Once the water recedes...

Monday 31st Jan 2011 by theWeather Club

While it is the dramatic scenes of raging water and inland lakes that capture the world’s attention, it is the after effects of flooding remain the real story. How do people go about picking up their lives after a biblical deluge has washed their world away? In Australia, the clean-up after the worst floods in decades is getting underway. In Sri Lanka and the Philippines, flooding has left hundreds displaced. In other places as far apart as Brazil and Southern Africa people are having to deal with the aftermath of flooding.

Initially services like electricity, water and sewerage have to be turned off to make the area safe, and then reconnected to begin the clean up. Streets are choked with flood debris. Roads are blocked so vehicles struggle to get through to clear away the rubbish. Shelter for residents and workers needs to be found. Safe food and water needs to be arranged. A well co-ordination response is vital if this is all to be achieved effectively. With so many areas in need of this service, local authorities can struggle to provide it quickly enough, says Graham McKay, deputy humanitarian director for Oxfam. “The stronger the society, the quicker it bounces back,” he says. Mr McKay believes that the two most important variables in determining this readiness are the economic strength of a country and the stability of its state institutions. This means that while the Queensland floods have been devastating, Australia is well placed to recover.

However not all countries are in such a position. The government in Pakistan is under pressure from all sides. There is the insurgency, there are rising food prices and there are protests over issues such as the prospect of relaxing the strict blasphemy laws. With so much political uncertainty, the aftermath of the floods has become one crisis among many. While in Australia, many business owners worry whether their insurance will cover the costs of flood damage, in Pakistan “there is no question of insurance,” says Ariane Rumery, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency UNHCR. Many rural Pakistanis have lost their livelihoods. Tenant farmers whose crops were destroyed are afraid they will still have to pay their rents. Day labourers have lost the work that was available to them. Infrastructure damaged in the floods has yet to be cleared away, let alone repaired. It all mean that over six months after being hit by floods that shocked the world, the situation is still very bad for many locals. “Pakistan is not out of the emergency phase," says Ms Rumery.