Pakistan: “I See People Rebuilding, Replanting, Reclaiming Lives”

A man and his wife work to replant their vegetable garden in the verdant Swat Valley of northern Pakistan. Copyright: WFP/Natasha Scripture

Amjad Jamal, a WFP spokesman in Pakistan, has been in the thick of his country’s humanitarian crisis since the monsoon floods started in early August. Now, more than two months on, he says that millions of people are at work reclaiming their lives with the help of a massive food assistance effort.

If we were to drive across Pakistan today, from the Swat Valley in the north to Sindh or Balochistan in the south, what would we see?

In the Swat Valley where the floodwaters have all dried up or receded, you would see people rebuilding their homes and replanting the many fruit orchards for which it’s famous. In Punjab, the “bread basket” of Pakistan, you’d see whole villages under construction, with a frenzy of activity in the fields as people rush to get their wheat crop planted in time. In Sindh and the sparsely populated Balochistan, there’s still a lot of standing water, with people unable to return to their homes and living in flood camps.

Crisis in Pakistan

The summer floods in Pakistan sparked a massive humanitarian relief effort. Find out the latest about what's being done to help the flood victims. WFP needs US $596 million to feed around six million per month until summer 2011.

What signs are there that conditions for the flood victims are beginning to improve?

Recovery efforts are well underway in the northern parts of the country where people are working hard to get back on their feet. We’re expecting a poor harvest this season, but have high hopes for the one afterwards next summer as the flood waters have left behind a lot of fertile soil.

What is the biggest remaining challenge to helping people impacted by the floods get back on their feet?

Our single biggest challenge is still the sheer number of people affected. Getting help to six million people per month in a country as vast as Pakistan isn’t just costly, it’s complicated. Whereas in Swat Valley it means helping people in isolated mountain valleys store up food for the winter, in the plains of Punjab it means helping them rebuild their irrigation canals and in the southern region of Sindh, reclaiming entire farms from the floodwaters.

In what part of the country is that challenge greatest?

The situation in Sindh is particularly worrisome as much of the province is still under water and the farmers there have by and large missed the September planting season. In Balochistan too, the huge distances and widely scattered population are making it difficult to get to everyone. The logistical challenges there are compounded by the near constant threat of insecurity along the border with Afghanistan.

What has changed about the way that WFP is helping the flood victims since the emergency began?

When the flooding broke out, our efforts in Pakistan were devoted to helping people displaced by conflict along the Afghan border. Responding the floods meant expanding very quickly into the heartland of Pakistan, where we are now not only distributing food to the flood victims, but helping them rebuild by giving them food in return for work digging ditches, building walls and planting trees.

Of all the things you’ve seen or heard over the past few weeks, what has made the biggest impression on you?

I was recently in Balochistan where it’s extremely difficult to work because you need a security detail to do practically anything, and met a man of about my age at camp for flood victims who was there with his children. When I asked about his wife, he told me that she had died of a heart attack at the sight of their house crumbling under the floodwaters. He’d promised his children that as soon as the waters receded, they’d go back and rebuild it just like it was before the floods.