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Floods in Pakistan: Rethinking the humanitarian role

A report by Humanitarian Outcomes on flooding in Pakistan in 2022 finds that the international relief response has fallen short

The immense scale and impact of the flooding in Pakistan, which began in mid-June 2022, exceeded previous disasters, such as the floods in 2010.

By November 2022, an estimated 33 million people had been affected, with 7.9 million displaced, and combined losses and damages estimated at US$30 billion.

Pakistan’s government and civil society entities struggled to mount a large-scale humanitarian response to meet critical needs – international humanitarian funding and operational support were a fraction of what was mobilised in 2010.

Evidence gathered for the report suggests that the international relief response has fallen well short of what is needed, raising fears over the prospects for recovery.

Summary of the report

An underfunded response, over-reliant on debt

Donors have only given US$297 million in grant-based contributions for relief and recovery activities, far less than the US$3 billion given in response to the flood emergency in 2010.

Instead of humanitarian aid, the global response has mostly been in the form of debt-based financing.

The World Bank quickly repurposed existing loans to give cash payments to vulnerable people through the Benazir Income Support Programme, but this only reached a minority of those affected and was a one-time payment.

Sustained relief and recovery aid is needed to support people who have lost their livelihoods, prevent secondary impacts of the disaster, enable safe return for displaced people and avert a significant upsurge in poverty.

Relying on debt financing puts more stress on Pakistan's economy – although early action by international financial institutions such as the World Bank is crucial, it cannot replace large-scale humanitarian and grant-based support.

Inadequate climate and anticipatory financing

Flooding in Pakistan has worsened because of climate change.

The Government of Pakistan and others think Western countries, which have contributed the most to climate change, should help pay for the consequences.

There are no effective mechanisms for humanitarian financing – a new funding model was supposed to help but was not activated in 2022.

It is unclear if donors will provide the US$16.3 billion Pakistan needs for reconstruction.

Investments in disaster risk reduction made since the 2010 floods reportedly helped, but more information is needed about what worked, and where improvements or changes are needed.

The wrong model for middle-income countries

Crises in Pakistan, Ukraine and Sri Lanka have raised questions about international humanitarian response in middle-income countries that have significant government, civil society and disaster management capacity.

When large-scale crises overwhelm national capacities, international aid should complement nationally led efforts and focus on filling capacity gaps.

However, the international humanitarian system is not always able to adapt its operational capacity and systems to fit, which has led to an insufficient response in Pakistan.

Operational agencies have reduced their presence in the country over the past decade, and the initial UN appeal and amounts major donors contributed are considered too small.

Financing systems, ways of working and contingency planning need to provide faster and more direct support to local and national actors, including technical support, coordination and information management, and advocacy.

Among respondents surveyed for the report, the most commonly reported obstacle to receiving aid in Pakistan was corruption, which suggests a need for increased accountability and efforts to tackle exclusion challenges.

This report was the second in a series of rapid reviews conducted by HO under the Humanitarian Rapid Research Initiative , commissioned and supported by the UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub (UKHIH) with UK aid from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

The review team comprised researchers from HO, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad and independent experts.

Project summary

The rapid review was commissioned and supported by the UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub (UKHIH) with UK aid from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

It was part of a programme of rapid analytical reviews HO is leading to inform and steer humanitarian responses in new or newly exacerbated crises.

The analyses produced focus on one or two critical issue areas where research efforts have the potential to make the greatest policy or operational impact.

Methodology

For each review, a team led by HO and including various international experts and institutional partners conducted key informant interviews.

The team reviewed relevant literature and data, implementing surveys of people affected by crises and/or aid providers.

HO data assets and tools provided quantitative data on operational presence and coverage (GDHO), perspectives of people affected (CORE) and operational security (AWSD).


The UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub is an independent entity hosted within Elrha and fully funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.


Floods in Pakistan: Rethinking the humanitarian role

A report by Humanitarian Outcomes on flooding in Pakistan in 2022 finds that the international relief response has fallen short

Read the report

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