By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON — The initial aid from Catholic Relief Services in response to the devastating floods in Pakistan has gotten to families that need it most.
About 2,300 families have received cash assistance from CRS, said Megan Gilbert, a CRS spokeswoman.
The cash can help those families buy food and water and make repairs to flood-damaged homes, Gilbert said.
CRS is working with the Pakistani government and local partners, including Caritas Pakistan, to meet the most urgent needs of the people impacted by the persistent heavy rains in the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan.
The toll continues to climb. There were 1,191 confirmed dead as of Aug. 31 as a result of the flooding, and the number of Pakistanis who have lost their homes to the flooding is nearing 1 million. An estimated 2 million have been displaced, and one-third of the country’s territory is believed to be under water.
The rains and flooding began in July and have continued to hammer the country on the Asian subcontinent for more than a month.
“The people living in the districts I visited were already marginalized,” said Gul Wali Khan, CRS emergency response coordinator in Pakistan, in a message to his CRS colleagues in the United States. “Now they have become even more vulnerable in terms of their shelter and livelihoods. With the impact of the flood and the rain, we have seen people lose the food they planned to use over the next few months.”
“With winter coming, we need to make sure people are able to get to places like markets,” said a separate message from Mohammed Adam Hamid, acting CRS country manager in Pakistan. “The other issue is clean water. The usual water supplies have been damaged or are unreachable, which means people have to walk double or triple the distance to collect water.”
Subsistence farmers have been especially hard hit, as the seeds they had planted for their crops were washed away in the ongoing deluges. “People who depend on rain-fed agriculture lost everything,” Khan said. “The seeds they planted are all gone. Normally the people in these areas borrow from shopkeepers and traders, and now they will go further into debt.”
While flooding has affected Pakistan from time to time in the past, the scope of this year’s rainfalls is vast. The toll exacted on infrastructure in Sindh and Baluchistan, where 86% of those affected by the flooding live, has been immense. Two key canals in the provinces were breached, the first time that had happened since 2012.
In assessments of 25 communities in those provinces, CRS and one of its Pakistani partners, Community Development Foundation, found that 72% of water systems are damaged or destroyed and 79% of people have no food left. Moreover, roads and bridges have been washed away, making access to and from impacted areas challenging. Nearly 1,800 miles of roads have been damaged as well as 129 bridges and shops.
Where the water has receded, families are clearing debris and mud from their homes and protecting livestock from mosquitoes, which were a main killer of large animals in the 2011 flooding.
After the cash handouts, CRS plans to provide shelter, restore livelihoods and access to clean water.
CRS highlights the dire needs in Pakistan on the homepage of its website, https://www.crs.org, with a button to click on urging, “Help Families Now.”