PAKISTAN: Cyclone-hit communities brace for monsoon

from IRIN
Published on 30 Jun 2010
KETI BANDAR, 30 June 2010 (IRIN) - Experts have warned that coastal communities in the southern Pakistan province of Sindh, already affected by Cyclone Phet on 6 June, face further homelessness, food insecurity and the threat of water-borne diseases in the upcoming monsoon.

Sindh's Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has declared an emergency in the districts of Karachi, Thatta, Badin, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas and Umerkot. It said of the 52,205 people evacuated from these areas prior to Cyclone Phet, 29,135 were in camps while the rest had moved in with relatives in Karachi and elsewhere.

"The issue these coastal communities face now is getting through the next four months with the monsoons," said Ziauddin Abro, disaster management programme manager for Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization [SAFWCO].

Pakistan's Met Office on 21 June issued a monsoon forecast of heavy rainfall in southern areas of the country from July to September. It said Sindh Province was expected to receive more rain than usual.

Due to timely evacuations, no lives were lost to Phet but thousands of homes and livestock were destroyed, making conditions difficult for returnees, who have complained of a lack of government support.

According to a post-disaster rapid assessment carried out by SAFWCO and the District Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), Keti Bandar, Kharo Chan, Bhambhore and Mirpur Sakro on the southern coast of Sindh were the worst affected by Phet with 30 percent of assets, livelihood sources and housing structures damaged.

SAFWCO said 3,000 housing units, most made only of straw mats and each unit costing around 5,000 Pakistani rupees (US$58), were damaged by Phet.

Immediate needs

"The short term needs include the supply of potable water, especially in the deltaic islands where people have to buy water," said Abro. "Rations for two months are a must as there is a seasonal closure for fishing [due to a fish breeding period] till the end of July, while the monsoon lasts till September."

He said food for work programmes would be useful in this scenario, in addition to the strengthening of housing units, the repair of boats and fishing gear, the construction of link roads, embankments, drains and safe dual-purpose shelters, and the provision of hygiene kits, including mosquito nets and plastic sheets.

"Safety drills and early warning systems are equally helpful in case a situation arises. However, the fact is that it's not a one NGO job. Rather, it's a collective effort between us and the government and only then can the situation improve," Abro said.

Delta danger

Those living in the Indus river delta, a swampy area of 41,440sqkm in the coastal belt of Thatta District, are particularly at risk due to monsoon-induced sea intrusion, experts said. None of the 40 delta islands have electricity, radio communication, potable water supplies, schools or basic healthcare facilities. Most of the boats are rickety and there were cases during the Phet evacuation when boats were damaged and unable to bring island residents to the mainland.

Khariyo Village, an island in the delta's Hajaro Creek, some 170km west of Karachi, is a case in point. It takes a 30-minute boat ride from the small impoverished town of Keti Bandar to reach Khariyo, home to three generations of about 35 families. None of its residents have been to school or ever been immunized as vaccination teams do not come there.

All its 400 residents were evacuated prior to Cylcone Phet but most have now returned.

"For us, even fast winds are no less than a calamity. This time, before the cyclone hit us, we were taken to a shelter but that's about it," Amnat, 50, a resident of Khariyo, told IRIN from outside her newly rebuilt straw mat house. Most years Khariyo residents have to rebuild their fragile homes after the monsoon.

"We cannot move to Keti Bandar as this has been our home for the past 40 years. Also, we do not have the means to buy a place elsewhere. I have 14 children and our income is 3,000-5,000 rupees [$35-58 a month] and this is not much given that the fish catch is decreasing [because of sea intrusion]," she said, adding that she was worried about the impact of the upcoming monsoon.

Waseem, a young community volunteer who helped to ferry islanders to Keti Bandar, said the media buzz that Phet had created had now died down and the authorities had moved on to other issues. "Apart from the footage that was repeated again and again of the flash floods and rainfall, there is not much reporting on how the coastal and island communities are surviving," he said.

Ali Gul Sanjrani, deputy district officer at Thatta's District Coordination Office Secretariat, said there was a monsoon contingency plan that brought together various officials from the police, municipalities and government.

He said around 52,000 people - those evacuated prior to Phet - were at risk. "Most of them belong to the lowest socio-economic group and are not in a position to face any damage that the monsoon rains cause. However, in the long run, issues that need to be addressed to help these communities are controlling inundation [of the delta], the supply of potable water and the eradication of poverty."