Dignified amidst Disasters

Women and men in Kashmore District, Sindh Province of Pakistan attend village development committee meetings to discuss about water management and hygiene in their own community. Photo: Kashif Ghani / Oxfam

By Phyllis Cheung

Initial hopes that Pakistan would avoid a third successive year of floods were dashed in early September 2012 when the late monsoon rains triggered flooding in southern Punjab, northern Sindh, and eastern Balochistan. At least 450 people lost their lives and over 4.8 million people were affected, with an estimated 636,438 homes damaged or destroyed.

Fouzia Bibi, a resident of Mir Hazar Khan Bacharani in Kashmore District, recalled: “When the floods hit, we couldn’t leave our village. Even if we’d been able to, there was nowhere for us to go to. After heavy rain that continued for many days, the entire village was badly damaged. There was flood water all around us. Our crops were lost, our houses were either completely or partly destroyed, and our livestock suffered. With every passing day, the food we’d stored was running out and there were diseases spreading in the village because of stagnant flood water. Almost everyone I knew either had fever or diarrhoea. But in these conditions it was impossible to afford a doctor.”

To reduce suffering and vulnerability as well as restore the dignity of the most severely affected people, Oxfam started its flood response programme almost immediately in Kashmore, one of the worst affected districts that were already hit by the floods in 2010 and 2011, providing improved access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, hygiene promotion and nutrition awareness sessions, and distribution of cash grants and tools.

One of Oxfam’s cash-for-work schemes provided equipment and fuel to pump the stagnant flood water out from the area. Each family, including Fouzia’s, received 7,500 Pakistani rupees (about HK$572) to pump water out from her village.

One of the cash-for-work schemes decided by Fouzia’s village community was the provision of equipment and fuel to pump the stagnant flood water out from the area.

“The cash-for-work scheme was the best thing that could have happened to us,” Fouzia said. The men in the village couldn’t go to surrounding places to look for work because leaving their families in such conditions was dangerous. With the water pumped out, my husband could go and look for work and bring money back to the family. And I was able to buy food and other necessities for my family.”

Fouzia feels dignified that she was not just “allotted” relief aid but she worked for her grant and could decide for her family on what to buy with the cash. “I feel the community can recover from the floods faster in a positive way.”

Oxfam installed hand washing devices near the latrines to encourage people to wash their hands after using the latrines.

With health and hygiene training and information, Fouzia’s village is even cleaner than before the floods. “The animal waste in the area was buried. After that, the whole village was sprayed with strong and effective pesticides. I am glad latrines and bathing spaces are built and safe water is available. Because of hygiene promotion, diseases were prevented in my family.”

But besides safe water, bathing spaces and a cleaner environment, Fouzia is also thankful for her own development.

“I was happy that women were encouraged to participate in the village meetings. I, too, joined the meetings and we all decided that this work scheme was the best for our village. The village development committee is made up of openly elected members in the community, and we are helping each other to overcome the adverse effects of the floods. Now I feel responsible for my village.”

Phyllis Cheung is Regional Coordinator of International Programme with Oxfam.

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