Recent years have brought immense suffering to the people of Pakistan through both natural disasters and a prolonged internal conflict. The effects of the conflict are felt throughout Pakistan but the epicentre lies in the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Terrorist attacks staged in Pakistan are estimated to have killed more than 27,000 people between 2011 and 2016, including more than 16,000 in KP and FATA. Floods in 2010 affected Punjab, Sindh and KP provinces, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,700 people and economic losses exceeding US$10 billion through damaged property and basic infrastructure in some of the most deprived and underdeveloped areas of the country.
The compound impacts of internal conflict and disasters were particularly devastating for youth and women. Yet, even though over 30 percent of Pakistan’s population is between 15 and 29 years of age, these groups have been largely overlooked in the limited development work carried out in strife-affected areas.
In the face of large-scale problems that confound traditional solutions, existing social fabric is damaged, with respect for elders and their ability to make wise decisions, manage crises, and care for public welfare degraded. This exacerbates intergenerational tensions and results in disengaged, cynical youths with few constructive pathways to a better future. Lack of opportunities for socio-economic uplift and constructive community engagement thus increase the inclination of young people to be involved in armed violence and conflict.
Similarly, conservative patriarchal norms which strictly regulate women’s mobility and limit them to the domestic sphere have been aggravated by obscurantist narratives that provide ideological underpinnings to terrorist violence. The deaths of male family members in conflict bring further social and economic hardships for women who are already trying to cope with the economic impacts of natural disasters on their household economies.
Thus, a major challenge (or missed opportunity) in tackling the compound impact of natural disasters and internal conflicts is the lack of wider participation of youth and women in development initiatives, especially those pertaining to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and peacebuilding. If facilitating resources and structures are in place, these groups can contribute enormously to building community resilience. For instance, UNDP believes that involvement in DRR and peacebuilding can offer much-needed opportunities for positive engagement to youth, who can work for the safety and security of their communities by sharing their knowledge and skills with others.
Similarly, female engagement can be especially beneficial at two levels. First, as domestic gatekeepers, women are primarily responsible for children, who are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of calamities and violence. Second, involvement in DRR and peacebuilding interventions can give women opportunities to expand their roles beyond the domestic sphere and engage with other community members. This can provide an effective counter-narrative to patriarchal discourses which limit women’s roles and options in society.
Key international agreements, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on safeguarding cultural and political rights for peacebuilding, and recently developed global frameworks such as the Sendai Framework for DRR, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Conference of Parties (COP) 21 Paris all point to the importance of integrating areas of development. Peacebuilding and DRR are two of the many social processes that can be effectively integrated to build community resilience against disasters and armed violence.
For this reason, UNDP has proposed an integrated approach to its support for achieving the SDGs in Pakistan through a pilot project in KP province. This aims to strengthen the capacities of youth and women, enhance social resilience for better disaster preparedness and, ultimately, mitigate the impacts of disaster and conflict.
The UNDP Youth and Social Cohesion Project (YSCP) is being implemented in Union Council Musa Zai of Dera Ismail Khan district, one of the most deprived, neglected and underdeveloped areas of KP which was severely affected by the 2010 floods. Through research, community mobilization, capacity building and small-scale infrastructural support, the project encourages sports, recreation and other social activities, and enables youth and women to learn about DRR.
As part of its efforts to achieve risk informed development in Pakistan, UNDP incorporates an extensive DRR component which translates the shifting global paradigm to local contexts into its capacity building activities. DRR training modules have been developed to create a cohort of people on the ground who will take the lead in improving the safety and security of their own communities in the aftermath of disasters. The training includes orientation on basic DRR concepts, community contingency planning, early warning systems, and emergency first aid training, with an emphasis on a community-based approach.
Through such activities, youth from project villages will be able to enhance collective learning about the social constructions of risk and violence in their communities. Apart from improving their capacities to identify and deal with risk, this knowledge will instil civic responsibility and an understanding of human rights among youth, strengthening their bonds with their communities. By participating in the trainings, women will be empowered through new opportunities to engage beyond the domestic sphere and to contribute to the welfare of their communities. Finally, this initiative will pave the way for future research to shed further light on the multifaceted relationship between DRR and social cohesion.
UNDP has also established multifunctional community centres in the project villages. These will serve as village-level hubs for cultural, recreational and development activities, but also as disaster assembly points and as secretariats for future disaster management committees formed under UNDP’s Community-Based Disaster Risk Management (CBDRM) strategy.
The scale, scope and magnitude of disasters and extremism in Pakistan today is unprecedented and increasing. The project activities will help build community resilience against disasters and armed violence in some of the most volatile and neglected areas of Pakistan. Greater youth engagement in social activities and processes such as DRR and peace building will create more room for innovative ideas to bring about a wider change in society.