UNICEF helps to rebuild a school in a flood-ravaged village in north-west Pakistan
Pakistan flood crisis, one year on
Children and families continue to cope – and rebuild their lives – a year after devastating monsoon floods struck Pakistan. This is one in a series of stories on their situation, one year on.
By David Youngmeyer
NOWSHERA, Pakistan, 1 August 2011 – In July 2010, when floods reached the village of Kheshgi Bala, Maryam’s school – located right next door to the Kabul River – sat directly on the front line. Normally a sleeping giant, the river swelled with the intense monsoon rains and surged onto the land, filling the school with up to three metres of water and half a metre of mud.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Chris Niles reports on the rehabilitation and re-opening of a girls' primary school in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which was severely affected by monsoon floods in 2010. Watch in RealPlayer|
“I got scared and ran away when the floodwater came into my house,” recalls Maryam, 11. “My family went to stay with friends on higher ground so that we would be safe.”
When Maryam returned to her village after the waters had receded, she was saddened by the devastation the flood had left in its wake. “I just cried,” she says, “because I thought my family and I wouldn’t be able to return to the village or see all my friends again.”
During the time when her family was displaced – including Maryam and her four younger siblings – she used to climb a hill near their temporary home. From there, she could see her school. She kept wondering whether she would ever be able to go back.
|© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi|
|Maryam, 11, responds to a teacher’s question at Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan. The school was severely damaged by monsoon floods in 2010.|
The object of Maryam’s longing, Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School, was one of the hardest-hit schools in Nowshera District, located in north-west Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The mud clogged the school’s well, water tank and toilets. Classroom furniture, student records, a boundary wall and water pipes were either destroyed or left unusable.
Fortunately, unlike the neighbouring mud houses that were washed away entirely, the school’s concrete structure remained intact.
After about a month, Maryam’s home was rebuilt and she was able to return to the village with her family. When the 2010 summer vacation was over, she and her classmates continued classes in a temporary open-air space, as their school was still out of action.
Support from UNICEF
After the floods, UNICEF worked closely with the government and non-governmental organizations to assess humanitarian needs and provide emergency assistance in districts throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other affected areas.
|© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi|
|Aiman, 10, washes her hands with soap and water at a newly installed tap in the rehabilitated Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan.|
Along with one implementing partner, the Society for Sustainable Development (SSD), for example, UNICEF quickly assessed damaged schools in eight union councils in Nowshera District. (Nowshera was one of the worst-affected parts of the province, with more than 71,000 households disrupted.) At the same time, UNICEF worked with more than 100 partners to address water, sanitation and hygiene issues in flooded communities across Pakistan.
To date, UNICEF’s integrated package of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions has reached 140,000 children in 1,530 permanent schools and temporary learning centres in these communities – including the Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School.
Happy to be back
It took about a month to clear away the sludge from Maryam’s school, rehabilitate and upgrade the school’s water and sanitation facilities, and repaint its walls. A new tank and pump for drinking water, and taps for students to wash their hands, were installed.
“We are very grateful to UNICEF for their help,” says teacher Gul Seyab. “The old facilities have been improved and the school is in a much better condition now.”
|© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Quraishi|
|Girls play in the schoolyard of Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan. Floods in 2010 left thick layers of mud in the school, which was rehabilitated with support from UNICEF.|
Maryam and other student volunteer helped the teachers put the finishing touches on the school, carrying water for washing, cleaning cupboards and moving in replacement furniture.
To help prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, UNICEF provided hygiene kits, soap, jerry cans and buckets for children and their families, while SSD ran classes teaching students good hygiene. Maryam is one of the students in the school hygiene club, made up of students and teachers, which continues to emphasize the importance of handwashing with soap and other necessary practices.
Maryam says she is very happy to be back at her old school again with her two sisters. She adds that she hopes to become a doctor on day, so that she can help the sick and build a better future.
Special essay: Pakistan floods
September 6th, 2010
Dr. Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, Australian National University, Australia
There are many questions emerging from the recent floods in Pakistan, ranging from attempts to understand the atmospheric phenomena behind the downpours to the search for where ultimate responsibility lies for the ensuing human calamity. This short essay investigates some of those questions.
A pinch of geography is necessary to explain why Pakistan received such an extraordinary amount of rain during this rainy season. The Indian monsoon can be understood as a giant sea-breeze, with ocean moisture sucked in by rising hot air over the South Asian plains. It is influenced by large scale weather patterns such as the jet stream in the northern hemisphere, which this year came to a halt as a consequence of Rossby Waves, powerful spinning wind currents created by the earth’s rotation. Such unusual occurrences – called ‘blocking events’ – have taken place in the past, and have resulted in unusual weather phenomena. This year, as the jet stream became stationary, unusually hot summers led to the breakout of wildfires in Western Russia, and unprecedented rains poured down the slopes of the Western Himalayas. The blocking event coincided with the summer monsoon, which brought unusually heavy amounts of rain on the mountains that girdle the north of Pakistan.
The intensity of the localized rainfall was fantastic – four months worth of rainfall had fallen in just a couple of days. Some areas in Northern Pakistan received more than three times their annual rainfall in a matter of 36 hours. Gushing quickly down the tributaries into the Indus River, the rainwaters gave rise to floods of catastrophic proportions. Given the immensity of the downpours, some flooding was inevitable. Yet rivers are essentially channels to drain out water; being one of the largest rivers of the world, the Indus should have been able to carry out the excess waters into the Arabian Sea which it joins near Karachi. Why could the river not flush out the excess waters? This is where human intervention – in terms of water resource planning and infrastructure development – played an important role in the floods.
To increase the area under irrigation in Pakistan, more and more of the waters of the Indus River have been diverted in recent decades into nearby farms. Many of these farms are owned by the richer farmers who have, with state support and over the years, built levees or embankments along the river to protect their farms from the occasional floods. It is not only the Pakistani government but local councils and water resource planning authorities in all the countries in South Asia which have supported such ‘straight-jacketing’ of rivers. Yet each human interference into a natural river system has its consequence: when excessive amounts of water are drawn out of its channel, a river channel becomes less efficient and loses its ability to quickly move the water. When levees are built along the banks, the sediments get deposited on the river bed, which gradually rises above the surrounding plains. Not only does this enhance the flood risk, the levees standing as walls also make it difficult for the floodwater to return back into the channel once it has spilled over.
In the last few decades, water and irrigation infrastructure within the Indus system has increased in size and number. Indeed, over two thirds of the Indus flow is now diverted for irrigation. A number of tributaries also join the Indus from the west. These are fast-flowing hill torrents that bring down huge quantities of silt during the monsoons (because the Himalayas is one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world, rivers that originate there like the Indus bring down enormous quantities of sediments in the form of sand, silt and clay). With funding from the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, a series of barrages have been built along the hill slopes to prevent their waters from reaching the Indus. When many of these barrages failed, they added waters to the already inflated Indus and contributed to further worsening of the flood situation.
Besides the frozen jet stream that caused the unusual rains, then, it is the water infrastructure on the Indus River and its tributaries that are to blame for the scale of human impact of the floods in Pakistan. One can safely say that the floods were partly ‘anthropogenic’ in that they were caused by careless planning of water resources. Engineers and water planners have often given insufficient consideration to the sediment load that gets carried within the banks of the river channel, and through the interventions of their infrastructure they exacerbated this year’s flood. They created a false sense of security amongst the rural peasants, whose lives and livelihoods were washed away in the floods.
Water planning as it has been practised in Pakistan certainly carries benefits for some segments of the rural communities, specifically those rich farmers who own the farming lands. When key pieces of infrastructure such as barrages fail, however, innumerable people’s lives can be plunged into utter distress. The political ecology of the water infrastructure is such that those who benefit from them are usually not those who suffer from the floods; although the water resource planning is done in the name of improving the lot of the poor, it is they who suffer most when the technology fails.
If something good can at all come out of the enormous human tragedy that Pakistan has been confronted with, it should be a rethinking of river development and planning not only in that country, but entire South Asia. No one could have possibly predicted or prevented the floods. It was by all measures an unusual natural event exacerbated by human folly in terms of water resource planning and development. One can, however, certainly ensure that the magnitude of its after-effects was within human ability to deal with. Unfortunately the Pakistani government is poorly equipped to deal with the human aftermath. This is where all of us as individuals can play a role. We still have the time to help the flood-affected people, and assist them to rebuild their lives.
Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt is a Fellow at the Resource Management in Asia Pacific Program at the Australian National University. Kuntala researches water and mining, gender and development issues in South Asia. Her publications include Water First: Issues and Challenges with Nations and Communities in South Asia (jointly edited with Robert Wasson), published by Sage in 2008.
The views expressed in this article belong to the individual authors and do not represent the views of the Global Water Forum, the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance, UNESCO, the Australian National University, or any of the institutions to which the authors are associated. Please see the Global Water Forum terms and conditions here.