Weathering the storm

September 24, 2023

How women in Charsadda are rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of devastating floods

Weathering the storm


asmeen Bibi has lived through 55 monsoons but none as violent as the last one. It took away everything she had owned.

Last year, her village, Agra, located a kilometre north of Swat River, was flooded. Everything was washed away and her home was damaged. The floods caused displacement, disease and poverty.

Bibi and her family became climate refugees and sought shelter in Charsadda. Next, days of toil and assistance from a humanitarian organisation went into rebuilding her life.

The effort bore results. She now runs a small general store next to her house. Her shop functions as a local grocery store, stocking basic commodities and selling everything of use; edible items such as biscuits, ghee and cleaning supplies like washing powder.

“The shop has definitely helped us weather the aftermath of floods. It improved our economic condition,” says Yasmeen Bibi. Broaching the subject of business, she says, “…the shop is running well. Women from the neighbourhood come by as regular clients to buy groceries and other items. It is lovely that women feel comfortable coming to me.” As an afterthought she adds, “…it is convenient too, since men are busy the whole day.”

After the 2022 flood, Muslim Hands-Pakistan, a humanitarian organization, launched an initiative to support flood-affected households in Charsadda, Tarnab and Agra. The focus of the programme remained on empowering women by providing them with a means of earning a livelihood.

Under the auspices of this programme, members of at least 100 affected families, mostly women, were first given enterprise development training. Then, 54 women were awarded small grants (Rs 100,000) to execute their business ideas.The initiative resulted in women setting up shops to sell a wide range of items, from clothes, cosmetics and footwear to groceries. Yasmeen Bibi is one of them.

After the previous year’s devastating floods, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had declared Charsadda a calamity-hit area.

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority’s damage assessment report stated that more than 183,000 people were displaced in Charsadda. A majority of those displaced were women. The flood affected were temporarily settled in sports complexes and government colleges.

Property damage was also reported. According to the Charsadda district administration, at least 286 homes were destroyed and 2,733 were partially damaged as torrential rains lashed out the region.

The flood also killed livestock; 169 animals perished, taking away the economic lifeline communities settled in rural areas had been holding onto for generations.

According to Liaqat Ali, a Peshawar-based programme officer for the Muslim Hands, efforts were made to revive the livestock economy too. “Around 60 milking goats were provided to 30 women in the flood-hit areas,” he tells The News on Sunday. “Three months later, the average daily income of the women was found to be Rs 1,200-1,400,” he says.

Shakeela comes from Shabara, another village located near the Swat River. Her village was also flooded. Her house was damaged. For some time, the government and some non-governmental organisations were providing food to her family. When they stopped, Shakeela and her family faced a crisis. They had to sustain themselves and get back on their feet amidst backbreaking inflation. The task seemed impossible without any support.

After a damage assessment report, a non-governmental organisation provided her with a pair of milking goats. This was enough to tide her over for the critical period. “I have three goats now. I save around Rs 3,000 because instead of buying milk from the market, I get it from my own goats. Thanks to them, my children don’t have to go hungry,” says Shakeela.

Sheeba Hidayat, who is working for a humanitarian organisation in Charsadda, is of the opinion that natural disasters such as floods impact women more than men. “Women are already vulnerable. When they become climate refugees, they suffer even more,” she says. She says that in the recent floods, women had to bear the brunt of displacement, abject poverty and severed access to healthcare services.

“That’s why our focus was on empowering women economically. Instead of providing food items to families, we followed the ‘teach a person how to fish’ rule and offered them skills-based training. We found that women were interested in short courses that offered them a vocational skillset like stitching. Many were also interested in becoming beauticians,” says Hidayat.

“The women learned these skills quickly. These skills have become a good source of income and provide a business opportunity for them at home,” she says. “After the successful implementation in Charsadda, the project was replicated in the flood-hit area of Nowshehra district,” the social worker adds.

Shagufta Khan, a resident of flood-struck Agra village, benefited from a similar programme. She and her family were finding it difficult to survive after the floods washed away her home until she enrolled in a stitching programme in a centre established near her house by a non-governmental organisation. After she completed a three-month course, the organisation provided her with a sewing machine.

Khan has now established a business of sewing women’s clothes at home. “A little initiative changed my life. Sewing women’s clothes is now my source of livelihood. I am content with what I have managed to do,” she says.

The writer is a freelance multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney

Weathering the storm