Pakistan is grappling with the devastating impact of climate change, despite contributing less than one percent of global carbon emissions. Last year, heavy monsoon rains led to severe flooding in the country, submerging nearly one-third of Pakistan, with the worst-hit areas being Sindh, Baluchistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The floods of 2022 were catastrophic, affecting 33 million people, resulting in approximately 1,739 deaths, and leaving over 2.2 million houses destroyed. The scale of devastation was enormous, displacing 8 million people and exposing 4.5 million individuals to flooded areas.
During times of crisis, lives are altered in an instant, and the consequences are uniquely challenging for women, girls, boys, and men of all ages. Women often bear the brunt of such disasters, playing a central role in their families’ survival and resilience. Recognizing this, it becomes crucial to involve women in decision-making processes to address their specific needs and protection requirements during such calamities.
In the face of the 2022 flood crisis in Pakistan, the Sindh Government displayed remarkable leadership under Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s guidance. They transformed the crisis into an opportunity by providing climate-resilient homes and land ownership to millions of affected families, especially women. This visionary approach translated the revolutionary slogan of ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ (Bread, Cloth & House) by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto into a practical reality, elevating the concept of a social welfare state.
This transformation came about through the initiative “Sindh Peoples Housing For Flood Affectees” (SPHF), which aimed to construct two million houses for the flood victims. In the first phase, 5,000 title deeds were distributed among women from each family. This empowering step challenged patriarchal norms and empowered women financially, making them decision-makers in their families through land ownership. Sindh Government also provided financial assistance to these women to rebuild their houses, adopting the slogan “Apni zameen, Apna Makaan” (My land, my house), thus propelling progress towards peace and prosperity. This action has been lauded by women’s rights activists and civil society organizations as a crucial stride towards gender equality and social justice.
Conversely, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), progress has been slower in addressing the aftermath of the floods. Although the province developed “The Flood Response Plan 2022” in collaboration with the “Merged Areas Governance Project” (MAGP) to rebuild and prepare for future climate change, implementation has faced various challenges. Urgent attention is required to bridge the gaps in education, food security, agriculture, health, and protection needs.
The educational priorities encompass scaling up access to education by repairing and rehabilitating partially damaged schools, providing Transitional School Structures (TSS) in severely affected areas, and ensuring the continuity of ‘Temporary Learning Centers’ (TLCs) until safe school structures are available. However, progress in these areas has been slow.
Furthermore, farmers who missed the 2022-23 winter season (Rabi) due to the floods urgently need support for the upcoming summer 2023 (Kharif) and subsequent Rabi season. Access to food remains a major challenge due to soaring food inflation.
Critical services, such as mental health and psycho-social support, rapid diagnostic test kits for diseases, nutrition aid, and child protection efforts, are desperately needed in the flood-affected areas. Special attention must be given to vulnerable groups, including women, girls, persons with disabilities, women-headed households, senior citizens, refugees, and religious minorities. These groups require specific services, such as Gender-Based Violence (GBV) case management and dignity kits.
Addressing the increasing child protection risks, which include child marriage, child labor, and violence against children, is crucial. However, protecting children in areas with security issues proves challenging, as civil society organizations are restricted from operating there without obtaining NOC (No Objection Certificate). This limitation exacerbates child protection concerns in such areas.
Moreover, water quality monitoring and sustainable water supply systems through new constructions are essential. Many areas, like Village Cheena in District Tank, KP, lack access to portable water, forcing people to drink rainwater from pools. Rehabilitation support in remote and hard-to-reach areas, such as Kohistan and Tank, is also urgently required.
Additionally, there is a concerning lack of media coverage for the grassroots situation, hindering rehabilitation efforts. Areas like Lower Kohistan District have faced repeated flash floods, reminiscent of the 2022 floods, but remain underserved and overlooked.
The recent predictions by Peshawar’s Regional Meteorological Centre of more rain and wind-thundershowers in various areas, including Chitral, Lower and Upper Dir, Swat, Bajaur, and others, have only amplified the sense of hopelessness among the traumatized people of KP.
In contrast, Sindh’s advocacy and implementation efforts have become a beacon of hope for the flood victims in KP. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s commitment to fulfilling the mission of his late parents, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, by providing houses to flood victims in KP and Punjab, has inspired desperate communities to look towards Sindh and its young leader for support. His unyielding commitment and mature approach stand out in contrast to some elders’ inaction, making him the potential savior for the orphaned region of Pakhtunkhwa.
In conclusion, Pakistan’s response to the 2022 flood crisis varied significantly between provinces. Sindh’s effective approach in providing climate-resilient homes and land ownership served as a valuable lesson for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Addressing the gaps in disaster management and relief efforts is crucial, especially for the most vulnerable groups. By learning from successful initiatives and involving women in decision-making processes, Pakistan can better prepare for and respond to future climate disasters. The urgent and collective effort of all stakeholders is required to build a more resilient and compassionate nation.
SHAHIDA SHAH KAKAKHEL
The writer is Researcher, Climate Change & Human Rights professional. MPhil- Area Studies (China/Russia/Central Asia).