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Pakistan Dealing With Flood Effects One Year Later

This photograph shows (top) residents returning to the town of Nowshera, northwest Pakistan, as flood waters started to recede on Aug. 1, 2010; and (bottom) a man and boy as they ride past the same exact location nearly a year after the floods ravaged one

One year ago, heavy rains struck Pakistan, causing floods that submerged one-fifth of the country.

Pakistanis and the international community are marking the anniversary as a national tragedy, but with acute awareness that this year’s monsoons are coming.

The effects of the 2010 floods are still being dealt with, but given the scale of the disaster both Pakistani and International authorities say things could have been far worse and, all things considered, the response has been good.

Effective assistance

In what was the largest U.N. aid assistance program to date, the international community’s response to the situation has been significant. According to Pakistani government figures, more than 18 million people were affected by the flooding at varying degrees of severity. Hundreds of thousands of new homes have already been built, providing shelter for many of the displaced.

Pakistani Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority Zafar Iqbal Qadir says the anniversary is a moment to reflect on the international effort and Pakistani strength in the face of such adversity.

"The Pakistani nation has through the test of resilience, the government has been able to manage the disaster well with strong support of international community and U.N. system," Qadir says. "It is because of collective efforts that today we are here, learning from our experiences, sharing our points of view and our observations. And moving into a new year of commitment and resilience."

Long process

Both international and Pakistani authorities say the aid and recovery effort is going to take many years, and there is considerably more work to be done.

There is an estimated $600 million gap in what has been promised by the international community and what has arrived. The relief agency Oxfam said this week that more than 800,000 families affected by the floods are still without proper housing, and many flood defenses have not been reconstructed.

Among the lessons learned from the disaster is a recognition that Pakistan must prepare in case heavy rains come again. U.N. officials say every dollar spent in preparation is equivalent to four dollars spent in response.

A boy, displaced by floods for nearly a year, sits near his family's goat, dyed in henna, and belongings while travelling with his family to higher ground in Sukkur, July 27, 2011 (Reuters).

Looking ahead

The head of the U.N. office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Manuel Bessler, also says it is essential that aid efforts be brought together and organized for better effectiveness.

"So, you had suddenly Red Crescent organizations, you had national NGOs, you had International NGOs, you had the army, you had the civilian authorities: a lot of actors - all well intended, highly motivated to bring them together into a concerted effort, that is challenging," says Bessler.

Many of the damaged areas, including farmlands, irrigation channels and housing are still at risk. With the bulk of the monsoon season looming ahead, there is a push to be better prepared -- even if, by all estimates, the rains this year will be nowhere near as bad.