Archive for September 21st, 2010

The Continuing Disaster

On Monday morning, a headline on MSNBC‘s homepage stated, “UNICEF: 100,000 Pakistan kids face starvation.” It was accompanied by the below photo:

AP: A malnourished little girl in Sukkur, Sindh

The image is both immensely powerful and deeply heartbreaking. The floods in Pakistan have increasingly been relegated to the back pages/tabs of most newspapers and news websites, but the above image obviously shows that the disaster is still very much present. MSNBC reported,

Suhani Bunglani fans flies away from her two baby girls as one sleeps motionless while the other stares without blinking at the roof of their tent, her empty belly bulging beneath a green flowered shirt.Their newborn sister already died on the ground inside this steamy shelter at just 4 days old, after the family’s escape from violent floods that drowned a huge swath of Pakistan. Now the girls, ages 1 and 2, are slowly starving, with shriveled arms and legs as fragile as twigs.

According to UNICEF, about 105,000 children younger than five years old are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition over the next six months. This past Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that ”risk is very high” that waterborne diseases such as cholera could spread and cause large numbers of deaths, with 57 confirmed cases in recent weeks.

A story today further humanized the cost of this tragedy. According to news agencies, an unemployed father-of-four who lost his home in the floods “doused his body in petrol and lit himself with a match after being denied entry to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s private residence in Multan.” The Express Tribune reported, “[The man] Akram searched fruitlessly for a job and decided to visit Gilani’s home to ask for a job recommendation. The prime minister’s security pushed him back and he set himself on fire, Sami said.”

Prior to the floods, Pakistan’s economy was already declining, with a third of the population under the poverty line. According to the LA Times, “Now, in the aftermath of the flooding, officials face the daunting task of preventing complete fiscal collapse.” Here are some numbers – up to 21 million have been affected by the floods. 10 million are homeless. The floods have swept away 70% of roads and bridges in affected areas. In those same areas, over 10,000 schools and 500 hospitals have been destroyed or damaged. PM Gilani has stated that losses from the flooding could reach $43 billion, with the inflation rate, previously projected to reach 9.5% in 2011, now expected to climb as high as 20%.

What does this all mean? It means that we are in for a very, very tough road ahead. It means that more parents like Akram, who so tragically ended his life Monday, will be left without a way to provide for their families. It means that millions of people, just a year after the last displacement crisis in Pakistan, will be further dependent on handouts. And it means that the disaster is far from over even after the headlines go away.

But as the floods subside and we start assessing and tackling the second phase of relief – reconstruction – we also need to remember how little these villages had to begin with before the floods. Handouts are necessary in providing immediate relief to these affected families, but in the long-term a strategic plan must be developed to address very complex development gaps. In the first six-eight months, families will need food, shelter, and clothing. But in the medium and long term, they will also need livelihood skill-building, livestock, fertilizer and seeds to restore their [mainly] agrarian households. In order to decrease families’ dependency on handouts, there must be continued community investment and capacity-building. There must be accountability and transparency. In short, there needs to be more than what we were able to give many of these areas before the floods.

I’ve blogged extensively about our campaign, Relief4Pakistan, which has raised over $140,000 for emergency first response relief in Pakistan by leveraging social media platforms and people-to-people relationships. We are currently developing an innovative model for this next phase of reconstruction that will target villages that aren’t receiving aid, and will foster collaborative networks and community investment in the process. We are all – Pakistani and non-Pakistani alike – in this together because we are all human beings that have witnessed one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Regardless if you continue to talk about the floods to someone you meet or you are on the ground doing relief work, we all have a responsibility to keep this conversation alive.

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