Pakistan: UN addresses gender-based violence against flood victims

Women and children at the Sultan Colony camp, near the city of Multan, in Pakistan

26 November 2010 – The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is seeking to prevent and respond to gender-based violence against women and girls among the more than 20 million victims of Pakistan’s recent floods, the country’s worst natural disaster in living memory.

“Crises like the floods that inundated much of the country in August break down social networks and systems that normally protect women and girls, such as cohesive families, livelihoods, and safe shelter,” UNFPA said in a news release today, noting that it is providing financial and technical aid for health care and psychosocial support to victims of such violence.

“Displacement creates a host of risk factors that increase the vulnerability of women and girls to many forms of violence. The rights, needs and vulnerabilities of women and girls are sometimes overlooked in emergencies, when many humanitarian actors are focused on reaching a large number of people in the shortest period of time,” it added.

“There is a great need to recognize that gender-based violence can, and very often does, occur in these situations and to build survivor-centred response services.” The floods, which began in late July, killed nearly 2,000 people and caused $9.7 billion in damages to infrastructure, homes, crops and livestock.

The subject of gender-based violence is sensitive in most societies, and particularly so in Pakistan, where it is rarely discussed, said UNFPA. Programmes that address the problem do so discretely, but experts say there is a huge gap in service provision.

UNFPA has undertaken capacity-building initiatives in Khyber Pakhtunkwa, Punjab and Sindh provinces, introducing participants and future trainers from Government and humanitarian agencies to basic principles to fight the scourge, including case management, using a confidential, survivor-centred, and comprehensive approach.

As part of a coordinated inter-agency response, UNFPA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are co-leading response and prevention efforts. Donors have provided over $1 million to UNFPA to support such services.

Meanwhile, UNICEF reported today that in one of the flood-devastated rural areas, Shadatkot in Sindh, the waters caused near-total destruction with returnees finding no homes, food, schools or livelihoods. A UNICEF mission early this week found that while the majority of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) were returning in Sindh, stagnant flood waters continued to block some.

Over 270 schools were still being used for shelter, housing some 40,000 people, while an additional 54,000 IDPs, including over 31, 000 children, remained in camps in Balochistan province, UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado told a news briefing in Geneva.

The November 2010 Damage and Needs Assessment, conducted by the Pakistani Government, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, estimated overall flood recovery and reconstruction costs at between $8.7 billion and $10.8 billion.

UNICEF has provided 2.8 million people with clean drinking water on a daily basis, along with vital sanitation and hygiene facilities and 10 million vaccines, and set up or helped maintain hundreds of treatment centres for malnourished children and women.

To date, UNICEF has received $169 million of its $251 million appeal and Ms. Mercado warned that unless the remaining third was received, UNICEF's emergency and recovery operations would be affected as of January, with an impact on all aspects of its activities. Even before the floods, 40 per cent of children in Pakistan were underweight, she noted.


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