In the wake of floods that rendered over one fifth of Pakistan underwater, a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude was thrust upon the international community. On Friday October 22nd, 2010, Mark Ward, the Acting Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), spoke to Fordham students about the current humanitarian crisis in Pakistan.
The floods that contributed to the current crisis originated from heavy monsoon rains this past summer. According to Pakistani government data, the floods have directly affected over twenty million people, mostly by destruction of property, livelihood and infrastructure. The number of individuals affected by the flooding exceeds the combined total of individuals affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
USAID/OFDA Acting Director Mark Ward spoke about the different stages of humanitarian crisis response, beginning with the initial relief phase and continuing on to long-term, sustainable recovery. He addressed USAID’s three focuses in the current relief phase in Pakistan’s affected areas. The first priority currently is to provide affected people with clean drinking water that is safe from cholera contamination. The next step in the relief phase is to provide affected residents with shelter materials so that they have the ability to build temporary shelters. Lastly, the distribution and cultivation of food is a crucial step in relief efforts, one that is proving quite difficult because of the perilous terrain in the affected region.
Mr. Ward emphasized USAID’s motto of “build back better,” a phrase used to describe how USAID and other humanitarian relief organizations take the opportunity to build back affected regions so that they are stronger and more resistant to future natural disasters like flooding. With an increased resistance, reconstructed areas are more likely and better able to withstand a crisis, with less devastation.
Mr. Ward then presented students with a series of thought-provoking questions designed to challenge participants to think critically about humanitarian crises like the floods in Pakistan. This lecture provided students the unique opportunity to gain invaluable insight into the world of humanitarian affairs, and the current relief efforts of organizations like USAID.