New homes offer new lives for flood victims in Pakistan

Making a Difference, 20 June 2012

© UNHCR/Q. Afridi
Zakir Hussain and his family stand in front of their new UNHCR-constructed home. The family belongs to Pakistan's Jam community, which traditionally lives in simple shelters along the banks of the Indus.

DERA GHAZI KHAN, Pakistan, May 23 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has joined local authorities in handing over ownership of 400 new one-room homes to a fishing community in Pakistan left homeless by devastating floods in 2010.

The families receiving the new shelters belong to the Jam community, which for decades has lived along the banks of the Indus River in makeshift huts, or simply under their boats. Their homes and what few belongings they had were washed away by the floods that inundated large areas of Pakistan in 2010. UNHCR wrote about their plight in a story published on this web site in May last year.

"We're not used to such houses," said Zakir Hussain, who moved into the Boat Model Town with his family several months ago. "At first, we experienced a bit of culture shock, but now we are so grateful to have a solid roof over our heads."

The land for the new development was provided by the government of Punjab province and each unit consists of one common room, a small kitchen and separate toilet.

The families' new ownership of land and property is complemented by the gradual restoration of many basic rights that this marginalized group have been denied for decades. There are also plans for them to receive national identity cards, and they will have their own community centre, a mosque and water supply as well as access to health care and education.

The shelters are part of nearly 4,000 one-room houses that UNHCR has constructed for flood victims in areas of Punjab that were damaged in the floods. The agency's flood response interventions targeted the most vulnerable among the flood victims, including people with disabilities, female headed households and families unable to rebuild their own houses.

"We used to drink river water and we had no health and sanitation facilities, no schooling for the children," said Zakir's wife, Bashir, recalling their former lives. "For us, who were born and grew up on the boats, having a home and being able to live a normal life is like a dream."

Speaking at the handover ceremony, UNHCR Representative in Pakistan Neill Wright thanked the government of Pakistan and, in particular the Punjab administration, for providing the land. "Access to shelter is a basic human right," he said. "I am proud that together with government and non-governmental partners, UNHCR has been able to support the government in assisting some of the most vulnerable victims of the devastating 2010 floods."

In addition to the shelters in Punjab, UNHCR has constructed nearly 30,000 additional homes in the provinces of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which were also affected by floods in 2010 and again in 2011.

By Qaiser Khan Afridi in Dera Ghazi Khan, Pakistan

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UNHCR country pages

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

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With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

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