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Pakistan floods: From planning to action

Extreme weather due to climate change is increasing around the world. The devastating flooding in Pakistan, that has left one-third of the country underwater, is a stark reminder that the increasing frequency of extreme weather events disproportionately affects the poorest in society. 

Over 1,200 people have lost their lives so far, with a further 33 million people affected by the floods, a third of whom are children. Alarmingly, more flooding is projected. Women, children and the elderly are particularly at risk. Cholera and malaria are already starting to increase and will inevitably lead to greater loss of life.

Pakistan has experienced several instances of destructive flooding, most notably in 2010, but the VSO team on the ground reports that this situation is much worse than anything they have seen previously.

The real impact

Extreme weather occurrences such as flooding has huge ramifications in every aspect of life.

Currently, 218,000 homes have been destroyed, and nearly half a million have suffered flood damage, leading to enormous displacement across the region. Communities are coming to terms with the devastating loss of their homes, livelihoods and personal possessions. 

In response, more than 147 temporary camps have been established to support the ongoing crisis, with an additional 5,500 schools being used temporarily to house displaced children and families. While these immediate responses are helping families to stay safe, longer-term interventions are crucial. 

The current flooding has damaged approximately 18,000 schools and initial estimates indicate that over 670,000 children have had their schooling interrupted. Beyond this, children who are out of school are at greater risk of violence, rape and child marriage. Education in emergency settings can also provide children with life-saving awareness including handwashing and education in water-borne diseases which are prevalent in flooding. 

There are currently 22.8 million children in Pakistan who are out of school, the second highest figure in the world.

Hashim Bilal

VSO Country Director for Pakistan

Keeping classrooms open

“When people experience this kind of devastation, they focus on immediate survival – finding shelter, accessing essential healthcare, and ensuring their families are fed. Children’s education becomes a secondary concern and is also often neglected by humanitarian response planning.” says VSO’s Country Director for Pakistan, Hashim Bilal. 

Every single day that a child does not attend school affects their long-term education, particularly for girls who may never return to school. From lessons learnt during COVID-19, we know that to ensure children keep attending school, families must first receive essential items so they can continue to prioritise their children’s education. 

Our team on the ground, alongside our donors Education Cannot Wait, are mobilising in camps to ensure that access to education is still possible. Volunteers have established temporary learning centres to support the education, protection and psychosocial wellbeing of children. 

Preparing volunteers for when emergency strikes

In the past seven years, VSO Pakistan has actively been supporting local communities to prepare for the increased risk of disaster that climate change brings. We have been training local volunteers, as well as schools and governments, with emergency response. They are now playing a lifesaving role in the current evacuations and search and rescue. 

Since 2015, VSO has been implementing a ‘Safe, Peaceful, and Resilience Communities’ project, in partnership with the Pakistan government emergency services (Rescue 1122). Over one million youths received specialist training on emergency and disaster response, spanning across all 36 districts of Punjab.  

Due to our network of local VSO volunteers across Pakistan we can support the hardest to reach people, despite many modes of transport having been destroyed.

VSO has also supported the formation of over 5,000 Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) and involved over 114,100 community volunteers in the process, conducting safety surveys and building reliance plans with local services.

Using emergency response simulations of earthquakes and flooding, CERT teams were taught how to respond to real life emergencies in three stages, looking at pre-operation, during operation, and post operation stages of disaster response.

The CERT teams have proved vital in responding to the current disaster by distributing emergency rescue kits and equipment and are continuing to assess the future needs of displaced people. Through the training they’re aware of the immediate, short and long-term challenges of flooding, from urgent lifesaving activities to how to re-build community infrastructure. 

Reflecting on the current events, Clodagh Byrne, VSO’s Lead Advisor in Resilience Building commented: "This tragedy is still unfolding, and how we respond will be crucial, not only in saving lives now, but in answering the big question of our time - Can our global community rise to the challenge of climate change and ensure we protect those most vulnerable from the loss and damage that is already happening?"