Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by September monsoon flooding in Pakistan have not yet moved back into their homes, according to aid groups.
Three of Pakistan’s four provinces were hit, affecting over 4.8 million people and damaging over 630,000 houses, according to the latest situation report by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Three months after the floods, 97 percent of those displaced have returned to their towns and villages. Nearly all of them, however, continue to live in makeshift shelters next to damaged homes.
Aid groups and government officials say they still need critical assistance to help them through the winter.
In the absence of adequate shelter and provisions, aid workers say, the cold weather in flood-hit areas is likely to put the affected population under more stress.
“The temperature is dropping, and that is causing an increase in respiratory problems and other health conditions,” said Stacey Winston, spokesperson in Pakistan for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
This is the third year of severe monsoon flooding, but unlike in previous years, the government did not decree a national emergency when large parts of the country were submerged.
Over 485,620 hectares of cropland were inundated, a significant blow to a country where agriculture is one of the biggest sectors of the economy, employing 45 percent of the labour force. The floods have left almost 860,000 people in need of food aid and more than a million requiring farm inputs.
The UN has already expressed concern that communities that depend on agriculture will miss an entire season because of flood damage in their areas.
Funding this assistance is a major challenge. The humanitarian response for the 2012 floods requires US$168.5 million, according to the UN’s latest bulletin, but just $86 million (51 percent) has been pledged. Of that, only $49 million, or 29 percent of the total required amount, has been committed.
Aid workers and administrators say that with the global economic downturn, foreign assistance budgets in donor countries are stretched.
“There are so many humanitarian crises going on around the world for which government budgets are allocated. Some are chronic, long-term. Some have become bigger, like Syria,” said OCHA’s Winston.
Hundreds of thousands are at risk because of this shortfall - the lack of adequate housing, food, clean water and medical assistance feeds a vicious circle where those deprived of basic resources are more prone to disease and other complications from malnutrition and cold weather.
Yet funding for the nutrition cluster stands at 28 percent; WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) at 8 percent, health at 6 percent, and shelter at just 5 percent.
Without the rehabilitation of livelihoods and cropland, local economies will take even longer to revive, and the poorest will suffer the most, aid workers say.
The Pakistan government faced intense criticism for its response to flooding in 2011, when funding gaps and a lack of both resources and planning threatened humanitarian services to millions.
Despite similar shortfalls reappearing this year, officials insist they have learned from the last two years and are better prepared for the next bout of severe weather.
“Pakistan is the kind of country where different types of natural disasters can hit at any time. These last few years have been a big learning process for us, and we have tried to ensure that past mistakes are not repeated,” said NDMA spokesman Irshad Bhatti.
“Natural disasters will hit any country hard, like the storms in America or the tsunami in Japan. Those are developed countries, with more resources. So in our position, we have to plan ahead and improve the way we prepare for such disasters. Our aim is to be as self-sufficient as possible. Outside help should be the last resort.”
Officials from the NDMA and other ministries have lobbied the federal and provincial governments to make special allocations of Rs 20 billion ($205 million) for floods and natural disasters in their annual budgets. Precise figures on what was finally allocated were not immediately available.
Despite the stated objective of the government to ensure the highest possible level of preparedness, short-term problems remain, with millions in need of assistance.
“There is no doubt that there are problems; we are still learning. But the response situation, preparedness, awareness, and coordination are much better,” said Bhatti. “But attitudes need to change. This is a long road.”