x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Relief effort changes focus a year after Pakistan's devastating floods

Expatriates continue to raise cash for immunisation and education schemes

DUBAI // A year after devastating floods ravaged Pakistan, fundraisers are continuing to gather money for immunisation and education programmes before the monsoon season.

Thousands of Pakistani residents rallied together after the devastating floods swept through the east of the country, leaving about a fifth of the country submerged.

More than US$1 million (Dh3.67m) was raised through a celebrity ball earlier this year and a new push is under way to continue the relief effort amid fears monsoon rains could trigger further flooding of the Indus River basin.

"We raised money immediately after the disaster and that went into helping rebuild homes, roads and bridges as well as for food and clean water," said Rizwan Fancy, community welfare officer for the Pakistan Association Dubai.

Fund-raising efforts in the community have now shifted to individuals. "Many people in the Pakistani community are continuing to support those affected by the floods by paying for the rebuilding of homes as well as buying new livestock," he said

The PAD sent hundreds of boxes filled with tinned food, bed sheets, blankets and warm clothing. They also ran programmes to encourage children to continue their education.

Imran Sharih, a lawyer at Dubau International Financial Centre who was one of the organisers of the celebrity gala in March that raised $1 million, said fund-raising efforts would continue.

"With the monsoon season fast approaching, there is a very high chance that the Indus river will flood again. This is still a very important current issue and the Pakistan Appeal will continue to raise money for things like immunisation, child protection and education. Many people who were involved with our campaign have also been raising money for NGOs either personally or through other organisations."

They hope to make the charity gala an annual event with another fund-raiser next March or April.

Options are being explored to raise money for those still suffering from the effects of the disaster. "We haven't decided what form the fund raising will take at the moment but it would include collections, and making donations.

"We are looking into the possibility of setting up a committee that we can use to focus on a different aspect of fund-raising for Pakistan, not just for the flooding survivors.

"We will focus on getting children back into schools as well as the continuing problem of nutrition for people, many of whom are still not receiving proper food.

"We also want to protect children from abuse and provide them with a safe environment."

The Pakistan Appeal campaign may also by formalised into a group or charity but no decision has yet been made.

The Pakistan ambassador Jamil Ahmed Khan said not all the money pledged by donor countries in the days and weeks after the floods had materialised.

"I wouldn't say I am disappointed as this is normal compared with previous natural disasters," he said.

However, he praised the swift action of the UAE Government. "The Emirates was the first country to offer its support both financially and in terms of manpower," he said.

The Pakistani government - with the help of charities and the international community - has resettled 99 per cent of those displaced by the waters and re-established 55 per cent of the 10,000 schools destroyed.

"Victims of the disaster have also been helped with a credit card system that allows them to be compensated with a reasonable amount of money that they can then use to rebuild their lives," the ambassador said.

Those who survived the disaster are struggling to rebuild their lives in areas where infrastructure remains damaged. "A year on, hope and a sense of normality pervade for many; for others living on the margins, life-and-death urgency remains," Unicef's Children in Pakistan Progress Report said last month.

Unicef says the effect of the floods, which caused an estimated US$9.7 billion worth of damage, will be felt for years to come.

"The floods created new vulnerabilities while exacerbating existing ones," the report said. "Debts incurred from lost crops and replanting are high. Many communities lack services, infrastructure, safe drinking water, schools and health clinics.

"The poorest of the poor - many living in flood-risk zones - suffered the heaviest proportional losses, sinking even further into poverty."

Fourteen million people are still in urgent need of safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

"After massive displacement, millions have returned - some immediately, others after months - to critical conditions: no homes, no food, no livelihoods, no clean water or sanitation, damaged infrastructure and depleted health and social services."

In response, Unicef has extended its recovery phase operation until December 2011 with a focus on helping the most vulnerable women and children.

The worst affected are the poorest elements of Pakistani society, and Unicef says it will needs US$55.7 million to continue its flood response and nutrition programmes.

nhanif@thenational.ae