Pakistan's Humanitarian Crisis at Scale

During July and onward, Pakistan was devastated by a surge of flooding that now encompasses one fifth of the country. That amounts to a mass of water larger than the size of England. In consequence, the response teams initially called in attempted to assess just how extensive the physical damage, which was readily apparent from the broken bridges, destroyed homes, and 20 million displaced people. Yet, as time passes the shift from immediate emergency response to effective, long-term strategies is essential. In a country where gender issues were already highly prevalent pre-flood, now they are even more pressing, if not dire.

When the Pakistan floods began, I looked at victim photos in the same way I did when Haiti experienced its massive earthquake almost ten months ago. In both situations where environmental and climate crisis created extensive displacement, there were also unique threats facing women and children.

In August, Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) released a statement on the post-flood humanitaran crisis that clarified some of the harsher realities for Pakistani women. "Many of the flood-affected areas of Pakistan have spent years in conflict marked by rising religious fundamentalisms. Reports from the ground indicate that fundamentalist groups are mobilizing aid and providing relief services in areas unreachable by the government with potentially dangerous implications for women’s rights."

The acquisition of women's rights in daily life are a struggle for most Pakistani women, but how extreme must these challenges become when faced with urgent disaster? Pakistani women already experience myriad religious and social inequities. As such, AWID's statement acknowledges that even while government outreach is not enough for a disaster of this proportion, that the rise of organizations functioning within the country in the relief effort that have incentives which are not human rights-based, much less in any way working toward positive outcomes for women and children, need to be halted.

Along with reports of missing women and children as well as women having significant issues accessing relief support and health care, AWID makes a call to action by inciting, "the government of Pakistan and the international community to take immediate action to ensure that the very much-needed aid is committed and actually delivered in a timely and effective fashion. Also, the well-being of women and girls has to be ensured through the provision of both emergency relief and significant longer-term support for reconstruction and development that responds to the gender-specific needs and circumstances of Pakistani women and girls. In particular, we [AWID] call for the full participation of women at all levels of reconstruction and for sustained efforts to be centered on the long-term development needs of women and girls and the promotion and protection of their human rights."

Any effectual response to Pakistan post-flood must encompass the strategic knowledge that human rights and women's rights are even more essential during times of disaster, because they were already extremely vulnerable pre-crisis.

Photo credit: Guardian

Read Kate Stence's article Haiti Post-Quake: The Past Ten Months and Counting about Haiti's struggles with displacement and the challenges to support women and children in long-term strategies of relief.