Tales of resilience: a look into worst hit climate change disasters

By Adeela Akmal
Tue, 01, 23

Natural disasters as a result of climate change gravely impact communities in developing countries, especially women and children. This week, You! takes a look at some communities and how they dealt with catastrophes in 2022…

Fozia Khaskheli at an LSO meeting in Tando Allahyar.
Fozia Khaskheli at an LSO meeting in Tando Allahyar.

The rain fell mercilessly for three straight days upon the small village, situated by River Sindh in the vicinity of Larkana. The villagers struggled to stay inside because their homes weren’t strong enough to bear the sky’s wrath; and their livestock was also in danger.

There was no electricity and no phone signals available due to the weather conditions. And on top of that, came the devastating floods. The floodwaters ravaged the village destroying homes, drowning crops and livestock. With the land submerged, villagers could not even light their stoves to make food, or whatever that was left of it. There were no dry clothes left for children and all that could be seen was distress.

Among them was a brave woman name Hafiza, who was persistent to find aid for her fellow villagers. Hafiza also happens to be the chairperson of her Local Support Organisation (LSO) Fateh district. She fought tooth and nail to find the villagers some relief. “I knew I had to do something despite the circumstances. We had to step out of our homes and personally ask people what they needed since we could not contact anyone,” she shares. “With the team, I went to the chairperson of our Union Council and asserted that we need aid urgently. When he showed callous behaviour, we brought him to see our conditions,” she adds.

With her constant efforts, Hafiza’s village was provided with tents for shelter along with cooked meals two times for the next 20 days and other emergency supplies.

This is one of the many tales of the victims from the devastating floods that occurred in Pakistan during monsoon of 2022, as a result of climate change. The floods ravaged villages, towns in all the provinces displacing 33 million people and claiming the lives of thousands.

Climate change was never a new concept that emerged over a couple of years. It has been around for over decades but as the world progressed, world leaders chose to ignore the damage caused to the planet which would become detrimental in the future. The future is here as we witness the extreme events caused as a result of increasing global temperatures. Among the many developing countries impacted by climate change is Pakistan, as it suffers immense losses. And since these climatic disasters will not be the last, it is imperative that authorities are well-prepared to respond to them when it happens. And if the leaders fail to prepare for the onslaught, Hafiza’s story is a prime example of how empowered communities can stand up for themselves in such circumstances.

Parveen, a CRP delivers a CAT session in village Rawat Khan Khero - SUCCESS (RSPN).
Parveen, a CRP delivers a CAT session in village Rawat Khan Khero - SUCCESS (RSPN).

The Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN) recently hosted the Annual National Convention of Local Support Organisations for the year 2022. RSPN is a platform for its nine-member Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) that focuses on assisting the poor and marginalised people improve their access to social and financial services and strengthens their participation in local decision making.

The convention aimed to interact with the LSOs (community-based institutions at the Union Council level), donor agencies, development partners and other stakeholders to share local knowledge and learn from their experiences of implementing community driven development approach in rural communities.

Like Hafiza, representatives of LSOs from all four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir presented their work on implementing the community driven development approach, inclusion of community’s vulnerable members, efforts to graduate households out of poverty and their relief and rehabilitation response to recent floods and effects of climate change.

Zareena, President of the Sheikh Joi LSO district Dadu, shared her experiences and learnings of working with these programmes. While talking about the progress in her community in terms of poverty graduation, she highlighted that courtesy of the savings at the community organisation level, women are now able to independently take initiatives and contribute to the household finances.

Moreover, she informed that among many things, the LSO also runs a news channel through their Facebook page. “There was a devastating fire that burned a nearby village down. For one woman, the fire had claimed all of her children,” recalls Zareena. “We found the news through our page and we immediately took action. We collected clothes, quilts and other supplies for 100 affectees with the help of neighbouring villages. We even collected funds for the woman to get her back on her feet.”

Prior to this, when the pandemic was at its peak, Zareena with her team distributed masks and sanitizers to the residents. “We had to convince them to get the vaccines. We went door to door to convince them of it and they eventually came around.”

Then there were floods in Dadu and Bhawalnagar in which 70 per cent of the village was affected. Apart from the apparent crisis, there was fear of Malaria spreading. The team responded to the problem by setting up medical camps and even provided medicines at home for those who couldn’t reach these camps.

Social mobilisation activity of women at village Piyaro Magsi, District Larkana.
Social mobilisation activity of women at village Piyaro Magsi, District Larkana.

Reflecting on her accomplishments, Zareena adds, “I never thought women could progress like this. I didn’t even know that we had rights before the LSO. I am glad to have achieved so much and the respect I’m given for the work.”

In a place where it was dangerous to even utter the name of any organisation, Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP) was established in 1989 which then formed an LSO in 2018 in Orakzai, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to alleviate the problems of the community and steer it towards progress. Saeeda, who is the Chairperson of Kiran Falah Women Welfare LSO in the region, recalls how far the people of Orakzai have come. “We faced the same age-old issues regarding women stepping out of the house. Women did not have ownership of anything and are often ‘blamed’ for giving birth to daughters. There are schools present for young girls but they weren’t allowed to go,” tells Saeeda.

“When SRSP announced that they would be forming an LSO, it came with a lot of resistance - from life threats to misinformation about workers (that they were here to steal labour and spread obscenity in the area) the SRSP pursued with patience with the community leaders. They respected our culture and were able to change their minds. Now, women in the region have respect. Those who weren’t allowed to step out, now have opportunities to earn on their own,” elucidates Saeeda. Having an outreach established in a difficult to access region, Saeeda informed that they were able to respond to the pandemic with the help of the LSO. They provided vaccines and masks despite fears of resistance.

Similarly, Noreen, who is the President of Tootak LSO from district Khuzdar in Balochistan, shared how their LSO has developed linkages and how it helped them in a time of crisis. “We advocated with the Education Department for opening of a girl’s school in the village and facilitated the Health Department in times of COVID. These linkages have established mutual trust and strengthening of partnership between citizens and the line departments.”

Apart from crisis management, Noreen believes that the community has changed for the better over the years after her LSO was formed in 2016. Noreen explains that the community is now well organised. “Our living conditions and lifestyle has improved over time with the efforts of the team. We had training programmes introduced which provided skills to the locals, including traditional stitching. Women are now selling their items in the city. They acquired means to earn food and save for the future through the Community Investment Funds,” states Noreen.

Members of the LSOs present at the convention.
Members of the LSOs present at the convention.

“After the adult literacy training, women are now able to write their names and fill forms requiring basic information, this is life-altering learning and is a significant step towards empowerment of rural women,” she elaborates.

Noreen’s sentiment resonated among all women who were present representing their LSOs at the convention. Each had a courageous story to relay that recounted their progress but also how they managed to overcome adversities.

Asif Turangzai, Disaster Risk Management Specialist from Asian Development Bank shed light on the significance of intersection of indigenous knowledge and academia to counter such crisis situations. “We always include communities in our projects as it is more beneficial. Communities have indigenous knowledge and we have academic knowledge therefore, it helps bringing a profound change whenever it is needed. These linkages created by RSPN will go a long way,” he expresses.

Maria Pratab of LSO Dino BhaleSaathio gives a passionatespeech about her journey duringthe convention.
Maria Pratab of LSO Dino Bhale
Saathio gives a passionate
speech about her journey during
the convention.

Hina Lotia, Advisor Climate Change from World Bank reiterated the importance of various sectors working together in order to implement key initiatives. “We take knowledge from RSPs for our programmes. The world bank climate change action plan has integrated all development sectors like agriculture. Major focus is on poverty eradication and shared prosperity. In our recent report we have taken floods into account and noted down pathways for more work in future. Strengthening of human capital is also under focus. The civil society platform on climate change has provided us with consultation,” she comments.

Extreme climatic events will not be stop anytime soon and this network will play a great role in protecting and sustaining their communities. So, what are the developed countries doing in this regard?

Unfortunately, when it comes to climate disasters the countries, most vulnerable, usually have little to negligible contribution to the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. It is actually the developed countries that have the most carbon emissions, thereby making them accountable for the climatic catastrophes.

Syed Mujtaba Hussein, Director General and Special Assistant to the Minister, Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms, is one of the lead negotiators for Pakistan on Climate Change negotiations under the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He went on to rehash how Pakistan has repeatedly been in the top 10 most vulnerable countries and the state experienced different types of extreme events. From the heatwaves and the rise in temperatures in late March – April to the forest fires in Margalla Hills and Balochistan, impacting forest preserves.

Approximating the losses of monsoon floods, he reveals, “We lost around 1800 lives and around 600,000 livestock. Overall, our losses were more than 30 billion dollars in the year alone.”

In a bid to respond efficiently to such calamities, Pakistan was one of the 190 countries that attended the COP27 in November, 2022, that took place in the Egyptian coastal city Sharm el-Sheikh. “We went with a strong delegation and clear resolve to create a separate funding facility for those countries most vulnerable to climate change, where the impact is being felt with increasing intensity and frequency,” conveys Hussein. “Our delegation was from a multi-sectoral line ministry including planning, climate change, industries and a few other ministries.”

In a bid to represent other countries suffering the same fate at the hands of the climatic disasters, Pakistan emphasised that developed countries had to take pertinent actions to cut down on the use of dirty fuels (oil based, coal, thermals). “Our point of view was that developing states have taken their, but we have these conditionalities which requires support. We took this point very forcefully and created a fund over this stance. The funds will be available for the countries impacted by climate change extreme activities to make the response smoother,” stresses Hussein.

Acknowledging the impact that communities in rural areas have suffered, especially women and children, Hussein gave a proposition to utilise the community-driven networks to implement upcoming rehabilitation projects. “Once we have more support, the ministry plans to take this process ahead. We have a national climate change policy and a national adaptation plan. There will also be a ‘loss and damage’ fund and a green climate adaptation fund. We will draw the best projects and utilise the outreach of these communities. I believe, when there are communities involved, that’s when the plans are led successfully,” he concludes.