharan. "Who knew the rains would take away from us even the grains from the last harvest and the home we had."

Nonetheless, he was thankful for the relief so far. "People in our village have built shelters with hay and grass as roofs, but the UNHCR materials will help in building a permanent structure," said Boor Jan. "We will place the plastic sheets on the roof of the mud-built rooms to save the house from rain damage."

In addition to the refugee-hosting areas of Balochistan, UNHCR has sent plastic sheets to Karachi in Sindh. In North-West Frontier Province, the agency has provided sandbags to three refugee camps to prevent further flooding from nearby rivers, as well as shelter supplies to a mixed community in Khyber agency.

More than two million registered Afghans currently live in Pakistan side-by-side with their Pakistani hosts. Just under 1 million of them are housed in refugee camps in the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan.

By Babar Baloch in Kharan, Pakistan