In Pakistan I met a young man called Gul-a-Lala, which in Pashtun means “Flower of Paradise”. He is an Afghan refugee who lives in the village of Azakhel, in Nowshera district, which is north of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad.
Gul-a-Lala escaped from war in Afghanistan to make a new life in Azakhel. But at the end of July the Monsoons arrived. His house was flooded together with the rest of the village. And when the waters receded they left behind a mess of bricks, broken wood and mud. Like many other victims of the floods in the north of Pakistan, he has been hit twice: he lost everything in the war and then he lost everything again with the floods. His traditional clothes were dirty, and his bare feet muddy. When he knew who I was he asked me in perfect English: “What is Europe going to do to help us?” For his village I had an answer – we were there to assess how a cash-for-work programme can help them rebuild, and relief is on the way. But this is just one drop in a sea of troubles. With more than 17 million people affected, spread all the way from north to south, and often in hard to reach places, Pakistan needs all the help it can get.
As soon as the scale of this disaster became clear the reaction from Europe has been fast and generous. The EU member states and the Commission have committed €220 M for immediate relief. I have deployed a team of 18 experts to coordinate our assistance with the UN and the Pakistani authorities. This means that we are able to reach as many people as possible, especially those in the most urgent need: children, women and isolated communities.
So how is Europe going to help? Today, we must focus all our energy on life-saving support: food, shelter, sanitation, medical care, hygiene kits, drinking water. Tomorrow, when the waters retrieve, we will need to shift efforts to helping the agriculture sector and restoring key road links. Farmers have lost a large part of their crops and their livestock. If they don’t plant soon, they may also lose the next harvest, creating a food crisis in a year’s time. We also need to focus on sanitation to prevent the outbreak of water borne diseases.
In the long run, Pakistan will need substantial help with reconstruction since the floods have washed away roads, houses, hospitals, schools. And it is important that this help will be delivered in a way that increases the resilience of Pakistan to natural disasters. It is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change (as well as massive earthquakes), and needs to work hard to be better prepared for when the next disaster hits.
We have a huge task ahead of us. Most of the €70 million approved by the Commission has already been contracted in different programs. But we need to continue to move fast because failure to provide relief could lead to social unrest and even degenerate into chaos. Faced with this challenge the support of Europe and others in the international community can make a profound difference. The difference between hope and despair, between peace and conflict. We have done a lot but the rains are still pouring. There is still much more to do.