Rafiqul (right) working in Pakistan

© BRC

Rafiqul Islam is the British Red Cross’ delegate in Pakistan. Rafiqul works with the Pakistan Red Crescent and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to co-ordinate our support to Pakistan.

Two years on from the devastating 2010 floods, what is the situation in Pakistan?

We’ve started seeing improvements, but the problem is the spiral disaster effect in Pakistan. We worked to help people after the 2010 flood, but then some of these areas experienced flooding again in 2011. In 2012, the floods have come late but they’ve still affected five million people. In many places, the same people have been affected three times in three years.

But there has been positive change in some areas where flooding only happened once – in particular, our agricultural distributions have helped people start their lives again. Also, because of our resilience work, communities are coping better than they did during past floods.

How have we helped people in Pakistan recover from, and prepare for, disasters?

It started with emergency assistance. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement helped with all aspects – food, emergency shelter, water and sanitation. Next, we helped people with agricultural support, permanent shelter, livelihoods support, income generation, and further water and sanitation work.

Things like the shelter programme can take a long time, but that’s because the community needs to be fully involved. The community built the houses, and all aspects were considered. This is why their houses have not been affected by the 2012 floods, they’re still standing. People have also been taught the skills they need to build shelters and latrines in the future.

For the third year running, large swathes of Pakistan have been flooded.

© PRCS

How have we responded to the 2012 floods?

Volunteers and staff from the Pakistan Red Crescent had been trained in disaster response and they had prepared a contingency plan, using learning from previous disasters. When the 2012 floods hit, they could just start following the contingency plan.

The Pakistan Red Crescent had pre-positioned relief items for 35,000 families in warehouses around the country, so support could be mobilised right after the 2012 floods began. It had also set aside five million rupees as a disaster contingency fund, which it released to cover the cost of the relief operation.

The Movement is providing food, relief items, emergency medical help and mobile water treatment plants to affected areas. The four mobile health units now responding were funded by the British Red Cross.

What are the biggest challenges for the Red Cross in Pakistan?

One of the biggest challenges is the restriction of movement and access for the international community due to insecurity. Security is a big challenge for expatriates, but this does not stop the work of the Pakistan Red Crescent. Reaching the most vulnerable people can be a difficult for other reasons. Villages can be scattered over large areas, and reaching them is a challenge.

Another problem was that in some areas most people don’t have their own land, it’s owned by a landlord. So when we ask about building houses for them, they can’t provide the documents. It often takes a long time to convince the landlord and to be sure that he won’t reclaim the land if we build there.

Women carry water from a purification plant.

© IFRC/ Olivier Matthys

How do you make sure you reach those people with most need?

You go to the community, mobilise people and talk to community leaders. You use their recommendations, and what staff learn from looking at people’s physical circumstances, to write a list of beneficiaries. Then the list is re-verified. Has the person received support already? Are there more vulnerable people than them?

The Pakistan Red Crescent never compromises itself. We don’t say “we gave it to beneficiaries and it’s their problem”, we follow up. We give it for a purpose and it must be used for this purpose. This way we try our best to protect integrity.

What is the most memorable thing you’ve seen in your time with the Red Cross?

My most memorable moments with the Red Cross are from when I was in Bangladesh. When I was working on the relief operation for the 1989 tornado at Saturia, Manikganj, I was among the first trucks to reach people. I remember the happiness I saw in people’s faces, when they didn’t have anything to eat and we were providing them with food.

After the 1988 flood in Bangladesh we saw many people were suffering. There was nowhere to go, and food was becoming short. They couldn’t bring themselves to ask – they’d never been in that situation before. So we sent out volunteers to find families who were suffering and provide them with food. Later, I came to know one of the families. They said: “We were passing through a very serious time, and the way the Red Cross understood our need was a very special thing in our life.”

Find out more about our recovery work in Pakistan

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