The United Nations has rated the current flooding in Pakistan as the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history. Twenty million people and over one-fifth of the country's area are affected by rising floodwaters. Already, more people are impacted by the Pakistan floods than were affected by the Southeast Asian tsunami and the recent earthquakes in Kashmir and Haiti combined. And the record monsoon rains that caused rivers to swell are still falling, so need is only likely to increase.
Our friends at Shirkat Gah have been working tirelessly with local communities in the hardest-hit areas to provide relief. Shirkat Gah was one of the first organizations to send field teams to help identify where large groups of displaced people had temporarily settled. They were able to dispatch mobile health units and distribute thousands of packages containing medicines, cooking supplies and a week's worth of food for a family of six. They were also able to dispatch boats to rescue flood survivors trapped on rooftops and in trees.
"Women Are the Most Vulnerable"
In their assessments, Shirkat Gah has found that women are less likely to have access to food and healthcare facilities. A recent report released by the group states plainly: "women are the most vulnerable in terms of health and food facilities." Many have lost their chaddars, (headscarves) so they are hesitant to stand in food lines or interact with men who may be assessing needs. They are also reluctant to visit male doctors; one eyewitness interviewed by the BBC said "kids were crying of pain and mothers were begging me to bring them female doctors." Thus, Shirkat Gah has decided to focus their efforts mainly on women and children. Already, they have identified over 100 pregnant, nursing and disabled women to whom they will be providing targeted care. They are seeking ways to provide emotional and psychological aid to women and children living in the temporary settlements. They have also begun collecting sanitary napkins, trying to locate female doctors and working to identify other needs specific to displaced women.
"They Must Be Stopped"
Our friends at Shirkat Gah have seen that in some regions, militant groups like the Taliban have stepped in to provide flood survivors with clean water, food and shelter. These groups are filling gaps where international aid hasn't yet been able to reach. People in need don't have the luxury of getting survival essentials from the humanitarian group of their choice, so if a militant group can provide, flood survivors will have no other option but to depend on those groups for aid. This dynamic strengthens ultra-conservative groups who seek to deny women's basic human rights. Our friends at Shirkat Gah are keeping this troubling complication in mind in all they do. Shirkat Gah's feelings are very clear: "they must be stopped."
Concerns About Future Food and Education Shortages
Shirkat Gah is concerned that rural women, who are also farmers in many areas, are being ignored in agricultural surveys. As noted above, many women were uncomfortable giving their views in recent surveys of crop damage on account of having lost their chaddars. And since millions of acres of crops and thousands of heads of livestock have been destroyed, Shirkat Gah is readying its response in the likely case of a famine. Additionally, many flood survivors have been housed in schools that were closed for the summer. As the school year begins, students will be unable to attend classes. Shirkat Gah calls this possibility "a national calamity."
As the floodwaters in Pakistan continue to rise, our friends at Shirkat Gah are doing everything they can to meet the tremendous needs of women and families caught in the crisis. Even after the waters recede, MADRE's ally will be there to support local communities, with a special emphasis on women's needs.