Pakistan flood crisis, one year on
Children and families continue to cope – and rebuild their lives – a year after devastating monsoon floods struck Pakistan. This is one in a series of stories on their situation, one year on.
By David Youngmeyer
NOWSHERA, Pakistan, 1 August 2011 – In July 2010, when floods reached the village of Kheshgi Bala, Maryam’s school – located right next door to the Kabul River – sat directly on the front line. Normally a sleeping giant, the river swelled with the intense monsoon rains and surged onto the land, filling the school with up to three metres of water and half a metre of mud.
“I got scared and ran away when the floodwater came into my house,” recalls Maryam, 11. “My family went to stay with friends on higher ground so that we would be safe.”
When Maryam returned to her village after the waters had receded, she was saddened by the devastation the flood had left in its wake. “I just cried,” she says, “because I thought my family and I wouldn’t be able to return to the village or see all my friends again.”
During the time when her family was displaced – including Maryam and her four younger siblings – she used to climb a hill near their temporary home. From there, she could see her school. She kept wondering whether she would ever be able to go back.
The object of Maryam’s longing, Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School, was one of the hardest-hit schools in Nowshera District, located in north-west Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The mud clogged the school’s well, water tank and toilets. Classroom furniture, student records, a boundary wall and water pipes were either destroyed or left unusable.
Fortunately, unlike the neighbouring mud houses that were washed away entirely, the school’s concrete structure remained intact.
After about a month, Maryam’s home was rebuilt and she was able to return to the village with her family. When the 2010 summer vacation was over, she and her classmates continued classes in a temporary open-air space, as their school was still out of action.
Support from UNICEF
After the floods, UNICEF worked closely with the government and non-governmental organizations to assess humanitarian needs and provide emergency assistance in districts throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other affected areas.
Along with one implementing partner, the Society for Sustainable Development (SSD), for example, UNICEF quickly assessed damaged schools in eight union councils in Nowshera District. (Nowshera was one of the worst-affected parts of the province, with more than 71,000 households disrupted.) At the same time, UNICEF worked with more than 100 partners to address water, sanitation and hygiene issues in flooded communities across Pakistan.
To date, UNICEF’s integrated package of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions has reached 140,000 children in 1,530 permanent schools and temporary learning centres in these communities – including the Kheshgi Bala Government Girls Primary School.
Happy to be back
It took about a month to clear away the sludge from Maryam’s school, rehabilitate and upgrade the school’s water and sanitation facilities, and repaint its walls. A new tank and pump for drinking water, and taps for students to wash their hands, were installed.
“We are very grateful to UNICEF for their help,” says teacher Gul Seyab. “The old facilities have been improved and the school is in a much better condition now.”
Maryam and other student volunteer helped the teachers put the finishing touches on the school, carrying water for washing, cleaning cupboards and moving in replacement furniture.
To help prevent the spread of waterborne diseases, UNICEF provided hygiene kits, soap, jerry cans and buckets for children and their families, while SSD ran classes teaching students good hygiene. Maryam is one of the students in the school hygiene club, made up of students and teachers, which continues to emphasize the importance of handwashing with soap and other necessary practices.
Maryam says she is very happy to be back at her old school again with her two sisters. She adds that she hopes to become a doctor on day, so that she can help the sick and build a better future.