Friday, September 30, 2011

Development as Distraction: Flood survivors find safe refuge in jail camp


This is a blog that I wrote whilst on my current deployment, which was edited by my organisation and posted on alertnet.com
It’s an annual reunion being back in Pakistan for the floods right now. I’m catching up with colleagues on life events and family stories who I haven’t seen for the past year. Of course, the last time we were all together was about a year ago during the 2010 floods which was unprecedented in its scale and affected the entire country. This year the situation is once again challenging. Actually, for Sindh Province, this year’s foods have affected more people and districts. In Badin District where Plan was one of the first organisations to respond to the first monsoon rains and flooding back in August, the waters rose so high that we had to temporarily withdraw our operation and coordinate with the local government who were evacuating families.
For 1,400 of those families who were evacuated to neighbouring Thatta district, we supported the local Disaster Management Authority and set up a camp on a site where a jail is under construction. Maybe that sounds a little strange, and it did to me when I first read the name of the camp sitting in the office. I assumed that it was next to the road on the way to the district jail, or that perhaps jail meant something else in Urdu or the local Sindhi language.
But no, it is a jail which has been half-built. And being able to set up a camp there makes a positive difference for the families there. The land here is flat, which is why it floods so easily which also means there is a lot of wind. Driving past other camps, you can see the sides of the tents blowing up and exposing the people inside to the dust and sun. The giant jail walls do a great job of keeping that out, and everyone seems much more comfortable in their tents, and they are able to ensure their privacy which is important for some of the women here.
One block of cells has been converted into the area where families do their washing. The existence of concrete structures means that with all the water that is around, things don’t get muddy. That makes a huge difference when you see that it is the women who are doing the washing, and they have all their young children playing around them. Plan has noted that in the flood affected communities basic hygiene practices, such as hand washing, is almost non-existent. So apart from the health campaigns that are being run, being able to promote hygiene is just as important as having a clinic in the camp.
A lot of families have moved into the cells themselves. Munir from our local partner, who is managing the camp, told me that all of the families here will never get to live in such a solid structure. Plan’s consultations with the families have revealed that they lost their belongings in the floods, and that their houses were made of mud and are either damaged or washed away. And they’re not wrong: the UN’s own assessment shows that their district has had the highest number of houses destroyed.
Now that the overall response is full up and running we’re hoping for situation to improve. A lot still needs to be done as the affected people will require continued support in what has been the second year of devastating floods for Pakistan.

Pakistan is grappling with second year of devastating floods. Plan / Ghazala Farid

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