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Emergency Response Human Interest Stories

Country Programme Human Interest Stories

2008 Floods in Pakistan

Photoessay

 

Water and sanitation are most urgent needs as Pakistan's flood crisis persists

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Zak
A woman washes clothes in the mid-day sun in a camp in Thatta, in Pakistan's southern province of Sindh.

By Alistair Gretarsson

THATTA, Pakistan, 11 October 2010 – There’s a cruel irony that hangs over Pakistan’s vast, tented camps in the wake of the country’s devastating floods. While water is what damaged or destroyed nearly two million homes and affected the lives of more than 20 million people just weeks ago, today water exactly is what those people need most.

The flood emergency in Pakistan is far from over. While the waters have receded in some areas and thousands of families are returning home, there is often little or nothing for them to return to. Meanwhile UNICEF and its partners are working to provide the most essential services – including safe water and sanitation – to those who still cannot return home.

Families stranded

Shazia, 22, is a mother of five who arrived at a camp in Thatta, a town in Pakistan’s southern-most province of Sindh, with her husband and her children more than a month ago. They are one of the more than 153,000 people in Sindh province alone that are currently being reached by UNICEF with safe water. Here in Thatta, the family receives its clean water at a UNICEF-supported water filtration plant.

Sitting close together on two small rope beds and shielded only by a thin sheet held up with  sticks, Shazia, her husband Akbar and their children avoid the glaring heat of the mid-day sun.

“The land where we use to live is still covered with water as high as my shoulder, and our house is so damaged that we can’t return,” said Shazia. “I don’t know when we will be able to go back.”

Those whose homes are still flooded or have been destroyed beyond repair – often the poorest and most vulnerable families – have no choice but to remain here in the camps, on the roadside or wherever they have found shelter. In order to prevent the spread of disease, their most urgent needs now are clean water, good hygiene and proper sanitation.

Water is essential

The sprawling camps surrounding the town of Thatta are dry, dusty and strewn with the rubbish and waste of the thousands of people who now live here. Tents dot the arid desert landscape as far as the eye can see with only an occasional prickly bush as vegetation. Despite the end of summer, flies are everywhere and the heat is suffocating.

Hopscotch squares are marked out in coal in the cramped spaces between the tents and some enterprising families sell handicrafts and bangles from makeshift shops in their tents. In most tents families store their meagre belongings – usually some blankets, a few pots and the clothes on their backs.

In each tent, however, one of the most precious items is the bucket, the jerrycan or the plastic bottles that store the water on which everyone’s existence here depends.
Since the flooding began, UNICEF has been distributing these essential supplies to families across the country. But finding the water to fill them has been one of the emergency’s core challenges: water must come from somewhere, and it has to be clean.

Millions reached, more in need

Here in Thatta, UNICEF and its partners have set up a water filtration site to clean water from a local canal. Women and girls line up at the plant several times a day to fill their containers. The filtration plant also distributes safe water to three large water bladders – huge plastic storage sacks – that are placed strategically across the camps.

But people here are spread across a large area, and many remain unreached.

“We need more bladders,” said Aftab Ahmed Tunio, who works with Muslim Aid, the UNICEF non-governmental partner that runs the filtration plant. “These women are walking one or two kilometres, maybe three to four times a day, to collect water for their families. We need to be able to bring the water closer to them,” he said.

Across the flood-affected areas of Pakistan, UNICEF is providing safe drinking water to over 2.5 million people every day. But much more still needs to be done.

As the flood waters recede, funds are drying up. Less than half of the money UNICEF needs to sustain its efforts over the next 12 months has been received to date, with the largest chunk of this unmet funding set to improve the country’s water, sanitation and hygiene situation. If Pakistan is to stave off a potential second wave of suffering, more help is urgently needed.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Zak
Women and children draw water from a UNICEF-supported filtation plant in Thatta, a town in Pakistan's flood-affected Sindh province. A water storage bladder sits in the foreground.

 

 

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