14th Apr 2021

Pakistani women tell flood stories to EU official

  • Children playing at a refugee camp, as photographed by Ms Morzaria on her Pakistan assignment (Photo: Malini Morzaria)

Sajida (not her real name) pointed to her bruised and swollen left eye and temple: "He is not here all the time, and when he returns, he is always angry; fighting with me and beating me over minor issues ... This was because of a bucket," she told Malini Morzaria, a British European Commission official, during a fact-finding trip last week to the Buner and Charsadda districts in northern Pakistan.

Sajida explained that her husband beats her when he returns to the refugee camp from daily trips to salvage material from their submerged home.

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Another Pakistani woman, Rahat, said: "The water started at night and by the morning we were wading hip-deep, trying to save our livestock and belongings ... Within a short time, the whole house collapsed and our future dissolved into a muddy pile before our eyes. The floods ate our home and some of our livestock. Now we have nothing, there is nothing left for us."

Ms Morzaria told EUobserver by phone on Wednesday (18 August) from New Delhi, India, that she is collecting the testimonies and posting them on an EU webpage because of a moral obligation.

"These people gave us their time even though we were not coming with boxes of goods, because our mission was an assessment one. I felt obliged to share that. We hear what the high-level people have to say, but not the voices of those who are suffering," she said.

She said that Sajida's testimony stands out because it shows a hidden side of the disaster - the psychological damage to small communities and families: "You can see the food needs, the water needs, the latrine needs. But you don't see the burden that is borne by family members, basically the women, coping with the shock in the family."

Ms Morzaria, who works for the commission's aid department, Echo, travelled to the war-and-flood-struck districts in a jeep with Oxfam workers between 10 and 12 August.

A former journalist and a Hindi speaker, she concentrated on women because the male-dominated aid missions tend to have contact with Pakistani men only: "We were in a focus group in Buner and I was the only woman in a room of 75 men, who were staring at me. It felt uncomfortable so I went to the women's section."

The commission's Echo office in Islamabad, which numbers five permanent staff, has carried out four fact-finding missions to flood zones, which cover an area the size of Italy and have 20 million displaced people.

The Echo bureau has so far contracted out €9 million of the EU's emergency aid funding, but expects the figure to rise to €14 million or €15 million by Thursday.

EU-registered charities, such as the Red Cross or the International Organisation for Migration, submit applications to Islamabad, which go back to Brussels for clearance, and are using the EU money to buy food, tents, blankets, water sanitation and hygiene kits for outlying areas.

EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva at a press briefing in Brussels on Wednesday said the EU executive is making available a further €30 million on top of a previous €40 million emergency grant and that she is flying to Pakistan on Monday.

She added that 11 EU countries - Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the UK - are also providing relief.

The commissioner, on the occasion of international World Humanitarian Day on Thursday, paid tribute to aid workers, noting that 102 aid staff were killed last year and that another 92 were kidnapped or imprisoned.

Some EU workers in Afghanistan and Pakistan prefer not to wear EU-branded clothes or to travel in EU-marked cars for security reasons because of the EU's links with the US-led war effort in Afghanistan.

Ms Georgieva voiced annoyance that TV and print coverage of Pakistan is full of US flags while the EU effort is barely visible.

"Europeans actually tend to be more modest. When we speak about ourselves we rarely use superlatives ... That's a difference with some other cultures," she said. "[Partner] organisations, the Red Cross, Save the Children, they have their own brand and they are resistant to using the EU brand, sometimes because it is seen as politicising their work, for purely safety reasons, sometimes because they want their brand to be shown for promotional reasons."

Ms Georgieva is currently in talks with EU countries on upgrading the bloc's joint disaster-response capabilities, with a commission proposal due in September.

The commissioner said EU capitals are divided into two camps: One side wants an EU crisis-response force on permanent stand-by. The other camp says this would create a "moral hazard," with EU states under-investing in own disaster-response assets because they think they will be bailed out by someone else.

The story originally said 402 aid workers died in 2009.

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