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In 2016, with the support of UK Aid, we launched a programme to help remote communities in Pakistan better prepare for natural disasters. Four years later, over 1.9 million people are now equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves and take charge of their future.
Pakistan: a disaster-prone country
Pakistan is a country extremely prone to natural disasters, including floods, cyclones, earthquakes, droughts and landslides. All too often, these catastrophic events have a profound impact, claiming lives and destroying homes, livelihoods and infrastructure. In the last decade, Pakistan has suffered an estimated US$ 18 billion in damages and losses due to natural disasters (World Bank, 2017).
Pakistan’s location at the intersection of three tectonic plate boundaries, the monsoon season and summer heatwaves all contribute to these frequent weather events – while climate change is increasing the country’s risk every day.
A country’s ability to prepare for (and cope with) disasters can save lives and limit the impacts of disasters from damaging people’s safety, livelihoods, and futures. But in Pakistan, many communities have limited capacity and resources to protect themselves and respond to the devastating aftermath.
A significant part of Concern’s approach to ending extreme poverty is supporting vulnerable communities with the tools, expertise and resources to withstand future emergencies. Enter: the Building Disaster Resilience in Pakistan programme.
In September 2016, having secured £24 million in funding from the UK government, we launched the Building Disaster Resilience programme in partnership with ACTED, Deutsche Welthungerhilfe and International Rescue Committee.
Our team embarked on the four-year journey with big ambitions: to help 1 million people in Pakistan increase their capacity to prepare for - and reduce the recurring risk of - natural disasters.
In keeping with our mission to leave no one behind, we focussed on communities in nine of the country’s most hard-to-reach districts and prioritised the inclusion of all community members - particularly women, people living with disabilities and older people.
Strengthening community resilience
The project tackled the challenge of building resilience in a number of ways, from developing evacuation routes to strengthening infrastructure and expanding the crops people grow to ensure they have access to basic food, even in the wake of a disaster. Here’s a quick breakdown of our key tactics:
1. Protecting water sources
Events like floods and landslides can significantly increase the risk of water contamination and water borne diseases. To help lessen the impact of natural disasters, we first focussed on rehabilitating and installing disaster-resilience hand pumps in carefully selected sites around villages to give locals easy access to clean water. They were built on raised areas, safe from flooding, with ramps constructed to ensure accessibility for everyone in the community, including people living with disabilities and older people.
In one district of Pakistan, the freezing winter months had previously caused water pipelines to freeze, meaning communities had to travel long distances to collect water from other places. Here, we covered the pipelines to make sure they could remain functional even in the most extreme weather.
2. Strengthening infrastructure
In a district called Chitral, a 30-year-old steel bridge didn’t have the strength to carry a heavy load of traffic, meaning members of the community had to pay double in travel costs to go to other districts for work, food or health services. Since renovating the bridge, at least 3,000 households can now use this money for other things – and, in the case of future floods, the bridge is now strengthened and could be a lifeline if critical provisions run short. Along with bridges, we also reinforced houses and shelters, working with local mason groups to train them in techniques to help these structures withstand extreme weather.
3. Planting seeds of resilience
The impact of disasters like floods or drought can significantly reduce food production, leading to a sharp increase in food prices at market. This is an issue that’s been compounded by climate change and, in the past year, Covid-19. For this reason, a major goal of the project was to equip people with new, climate-smart skills to vary the crops they grow in order to increase their yield and income.
53-year-old Noor, a father of six from a village called Faqeer jo Tarr was one of them. Noor received two types of seeds through the project and thorough training on crop rotation and water conservation techniques. Now, he plants different varieties of livestock fodder, along with plenty of vegetables which he began to sell at the nearby market for a fair price. As a result of this income, Noor was able to open a small shop. He has also been sharing the skills he’s learned with his neighbours nearby.
I used to be away from home for weeks looking for work. Now, thanks to the project, I have not only improved my agricultural skills but have been able to establish two businesses by staying close to home.
4. Growing home gardens
We also trained over 44,000 women on kitchen gardening techniques, enabling them to grow seasonal vegetables and provide a more nutritious diet for their families. With the money saved by not buying this produce at local markets, they will be able to invest in their children’s long-term health and education.
When Covid-19 disrupted food systems and the local economy last year, food prices began to rise dramatically – while markets closed frequently due to lockdowns. During this time, many of these women sold excess produce to their neighbours at fair prices. Events like this showed us that the programme’s activities are already having a far bigger impact than we could ever have anticipated.
I used to purchase low quality vegetables for 100 Rupees every day for my family. The health of my family has improved considerably as the vegetables I’m growing are far more nutritious and tastier. Most of the women in my neighbour are inspired by me and are growing their own small kitchen gardens.
5. Creating sustainable livelihoods
Vocational training can give people opportunities to secure a regular, reliable income that won’t be affected by a natural disaster. During the project, we worked with 3,408 people from these communities, over half of whom were women who were trained in practical professions like mechanics and sewing. Not only have these skills given them the chance to build up their personal resilience to disasters and empowered them to become financially independent, they could also help the wider community in the wake of a disaster.
6. Building capacity
In order to create lasting, sustainable change it was important to have the input of people across Pakistan, from those in government departments to village community groups. We collaborated with representatives from the Agriculture and Livestock Department to develop the training curriculum on climate-smart agriculture, and worked with the District Disaster Management Unit in the district of Chitral to put an early weather warning system into use.
As previously mentioned, local masons were upskilled and trained to build disaster-resilient shelters for houses in their villages, which has resulted in much-needed local expertise that will undoubtedly open doors to more job opportunities in future. Others in the community were trained in basic search and rescue and first aid skills like Shamsa.
Evacuation drills and simulation exercises gave me a practical understanding of how to respond during disasters. I started conducting mock first aid sessions with my family and fellow friends who in turn do the same within their families. I feel so proud that I am able to teach something valuable to my community
While this UK Aid programme set out to help 1 million people across Pakistan build their resilience to disasters, additional activities to prevent the spread of Covid-19 meant that we actually reached over 1.9 million people.
This achievement is the result of a valued partnership between Concern and hundreds of community members in Pakistan who shared their expertise and experience to help shape the project. This gives us confidence that the impact of this work will last far beyond the project, giving a lifeline for many generations to come. It’s also a reminder of the incredible work made possible and which is continuing through the support of UK Aid.
If one is willing to work despite the challenges being thrown by life then there is no room for failure. I am thankful to the BDRP programme and the community members for transforming my life.
Looking ahead, as Covid-19 continues to reverse years of progress made on global poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition, the UK government’s proposed cuts to spending on foreign aid threaten to take away life-saving support for the most vulnerable people, just when it is needed most. We’ll be campaigning to protect the funding desperately needed to build people’s resilience to disasters, ensure access to food and clean water, and healthcare.
Join thousands of others who campaign with us for effective aid that helps the world's poorest people.