Supporting disaster-affected communities in Pakistan

Supporting disaster-affected communities in Pakistan

A Q&A with Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui, a Mercy Corps Field Coordinator specializing in emergency response

In 2022, 185 million across the globe felt the impact of natural disasters, as severe weather events and natural disasters devastated communities. This figure is only going to increase as our planet continues to experience unprecedently high temperatures. Countries and communities who contribute the least to the climate crisis are the ones who are feeling the impacts the most.

One of those is Pakistan, which has faced successive earthquakes, floods, and heavy rains. In the aftermath of these events, the rapid restoration of clean water is vital to public health. Preparedness is key to mitigate danger and combat the spread of waterborne disease.

Together with our partners, Xylem Watermark works closely with communities to leverage our expertise and solutions to improve disaster readiness and provide vital support when disaster strikes. One of our partners is Mercy Corps, a global team of nearly 6,000 humanitarians that works closely with Xylem to respond to water, sanitation, and hygiene needs in Pakistan.

Emma Housman, Manager Community and Social Impact at Xylem, recently spoke to Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui, a Field Coordinator specializing in emergency response with Mercy Corps, to discuss the day-to-day realities of supporting disaster-affected communities in Pakistan.

Emma Housman: Through your role, you work closely with disaster-affected communities to provide vital support. Can you describe your role and why you chose this career path?

Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui: As the field-level Emergency Response Lead in Sindh and Balochistan, I provide technical support, guidance, and capacity building to the teams and the local organizations we partner with.

Emergency response makes a meaningful difference in the lives of those affected by disasters and crises. Having previously worked in the development sector, I realized how critical disaster risk reduction and humanitarian response efforts are and the impact they have on communities.

The chance to use my skillset to directly assist communities during challenging times inspired me to choose a career in emergency response.

Emma Housman: A recent report by Oxfam highlighted how the climate crisis is a cascading water crisis, as many areas are experiencing more severe flooding, while people have even less access to safe drinking water. This is something we have already seen in Pakistan; can you describe the situation in the country?

Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui: Pakistan contributes less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions but is ranked as the eighth most affected nation by climate change from 2000 to 2019, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.

The climate crisis is exacerbating natural hazards in Pakistan, with melting glaciers, changing weather patterns, increased rainfall, droughts, sea intrusion, and rising sea levels. More frequent extreme weather is negatively impacting agriculture, leading to decreased yields and increased hunger.

Loss of livelihoods, shelter, and personal savings has been widespread in recent years, following the 2005 earthquake, 2010 mega-floods, and consecutive flash floods in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Emma Housman: Pakistan’s 2022 monsoon rains resulted in unprecedented flash floods, affecting millions of people, and causing considerable damage to livestock, agricultural land, and infrastructure. How did Xylem and Mercy Corps respond?

Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui: Parts of Balochistan received 5 times the 30-year average rainfall during this period. Streets and roads were entirely covered for weeks, preventing movement into or out of the region, further isolating affected communities, and hindering initial response efforts.

With Xylem’s support, Mercy Corps’ team in Pakistan began a flood response in early September 2022, to provide water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) related programming to communities in the flood-affected districts of Sohbatpur and Jaffarabad in Balochistan.

We trucked in clean water to camps in Sohbatpur, impacting 650 households and around 4,225 people. In Jaffarabad, Mercy Corps provided 650 WASH non-food items and family hygiene. Mercy Corps also conducted health and hygiene sessions with 2,880 participants across both districts.

We reached a total of 8,450 people through water trucking, WASH and hygiene kits, and health and hygiene promotion sessions. Mercy Corps also helped with dewatering efforts in Sohbatpur and Jaffarabad, directly benefiting 59,672 residents.

One of the major challenges during a disaster such as this is controlling and preventing water-borne diseases, malaria, typhoid, and skin-related infections. Shortly after the flooding in 2022, there was a massive outbreak of malaria and diarrheal diseases in the affected districts. Providing WASH support becomes essential in such situations as it can help protect against critical diseases.

Emma Housman: As our planet continues to warm, these types of extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. How can we improve our preparedness?

Sohail Ahmed Siddiqui: Preparedness is of utmost importance because it allows us to respond swiftly and effectively to emergencies, saving lives and mitigating the impact on communities.

Our work starts well before the disaster strikes. By being well-prepared, we can reduce the response time, optimize resource allocations, and work closely with government agencies and partners to more efficiently address the immediate needs of affected communities.

One way that Xylem is helping us prepare for the next crisis is by donating two dewatering pumps and corresponding training. Having this equipment pre-positioned and our teams ready to use it will enable us to respond as soon as the next disaster strikes. We're also participating in government preparedness meetings to understand critical gaps and needs, and coordinate around dewatering efforts for future disasters.

As our climate changes, more regions will be hit by disaster. Preparedness and rapid response is key to mitigate danger and combat the spread of waterborne disease. Learn more about disaster preparedness and response and how you can join us to assist communities impacted by disasters.