Islamabad: Ten months ago, monsoon rains triggered landslides in Pakistan’s north. The river systems and dykes were no match for the torrential rains, and there were breaches spanning the entire length of the country. Bridges, road and entire villages were wiped out; farmland was flooded.
With this year’s monsoon season on the doorstep, many communities in Pakistan are wondering what is in store for them. Will there be more flooding? Will the dykes be repaired in time? How will people, still living in tents after last year’s disaster, cope with a second round of flooding? They are questions for which there are no easy answers. But the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is doing what it can to prepare for the worst.
It’s starting by educating villagers themselves on how to prepare. “We need to mobilize communities to develop their own resilience, so they are more self-reliant and less dependent on external help,” says Qaswar Abbas, disaster management coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Pakistan. “People are at the heart of decision making. It is critical that they actively engage in assessments, implement risk reduction measures, and monitor and evaluate risks. By doing so, they reduce their vulnerabilities and enhance their capacities.”
As part of their recovery programme, the PRCS and IFRC are supporting the creation of disaster management committees in some of the most vulnerable districts of Pakistan. People will be taught how to conduct assessments to determine where the risks lie in their own particular village, i.e., is their community located at the bottom or on the side of a mountain and therefore vulnerable to landslides? Is their village located in a valley or near a river and therefore prone to flooding? If so, what can they do to mitigate those risks? School safety programmes will be launched, and training exercises will be conducted to ensure villagers know what to do before, during and after a disaster. These plans will be tested through the staging of mock disasters.
Community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) is at the core of the Red Cross Red Crescent recovery programme in Pakistan. It cuts across all sectors. The thinking goes that if people are better prepared for disasters, they are better able to reduce their losses, and can therefore recover their lives quicker.
With this in mind, the PRCS, with support from the IFRC, has launched a shelter programme in Thatta, Sindh province, the region worst affected by the floods. While they resemble the houses villagers were living in prior to the floods, there is a slight modification in that they are being built on a raised platform to prevent them from being destroyed should river waters rise again. Moreover, the corners of the houses have been secured properly, as assessments of the area have shown that most houses were washed away due to weak joints between adjacent walls.
Regular hygiene promotion sessions are another CBDRR mechanism put in place by PRCS. Volunteers, trained in delivering practical sessions of maintaining personal and environmental hygiene, go from village to village in the flood affected areas and deliver separate sessions for men and women to reduce the risk of disease in the wake of repeated flooding. “After the floods, we witnessed a lot of diseases due to a lack of clean water,” says Sughra, a PRCS volunteer in Kot Addu, Punjab. “People were not maintaining good hygiene practices in their homes or while handling domestic animals. Our role as hygiene promotion volunteers ensures that we deliver repeated sessions to try and change people’s behaviour and to improve their living standards even if they are living in makeshift tents.”
A skilled volunteer base is the backbone of any Red Cross Red Crescent programme. As part of its disaster preparedness, PRCS conducts annual week-long youth camps for approximately 200 volunteers from across the country. It is here they are trained for the challenges they might face in the field, taking part in simulation exercises that focus on search and rescue, first aid, and disaster response activities. Munim, a degree holder in veterinary medicine, thinks such camps truly build the capacity of the volunteers for any upcoming disaster. “Not just in the wake of a disaster, but these trainings are very useful for disaster preparedness as well, as we are taught everything that can save lives,” he says.
The PRCS was the first to arrive when waters first gushed into villages in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province last July. With the next monsoon season fast approaching, thousands of trained volunteers remain on standby, ready to put that experience to the test should there be further flooding this summer.
For more information, contact;
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
P.O. Box 372
CH-1211 Geneva 19
Tel: +41 22 730 42 22
Fax: +41 22 733 03 95