27 July 2011
Mubashir Fida, RedR's Programme Manager in Pakistan, never thought he would return to the flood affected region of Sindh after his first visit in 2007 following tropical cyclone Yemyin. Here, Mubashir talks of his experiences seeing his fellow countrymen struggling to make ends meet, a year after the devastating 2010 floods struck.
I never thought that I would return to the stunning Sindh province of Pakistan. I visited the area in 2007 during the floods caused by a tropical cyclone, when I was deployed to the field areas during the first two months of the emergency. Back then the situation was appalling - flood waters inundated large portions of land in the north west of the province. All you could see was people trying to escape their houses and trying to save whatever they could.
This year, while traveling to similar areas that were hit by last year’s floods, I thought that people would be on their way to recovery and that when we reached the area we would see people rebuilding and getting back to normal. However, the reality was far different from my imagination. Visiting various villages - called ‘Goths’ here - people still struggle to survive.
Land of the saints
Sindh is known as the land of Sufi saints that spread the religion of Islam in the area. Their followers – the majority of Sindhi people – are therefore very generous, humble and pious and lead a very simple life. The province lies on the flood plains of the Indus River. These plains are among the most fertile lands in Pakistan.
Farming has been the occupation of the people living here in small Goths for centuries. The evidence of farming in the area can be traced back to 4,000 B.C. Even so, many of the people living in these rural Goths have always struggled to make ends meet.
In a good number of areas the flood waters have subsided however, near some villages, patchy floodwater remains, making it impossible to cultivate the land. In areas where water has dried up, it has left behind silted barren plains. But communities are struggling to cultivate these pieces of land because they have no resources to speak of.
Modern day feudalism
The majority of the fields belong to wealthy land-owners who lend the land to poor farmers to cultivate – on credit. The landowners also loan seeds and fertiliser to the farmers. Upon harvest, over half of the yield automatically goes to the landowner and out of the remaining income; the majority goes to paying back the loan. In this way the rich landowners keep the farmers dependent on them and trap them in a never ending debt cycle. Their children are not encouraged to study either as many rich farmers do not want people to understand their basic rights.
Many of the Goths we visited had missed the first cultivation season this year because farmers are still waiting for the floodwaters to subside. Once the land dries out, the farmers will need to remove the silt and add fertilisers and other chemical agents to make the soil fertile again.
But, by missing the crop season this time round, farmers will not be able to harvest the yield for at least six months. During this time, the people will have no other choice than to rely on relief items provided by aid agencies. They won’t be able to rebuild their homes either because they have no income – or resources.
Eight year recovery
In Goths like Jeo Soondro in northern Sindh, people believe it could take them at least eight years to get back to normal. Their economy has been destroyed, their children are falling ill and they lack food. All of these factors are contributing to frustration and desperation in these communities. Today, at Jeo Soondro Goth, 60 year old Ghulam Qadir burst into tears, repeatedly saying, “Please help us, we don’t have anything. Our lives are full of hardship… please help us.”
At the same time, many international aid agencies are necessarily handing over their operations to national Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). So much work needs to be done to help build the capacity of local aid organisations. Not only would this ensure greater accountability and transparency, but would ensure improved service delivery to affected populations. People like Ghulam Qadir and his family will have a much better chance as a result.
RedR has been building the capacity of local organisations and aid workers to respond to major disasters since setting up a humanitarian training programme in Islamabad in 2010. In that time, we have trained 1200 aid workers in a range of vital humanitarian skills - helping to save more lives in times of crisis.
Photo credit © RedR/Usman Ghani