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Lutheran Disaster Response

Earthquake in Pakistan

A 7.2 earthquake has hit a remote area of southwestern Pakistan. Today’s quake was centered in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s most sparsely populated area, according to the US Geological Service. The quake’s epicenter was centered in a remote area about 200 miles, or 320 kilometers, southwest of the Baluchistan capital of Quetta, the Associated Press reported. The quake was felt in several neighboring provinces and in major cities, including Karachi.  Police from Karachi report no damage or loss of life as of now.

The ELCA’s partner, CWS in Pakistan, has a long record of responding after earthquakes, including the 7.5-magnitude quake that hit Pakistan in 2005.  CWS will conduct assessments and prepare a response if needed.

Pakistan: Images of Flooding in Swat

These photos were taken in one of the worst-affected areas of Swat where ACT member CWS is working. The journey is possible by vehicle in only some locations while for other segments it is necessary to travel by foot. Click to view images of key areas where ACT members are working.

Pakistan: Water rose a meter a minute

Water rose a meter a minute, said Nazer is sitting in front of his tent, his face like a mask of stone. The 50 year old father of four still cannot believe what happened. Within just four or five minutes, the flood levels in his village in northwest Pakistan rose up to four metres. The young man sitting beside him, Mujahid Gul, looks around at the village – or what remains of it – and says people are happy simply to have survived.

Massive rain since the end of July has caused Pakistan’s worst floods. The village of Zareen Abad with its 500 houses is still under water. Said Nazer and the other inhabitants settled on higher ground on the brink of the village. In the graveyard, they live in tents and under plastic sheeting.

Under no circumstances do they want to leave their village. Instead, they want to start clearing the debris as soon as possible. But before they can start, the water has to completely drain. For that, flood victims need pumps and generators. As Nauman Shah, coordinator of ACT Alliance member Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, says, this should happen as soon as possible. Otherwise, the water will destroy the brick houses totally.

Although his house is at the brink of the village and still partly under water, Shah Saeed has already started repairing the roof. The father of five cannot just sit and wait. Underneath, household goods, including mattresses and furniture, are rotting in the water. Gone also are the villagers’ cattle. Nearly all buffalo, goats and hens are dead, Nauman says. He believes the number of dead people could rise to 1000 in Nowshera district alone. Some of the still-flooded houses must contain bodies, he believes.

Also in the neighbouring village of Pashtoon Gari, the river Kabul, which has flooded most of the low-lying land, brought destruction with it. Water 4m high ran through the village and left devastation. Fagir Sheer, a 30 year old labourer, is trying to salvage some of his belongings from the mud and debris. But there is not much that he can use anymore. How he will manage to rebuild his house, in which he was living with his mother and brother, he has no clue.

Fagir Sheer, as with many other villagers, is still in shock. Daily labourers like himself have lost their work because the fields around the village are totally covered by water. A field with sugar cane, for example, is totally devastated. Most fields are still under water. In some places, the remains of cattle lie in the water. Sometimes when it is too hot, the smell is very bad. For four days the water stayed 4m high, says Abdul Saboor Khan. Out of 1700 houses, 400 were totally destroyed. Most of the others are damaged. He is glad that Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe and its local partners are supporting the villagers. The need for help is immense, judging by the extent of destruction.

By Rainer Lang, DKH-ACT

A cycle of loss and destruction is testing Pakistan’s resilience

Of the current situation in Pakistan, Pakistan-based staff members of Church World Service offer the following reflection:

In the five years since the 2005 earthquake devastated parts of Pakistan, not one year has gone by in which the people of Pakistan have not suffered from disaster. The years 2006 and 2007 brought floods; although not even close to the destruction brought by this year’s floods, people still lost their lives, homes, crops and livestock.

In 2008, a powerful earthquake rendered thousands homeless in Balochistan at the onset of winter. In 2009, millions of people were displaced by the conflict between the Pakistan military and militants in Khyber Pakhtunkwa and Waziristan.

Throughout these years, severe drought and water shortages plagued the agricultural communities, which constantly live with the reality of food insecurity. Now, 2010, a year that was supposed to be a time of new beginnings and the continued road to recovery of previous disasters, has turned into a record-breaking year for flood destruction and not just in one province, but throughout the entire country.

Resilient is a word often used to describe the people of Pakistan, but this cycle of loss and destruction is truly testing this attribute. Thousands of people have been living in pre-fabricated shelters still trying to regain their lives and livelihoods lost five years ago.

Entire communities began to experience rebirth but now these very same people must start over again after the floodwaters are gone. Displaced persons, many who have only recently returned home to Swat and other areas, once again find themselves without homes and property. Farmers who were already struggling with food insecurity have lost or may lose this year’s harvest, thus, pushing them farther away from achieving food security for their families.

Undoubtedly the floods have caused widespread damage to agricultural and crop lands, adding further threats of food insecurity to flood-affected families. Particularly affected are the crop lands in the province of Punjab, known as the breadbasket of Pakistan – thereby exacerbating the problems facing the country. As sources of food supply remain underwater, families face the possibility of not being able to harvest and sow their crops. Worsening the situation — increased prices for essentials like sugar.

What is most worrisome is the harsh test of time, and a cycle of never-ending disasters: Flood-affected families in Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, Gilgit-Baltistan and Balakot had already experienced massive devastation in the 2005 South Asian earthquake.

“People in the affected areas are most vulnerable and they had hardly managed to get their lives back together after the earthquake. Again everything they had is taken away from them,” said Dennis Joseph, associate director of the CWS program in Pakistan. “At this moment it is not just their material well-being but also their physical well-being, which includes their mental well-being that is important.”

Dennis shared the story of Mehr Nisar, a 50-year-old widow from Punda Balla Village. She told Joseph: “I lost my husband in the earthquake, and I was living in a [pre-fabricated] shelter with my son after that. This has now been destroyed as half of the land under the shelter was washed away.”

Pakistan floods: Church World Service delivers aid amid massive obstacles

ELCA Disaster Response has committed $100,000 to the CWS appeal to respond in Pakistan.  This is a recent news release from CWS on the situation.

With more than 3.2 million people displaced or affected by monsoon rains and the worst flooding in north Pakistan in nearly a century, global humanitarian agency Church World Service has announced a U.S. and international fundraising appeal.

The agency reports that its aid workers in the region are continuing their initial response, providing food packages, shelter materials and non-food supplies. In addition, one mobile health unit has been dispatched so far, delivering emergency health services in Balakot.

CWS Pakistan team members report an increasing need for assistance, and say blocked roadways and communications continue to hamper aid workers from reaching cut-off survivors with vital food and supplies.

CWS Pakistan Senior Project Officer Tassaduq Hussain described the situation in Banna, Allai Tehsil, saying lack of communications and passable roads continues to hinder access to elevated areas of Allai. “Here, there is major food shortage in markets, and the condition for the people is not good.”

Hussain said teams are hoping roads will reopen today, although more rain is expected. He said the most immediate needs are food packages and shelter materials.

Elsewhere, from Sibbi, Balochistan, CWS Pakistan Senior Project Officer Saleem Dominic reported a similar situation. “Food is the initial, immediate need, with hygiene and shelter next. Houses are completely destroyed and flood water remains in the houses, which poses health risks,” Dominic said.

CWS is the first organization to distribute food in Sibbi, “for which the people are very grateful,” said Dominic.

Assessments by CWS and partners indicate survivors face grave challenges given the loss of housing, crops and livestock. Most of the affected villages are still inundated, and people in general have little to eat and no means to earn money.

CWS, other humanitarian groups and Pakistan government officials are voicing concern over the destruction of some 100,000 acres of fertile soil along the Swat River, a main source for food for 50,000 people in the area, which will take years to renew.

But for now, urgent rescue and relief continues. Church World Service plans a response to a wide geographic area, subject to change in the weeks ahead based on changing conditions and needs.

Initial CWS efforts have included providing 500 food and shelter kits in Sibbi, conducting assessments in affected areas and identifying beneficiaries, and engaging the agency’s mobile health clinic services, now providing patient examinations, essential drugs and prenatal care.

Based on assessments conducted by its staff and local partners, CWS plans to provide emergency assistance to 70,000 people in Swat, DI Khan, Sibbi and Kohistan, including food assistance to 35,000 people; emergency shelter supplies to meet the needs of 17,500 people; and mobile health access for 17,500 people in Mansehra and Swat.

Church World Service has worked in Pakistan for more than five decades and is a leading agency in promoting and adhering to international Sphere and Humanitarian Accountability Partnership standards for aid quality and accountability, and as such, focuses keenly on the quality and the nutritional value and mix of the foods distributed in disaster settings.

CWS food packages will be distributed directly to affected families at convenient food distribution points established in each community and consist of 44 lbs. each of wheat flour and rice, 4¼ lbs. each of beans and sugar, 10½ cups of cooking oil, 7 oz. of tea, and a box of iodized salt.

As well, CWS will assess the particular nutrition needs and status of children under 5 years of age in beneficiary families, to determine if supplemental food resources will be required in later weeks.

Church World Service is working with other members of the ACT Alliance Pakistan Forum as part of a coordinated response.  CWS Pakistan also has planned ten introductory Sphere and HAP international standards workshops for humanitarian organizations in different Pakistan cities, to ensure quality and accountability in the Pakistan flood response.