Pakistan

Pakistan six months on: water, water, everywhere…

Penny-in-Pakistan

Penny Sims, Red Cross communications delegate, reports back from Pakistan:

Six months after the floods, most people would believe the water should have drained away by now. After all, six months is a long time. Surely it’s over now?

As we drive further south through Sindh province, it becomes increasingly clear this is not the case. Once out of the cities, the only areas that really escaped the floods, we see the situation created by the flood waters – smashed walls of buildings, piles of rubble.

Flooded-field in Pakistan

And then mile upon mile of water. In some places, the water stretches out as far as the eye can see, right out to the horizon. There are occasional landmarks – the odd tree or building. The raised field boundaries and reflected sky create a strange image, as if we are looking at a patchwork of endless fields made of glass.

We pull over at the side of the road to take in the scene. The tops of submerged crops peek out from the water’s edge. Compared to some of the dry fields further north, which were a hive of activity as farmers load huge, colourful trucks with their harvest, this area is eerily still and silent.

A young boy runs along a field edge towards us. He has something he wants to tell me. My Urdu isn’t up to much, but the boy is mute, and tells the story of what happened here through actions, miming the huge walls of water that swept through, leaving the whole area under water. His arms are held high as he shows the height, and the force. Then he looks at me, arms spread wide, as he shows the desolation of this neighbourhood. We nod and gesticulate to show him we understand what he is telling us, and he runs back to his father, his story told.

Woman-in burkha carrying an-aid-box

As we travel further into the villages, there are moments of tragic beauty. Where the water laps at the village perimeters, it’s easy to be fooled momentarily, as you take in what looks like a tranquil lake. But of course there was no lake here before – this is dirty, stagnant flood water, covering what used to be a field. It’s a dangerous breeding  ground for disease, but when clean water could be up to 5 km away, of course people are using this to bathe in, as well as washing their clothes and cooking pots.

The ground underneath is so saturated, it is taking months and months for the water to drain away. Natural drainage has been totally overwhelmed. Where the water has gone, it has left behind a hard, sun-baked layer of earth. But this can be deceptive – stray away from the path and you can soon find that layer cracks, as you sink up to the top of your boots in gooey grey mud.

Find out what the Red Cross is doing to help people recovery from the floods

Image 1 © IFRC

Image 2 and 3 © Olivier Mathys/IFRC

Pakistan: tailoring aid six months after superflood

Men-with-piles of emergency relief

Tomorrow marks the six-month anniversary of the Pakistan superflood and along with other mega-disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake and Asian tsunami, it puts the spotlight on the way aid agencies help people recover from crises.

In Pakistan, the situation is still very serious. More than 20 million people – one in every ten people in the country – have been affected by the floods and with hundreds of thousands still dependent on food aid, the first steps to recovery have barely begun.

I can understand why people might criticise and find it strange that more progress has not been made. Even as an aid worker with some understanding of the context, I was still surprised by the situation I found when I was deployed to Pakistan in October. I was helping with the distribution of emergency relief in the southern province of Sindh and I found that our team was the first to reach some people with aid even though the monsoon rains had begun in July.

Part of the reason for this is the sheer scale of the disaster. In terms of effect, as in the devastation it caused to infrastructure and the number of people affected, it is larger than the Boxing Day tsunami and the earthquake in Haiti combined. A fifth of Pakistan has been affected, covering an area the size of the United Kingdom. The disaster also unfolded over the course of several weeks. Its effects were not as immediate as an earthquake’s are, for example the instantaneous razing to the ground of an entire city, and because the waters took so long to flow from one end of the country to the other, different areas are at different stages of the emergency.

In the areas where people can return home they are finding a level of devastation similar to the aftermath of an earthquake. Over five million acres of cropland were destroyed, almost two million homes have been damaged or destroyed and infrastructure such as roads and bridges have been damaged or washed away.

Where the waters have gone down crops and fertile land remain buried under several feet of silt. People cannot grow food for themselves and their families, let alone enough to sell at market.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of people in southern areas are still unable to return home as thousands of acres of land are still flooded. In Sindh province residents live in a squalid, watery wasteland where stagnant floodwaters covering fields are a serious health concern and make subsistence farming impossible.

The British Red Cross has learnt a lot from previous disasters and certainly our experience after the tsunami is informing a lot of our recovery work today. But at the same time it’s definitely not a case of ‘one size fits all’.

Every country and every disaster is unique and it’s vital for us to understand the context and the people before we start helping them recover. Although we assess the options available in each situation, we tend to focus on constructing shelter and sanitation facilities along with helping people re-establish ways of making a living as these are areas in which we have developed expertise and can have the best impact on people’s recovery.

Finding a job is the top priority for most people after the initial effects of a disaster pass, although how we approach this can be very different depending on the context. Primarily, however, how we work with communities to recover from disasters is based on discussions with those affected and their families to ensure the support we can provide is based on their priorities.

Men receiving tins of ghee at aid-distribution

Although the Pakistan floods began almost six months ago, the scale is so huge the operation is still very much in the emergency relief phase. However, as plans for longer-term recovery are developed, one thing to consider is how to help people prepare better for future disasters.

Because there’s no point in doing recovery without building people’s resilience to future disasters at the same time. Without this, people will only end up in the same sort of crisis all over again.

After the destruction caused by Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh in 2007, the British Red Cross worked with several communities to relocate them from their precarious homes by the sea, where many had lost their homes and livelihoods.

As well as helping families build new, stronger homes, which would protect them more in future cyclones, we gave them fruit trees. This not only minimises the risk of soil erosion around their homes, it also gives them an additional source of income.

In Pakistan, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has helped more than two million people with emergency relief, which will still be needed in some areas for some time to come. It is also planning to help 130,000 families get back on their feet and recover their livelihoods over the next two years.

Working alongside the government of Pakistan and co-ordinating with other aid agencies, it’s about getting people in a position where they are stronger and more able to cope.

Long-term recovery may not be as sexy as emergency response but it’s just as vital when it comes to saving and improving lives.

Find out more about what the Red Cross is doing in Pakistan

Images © Sarah Oughton/BRC

Disaster Response Challenge leads Dave to Pakistan

Dave Luddington went from Red Cross first aid volunteer to fire and emergency support service (FESS) volunteer to delegate in Pakistan within three years.

Dave spent a month as a Red Cross delegate in flood-hit Pakistan, in September and October last year. His role was to manage the distribution of aid throughout a large region of the country.

Dave was already an event first aid and FESS volunteer when he took part in the Red Cross’ Disaster Response Challenge, which led to his recent delegate role. The event, in which participants respond to a hypothetical disaster under the guidance of trained delegates, was a eureka moment.

He said: “I’ve worked in warehouse logistics for over 20 years and had no idea that I could use these skills to help the Red Cross in a disaster situation. After taking part in the Disaster Response Challenge, I immediately applied to become a warehouse logistics delegate.”

Eighteen months later, Dave was fully trained and flying out to Pakistan – and now he can’t wait to go back. He said: “I’m looking forward to spending more time as a Red Cross delegate, going out to disaster areas and helping to save lives. It’s so rewarding.”

Why don’t you sign up for this year’s Disaster Response Challenge, in Hampshire, on 8-10 April or 23-25 September? Entrance costs just £50 (plus minimum sponsorship of £500). Although participation doesn’t guarantee a delegate role with the Red Cross, it’s a great introduction to our international emergency response work. And, of course, you’ll be helping us raise vital funds in the process.

A year of responding to crises at home and abroad

As 2010 draws to a close, we’d like to show all our friends, fans, donors, supporters and partners how you’ve helped us make a difference this year.

While 2010 was full of high-profile disasters, our volunteers and staff helped people every day with a wide array of personal crises.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest crises you helped us respond to this year.

January – The Big Freeze

Britain entered the new year covered in a blanket of snow. As the biggest snowfall for decades disrupted travel, schools and communication networks, our volunteers jumped in their vehicles and worked round the clock. Emergency response volunteers supported ambulance services, helped district nurses reach urgent cases, and provided people with blankets and food after power cuts.  Care in the home volunteers visited hundreds of vulnerable people to check their welfare.  And, when there was a massive increase in winter injuries, our medical equipment services were kept busy loaning out wheelchairs and other mobility equipment.

January – Haiti earthquake

Credit: Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross

The devastating Haiti earthquake on 12 January led to the largest single-country response in Red Cross history. Around 230,000 people died and more than a million were left homeless. We immediately launched an appeal for funds, and the public generously donated, helping us deliver food, hundreds of thousands of tents and tarpaulins, millions of litres of clean water, thousands of cooking sets, and vital medical aid to those who needed it.

Almost one year on, we’re still providing help with sanitation, shelter and livelihoods as Haitian people look to rebuild their lives.

February – first aid for people with disabilities

In February we reported on our three-year project to deliver specially-adapted first aid training for people with disabilities. From September 2006, around 6,000 people took part in one of our inclusive first aid courses. We announced that the programme would continue, getting a big thumbs up from former England and Newcastle United football player Alan Shearer, who said: “It’s easy to assume that because someone is physically disabled or has learning difficulties that they can’t learn first aid, however this just isn’t the case. This fantastic British Red Cross initiative has proved that, with the right training, people with disabilities are more than able to learn the skills to save a life.”

February – Chile earthquake

On 27 February, an earthquake measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale hit Chile. We released £50,000 from our Disaster Fund to help the Chilean Red Cross respond. We also launched an appeal to raise money.

March – highlighting tuberculosis worldwide

On World TB Day (24 March) we highlighted our TB programmes in Central Asia and Africa, where we’re combating stigma and helping people get the treatment they need.

TB is a curable disease but still kills around two million people a year.

April – volcanic ash leads to travel disruption

When planes were grounded across Europe, we sent two psychosocial support teams to Calais and Madrid to provide practical help and emotional support to Britons trying to return home.

May – the Big Red Cross Bus

We toured the UK with the world’s first all-in-one mobile charity shop and volunteering centre. For two weeks, starting on 31 May, over 2,000 people shopped on our bus and 200 people signed up to volunteer with us.

June – highlighting destitution of refugees and asylum seekers

A British Red Cross poll showed that one-in-four British people still believe asylum seekers come to Britain to claim benefits. The survey results were published ahead of Refugee Week, an annual UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events celebrating refugees’ contribution to the UK.

We also launched a report highlighting the dire hardships facing destitute asylum seekers and the urgent need for a more humane asylum system. The report – Not gone, but forgotten – showed that many refused asylum seekers survive on only one meal a day, are unable to work, are homeless, and rely on charities like the Red Cross to survive.

July – Kyrgyzstan unrest

When ethnic violence broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan, we released £100,000 from our Disaster Fund to help the International Committee of the Red Cross scale up their humanitarian operation, providing healthcare, emergency relief items and forensic experts. An estimated 100,000 people – mostly women and children – fled to neighbouring Uzbekistan.

July/August – Pakistan floods

An estimated 20 million people were affected by Pakistan’s worst flooding for 80 years. The floods killed more than 1,700 people and destroyed crops, farms and food, leaving people facing months of hunger.

We sent teams of logistics and sanitation specialists to organise relief items, provide clean toilets and water, and deliver hygiene education to reduce people’s risk of disease.

Credit: British Red Cross/John Millard

British Red Cross/John Millard

After we carried out a survey that showed young people feel ill-equipped to deal with the emergencies they’ve faced, we launched the Life. Live it. campaign encouraging them to learn first aid. One way the campaign is engaging with teens is through giving away money-can’t-buy experiences. The first took place last week, when young football fans attended training sessions with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United players.

October – recognising young heroes

We held the fifth annual Humanitarian Citizen Award ceremony, which celebrates the extraordinary achievements of young people from across Britain. The overall winner was 15-year-old Cameron Foster from Wigan, who has done countless sponsored runs, walks and abseils to raise thousands of pounds for specialist sports equipment for disabled people.

November – first anniversary of the Cumbria floods

Although many people have moved back into their homes and are rebuilding their lives, the voluntary sector is still providing a wide range of help. Our volunteers have been a consistent and much-needed source of support in Cumbria, making more than 835 visits and 2,200 phone calls to check on people’s welfare. 

December – It’s snowing again

We’re closing out the year the way we began it – by helping people struggling with heavy snowfalls, ice, and burst water pipes. We released money from our Disaster Fund to help the snow response in northern Scotland. Our volunteers have been out supporting the emergency services across the UK – from transporting people to and from hospital, to delivering medication to homebound people. And our volunteers in Northern Ireland have been delivering water to people after leaking pipes have left 40,000 people without a water supply.

Want to help your community, whatever happens in 2011? Find out about volunteering with us.

Win free Christmas cards!

snowmanAre you getting stressed with festive fever already creeping across the nation in all its gaudy glory? If so, we’re here to help by offering you the chance to cross one thing off your Christmas to do list.

We have five packs of ten Christmas cards from our online shop up for grabs for five lucky winners. All you have to do to enter and be in with the chance of bagging one is correctly answer the following five questions (some of the answers can be found on our website):

The Quiz

1) Who will be our special celebrity guest at our London Christmas fair on 1 December?

a) Simon Cowell
b) Wayne Sleep
c) Tom Jones

2) How many people per week are our logistics specialists helping receive relief items and food in Pakistan ?

a) over 25,000
b) over 90, 000
c) over 120,000

3) Which of the following services do our volunteers provide?

a) help with Christmas present-wrapping
b) emergency turkey basting
c) emotional support in a crisis (including cups of tea)

4) How many people ran for us in this year’s Great North Run?

a) less than hundred
b) around 200
c) more than 300

5) If your child chokes on a roast potato, which first aid technique should you employ?

a) Hang them upside down by their feet and gently shake
b) Put your fingers in their mouth
c) Give them back blows between the shoulder blades

To enter, you can either email me (alixmiller@redcross.org.uk) or tweet the answer to us by clicking the tweet button at the top of this post and adding the answers into the box. We will select the winners at random at 3 p.m on Friday 22 October.

Good luck!

Should charities be ranked?

Do you think the Red Cross is a worthwhile cause? Should charities like the Red Cross be ranked according to their benefit to society? This was the controversial question posed by a leading advisor to some of Britain’s philanthropists recently who believes there should be a charity ‘league table’.

How this would be decided and by whom is up for debate. It’s difficult to imagine how this could possibly work in practice. After all how do you measure worthiness and isn’t it a subjective thing anyway?

Many people who give to charity are motivated by feeling an emotional affinity with the charities they support, or choose to support particular ones because they have directly benefited from them, so would they want or use this kind of information anyway?

If you or someone in your family suffered from cancer, you’d probably support cancer charities. Or – as is often the case at the Red Cross – you might have an instinctive response to a disaster like the recent Pakistan floods and be prompted to donate.

Equally, if your friend or a relative is taking on a fundraising event such as the London Marathon, you’ll happily fork out and trust that they are doing whatever it is for a worthwhile cause.

Eighty four per cent of our regular givers are happy for the Red Cross to decide where to spend their gift, which indicates a high level of trust. And maybe it’s more about building trust so that whichever charity people or organisations donate to, they feel certain their money will be used wisely. Sadly some – Bono’s One to name a recent case – come under fire for misusing or wasting funds.

That’s why we all need to strive for clarity, accountability and transparency. Read more about how the Red Cross uses its funds on our website. You can also see a summary of the income and expenditure of every registered charity in England and Wales, on the Charity Commission’s website.

But whether you decide to support us, cancer charities or donkey sanctuaries, surely that shouldn’t be determined by a definitive, moral chart but by personal preference.

Pakistan floods: from writer to relief worker

Last week I was writing about our Pakistan Floods Appeal from my desk in London and this week I find myself deployed to help with the distribution of emergency relief in Sindh province – this job is never dull!

A young man in Pakistan carries a box of relief itemsWhen the floods began in the north of the country in July the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies responded quickly, co-ordinating the emergency response with Red Cross National Societies around the world. A number of emergency response units (ERU) were deployed immediately to help with the distribution of food, tarpaulins, blankets and other items as well as to provide medical attention and clean water.

Over the last couple of months as the floods continued south and the disaster has grown (now affecting huge swathes of the country and one in eight people), more emergency response units have been deployed, including the British Red Cross logistics ERU.

Early on, the Finnish and Danish Red Cross set up a warehouse in Mardan, Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province from which they continue to distribute emergency relief items to people affected in the mountainous north.

Last month, the British Red Cross set up two warehouses in the south of the country – one in Multan, Punjab province and one even further south in Sukkur, Sindh province. After working flat out to get the warehouses up and running the four member team has been reaching up to 14,000 households a week with food parcels and other emergency items. Each household has approximately seven people.

The first team has now returned and a second team is now in place – which is where I come in. I am replacing Kate Thomas – who has been blogging about her role in responding to the floods over the past month on Posterous.

Like Kate, my role will be to keep on top of what emergency relief items we are expecting to be delivered. This means tracking every movement of every aid item from the moment it arrives in the country by sea or air, it’s transport to our warehouse and finally delivery to the people who so desperately need it.

Hundreds of boxes of relief itemsTracking the goods is vital so that the rest of my team can keep the flow of aid smooth. The challenges when dealing with such huge quanities of stock include making sure there’s enough room in the warehouse when it needs to be delivered and stored and enough trucks, time and people to load the aid when it needs be distributed.

It may sound strange that the Red Cross has sent me – as someone who works in communications – to help with the delivery of relief, but it’s not quite as random as it sounds!

I also have a background in the operational side of the Red Cross’ work and I have undergone the training necessary to join our logistics emergency response unit. In 2006, I was deployed to Indonesia after an earthquake in Yogyakarta and in 2007 I worked in the Maldives on the tsunami recovery programme.

So, today, I’m in Islamabad being briefed about the operation and tomorrow I will go to Sukkur. I am here for three weeks and I know it’s going to be busy as already the plans are to ramp up our distributions to double the amount. But after sitting in London writing about the floods for the last couple of months it feels good to be here and to get stuck into the emergency operation.

Although the floodwaters are beginning to recede in most areas, the emergency is far from over. Millions of people have lost everything and desperately need ongoing support with food, clean water and healthcare.

So much land has been damaged and it’s unlikely it will be fit for the next planting season, which is fast approaching.

Although the Pakistan Red Crescent, with support from the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, has already reached more than one million people with emergency food and other aid, this support will be needed for months to come.

If you want to keep up to date with the work we’re doing in Pakistan, I’ll be uploading photos and blogging on our emergencies blog.

Images © Olav Saltbones/IFRC

Returning from deployment in Pakistan

This is a guest post from Kate Thomas, a member of the British Red Cross logistics emergency response unit in Pakistan. Kate has been blogging from the field on our emergency blog.

I’m new to relief work, and have been overwhelmed at all the factors to consider to ensure quick and efficient distribution of food and relief items – things like road safety, labour and security at the distribution point. It is also difficult to estimate when consignments are expected, and therefore to plan the labour and trucks.

Food has to be laboratory tested before dispatch to ensure it’s not substandard, or more importantly, at risk of causing harm. Distributing mosquito nets without education is dangerous – they are impregnated with repellent which can causes rashes and even worse, breathing difficulties in youngsters if they are not left to hang for 24 hours before use. Also, public holidays like Eid when no workers were available!

Security has been another issue: events like the threatened burning of the Koran on 11th September and the conviction of Dr Aafia in the US meant there were days were we were advised not to leave the hotel. Some days we could have left if we’d accepted an armed police escort, but we are the Red Cross and our fundamental principles of neutrality, humanity, impartiality mean we should never be protected by weapons.

Challenges present themselves, and we have to deal with them. This is not to dramatise the situation, or to patronise your understanding of relief work. Hopefully just to help you understand my newcomer’s view on what some of the challenges are, what is important and why things happen when – and also to stress that although sometimes we just hear stories about what hasn’t happened, not what IS happening.

All that said, we achieved a great deal in our month. Sourcing and setting up 2 warehouses, refurbishing one of them, employing and training 2 reliable local labour forces, engaging 2 truck fleets, recruiting and training excellent local staff, ensuring a good relationship with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, working with the relief team to distribute over 12,000 food and non-food parcels, and handing over to the new team who we wish the best of luck!

Is all this too little too late? Definitely not. The needs of the flood-affected people will continue for years. Those who have been able to return home have returned to damaged houses and ruined land; they cannot support themselves. What we do now is critical for their livelihoods, and personally I have felt very lucky to have been given the opportunity to contribute, even if just in a small way.

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