The Pakistan floods: Now is the time to act

Daniel Rostrup

Flooding in Pakistan has wrought havoc on an already struggling country and its people. If the world fails to help, it will get even worse.

The recent floods in Pakistan have caused catastrophic loss of life as well as damage of epic proportions. Over 1,700 people have been killed according to reports which are certainly an underestimate, 33 million have been displaced from their homes, a third of the country is under water and damage is an estimated $40 billion. How can we as individuals, companies, civil society and philanthropic institutions come together to bring dignity back to the millions whose lives have been upended? What is needed to mitigate the next disaster?

Not enough dry land to bury the dead

The numbers are as stunning as the stories from the frontline are heartbreaking. ‘People don’t even have dry land to bury their loved ones,’ says Areebah Shahid, Executive Director at Pakistan Youth Change Advocates (PYCA). ‘A huge amount of the population has been uprooted, infrastructure destroyed, the roads are gone, hospitals, schools, everything washed away, the region has sunk into debris.’ says Mukhdoom Mashood Ahmed Siddiqui, of AgReCir. Among the more obvious health consequences,’ We are now seeing a surge in water-borne diseases, like dengue, as well as skin diseases, malaria, diarrhoea and snake bites’ notes Imran Asghar, Director South Asia at The Sourcery.

The cost of inaction will be even greater suffering in the near future. Child and maternal health are but one example. According to Mahnoor Farishta, Founder & CEO of Khair, a digital health platform, there were 70,000 pregnant women due to give birth during the month of the floods. At the time, an additional 700,000 women were due to give birth within six months. These women and their babies need adequate care.


Khair is an all-in-one solution to women’s healthcare. It aims to increase health awareness around menstrual and reproductive health in Pakistan and provide women with easy access to doctors and testing. Khair has introduced Pakistan’s First Period and Pregnancy Tracker with access to subscription-based menstrual hygiene products for delivery. For every 6 packets of pads bought from Khair, two are donated to girls from lower-income backgrounds who cannot afford them, in the effort to combat period poverty in Pakistan. Over 30 million women in Pakistan do not have access to menstrual hygiene products and miss school or work as a result.

Why the lukewarm response from the international community?

Yet, this grand-scale disaster has not elicited a strong and sustained response from the international community. Some point to ‘disaster fatigue’, the idea that after the Covid-19 pandemic, the climate emergency, and the war in Ukraine, people are overwhelmed and unable to empathise with yet another terrible situation. Others suggest that discrimination against Muslim charities has made it harder for them to fundraise.

What role can we play?

There are three things individuals can do: first, donate money to relief organisations like Islamic Relief, The Citizens Foundation, Fahmida Begum Foundation or support umbrella groups like the UK Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) which coordinates fundraising to provide emergency aid and rapid relief. Second, support with material supplies such as clean water, shelter, medicines and food. Third, use the power of social media to raise awareness of the disaster. This will help keep the public’s attention on the topic and facilitate continued fundraising and humanitarian action.

Islamic Relief

Islamic Relief Pakistan is part of one of the world’s largest faith-inspired charities, Islamic Relief Worldwide. Since 1992 it has transformed the lives of 9 million people living in the most remote parts of Pakistan. In the wake of flash floods, Islamic Relief was quick to reach the affected because of our strategic geographical footings across Pakistan. With lifesaving aid, it has reached more than half a million people in the worst affected and most in need in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.

Companies can think how their own products, services, relationships, partnerships and supply chains can help people on the ground get what they need. For example, healthcare and pharmaceutical companies can donate much-needed medicines, soap, and feminine hygiene products. As winter arrives, apparel companies can donate warm clothes. Companies that don’t work in Pakistan should team up with those who do, leveraging their supply chain and reach. Collaboration is key. Companies can also set up fundraising efforts where they match contributions from their employees.

The role of foundations

Considering that relief and reconstruction efforts are massively underfunded, it’s important in the short term that foundations continue to channel funding to organisations working in Pakistan on the key issues of water, food, health, sanitation, and shelter. They can also help with sharing stories. With the public’s increasing mistrust in the government and the private sector, philanthropic foundations are in a great position to act as trusted sources of information and can share regular news updates to keep attention on the topic.

In the medium and longer-term

There are massive challenges as Pakistan moves from relief to reconstruction. In a country that was already grappling with the effects of the pandemic, we must make sure that children are able to resume their studies as soon as possible especially as education is interrelated with so many other development goals, such as poverty alleviation and gender equity. There is a real fear that between the pandemic school closures and the current disaster, many children will never return to school. This is particularly true for girls who are at higher risk of child marriage and child labour.

In the long term, foundations should also invest heavily in Pakistan becoming more climate-resilient. This is partly about climate education to inspire climate action but also about building capacity for the system to respond to future disasters. For example, dams need to be built throughout the country to prepare for the next flood. Villages need to be rebuilt in ways that will withstand the effects of climate change. Development Finance Institutions (DFIs), green banks, and impact investors all have a role to play in investing in a greener and more resilient infrastructure in Pakistan. It will be vital to collaborate with local implementation partners who understand the emerging needs.

The bigger picture

Before the floods, Pakistan was facing serious socio-economic challenges. Pakistan has the second largest out-of-school population in the world with 23 million children not in school. The country’s economy was also suffering before the floods. A tumbling currency, sky-high inflation, and rising food prices were all contributing factors.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the World Bank Chief Economist has warned that the country’s economy could struggle to stay afloat. In addition to recovery and the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, huge swathes of rich agricultural lands have been lost, livelihoods destroyed, and billions of dollars of rice, sugar, and wheat have already been lost. In a country heavily dependent on agriculture, this threatens an even greater trade deficit which is made worse by rising food prices as a result of the war in Ukraine.


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Pakistan contributes less than 1 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions yet is disproportionately affected by the impact of climate change.  Many are calling for reparations from top polluting countries like the United States, China and Russia. ‘The climate crisis is not treating everyone equally,’ says Areebah Shahid. ‘We are in the midst of this crisis even though we didn’t cause it. There is a sense of resentment and abandonment here.’

A feeling of despondency permeated my conversations with the men and women in Pakistan that I interviewed for this article. They feel that their country is not taken seriously on the world stage and, as a result, is not getting the help it so desperately needs.

We have the tools, we have the money, we have the skills. We can and must help. Now is the time for philanthropy, international aid agencies, DFIs, impact investors and civil society at large to come together to tackle one of the greatest humanitarian challenges we have faced.

Daniel Rostrup is Regional Business Development Lead at Sattva Consulting.

Upcoming issue: Crises happen: be prepared

The December 2022 issue of Alliance magazine will explore the role of philanthropy in crises and suggests that acting before the fact – rather than simply reacting – is the way ahead. The issue is guest-edited by Patty McIlreavy and Regine Webster of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

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Header image license: ‘Pakistan floods‘ by Abdul Majeed Goraya for IRIN for UNDP is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

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