“Once you get outside of Karachi, Sindh is incredibly flat and you get such a feeling of vastness just driving down the road. It’s easy to see why this area flooded so completely. But at the same time, it’s hard to imagine just how much water there was: anywhere from three to twelve feet deep across the plain. As everyone saw in images from Pakistan last year or from Japan’s tsunami this year, the wrecking power of water is awesome, in the ‘terrifying’ sense of the word.”

Luke Bostian, a program associate with the Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. (AKF USA), recently returned from Pakistan, where he witnessed the progress on the Aga Khan Development Network’s (AKDN) multi-agency Relief and Early Recovery Program (RERP), funded by AKF USA donors and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Luke has been working on this program since the devastating floods hit Pakistan in the late summer of 2010, but only recently got to see firsthand the work being done to help Pakistanis get their livelihoods back.

Along with colleagues from AKF Pakistan, FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS) and the Aga Khan Planning & Building Services (AKPBS), Luke visited Thatta District in Sindh province, which at the peak of the flooding was almost entirely underwater. There he visited an AKHS-run health clinic in the town of Sujawal, which has served as a base for medical operations for flood victims, watched mobile medical teams treating patients and conducting health education sessions, and saw temporary shelters built to house families affected by the flood.


Arriving at a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, Luke saw the lasting devastation the flood left on Pakistanis’ living conditions.  “Temporary shelters provided by AKPBS were almost complete,” Luke said, “But the villagers are still living in what can best be called squalor, in their devastated village. They have no income because their crops were destroyed; their houses, sagging wrecks, are unsafe; and the ground is unclean because their animals have nowhere to go but amongst the houses. I’ve visited many places before, but nowhere have I seen this much vulnerability and poverty.”

Luke saw the disruption of the floods not only in the villagers’ living conditions but also in the education of village children. Sadly, village kids had still not returned to school. Although villagers rebuilt the school building soon after returning, the government-funded teacher hasn’t returned since the flooding. “So kids are either idle or begging in Sujawal,” Luke said.

Yet Luke saw promise in the people’s resilience to catastrophe and the recovery work led by AKDN agencies. Touring the nearly-complete shelters, he learned about improvements that had been made on the fly through AKPBS’s active engagement with community members. During the visit, AKPBS engineers and village elders discussed even more improvements for the shelters, like solid doors, increased clearance between the roof and the walls, and flap windows to improve circulation and light but still seal houses from the wind and dust.

A visit to another village, where people have moved into temporary shelters, showed more progress. The people in the village made their temporary shelters feel more like home with personal touches and improvements. For example, they had set up the traditional perimeter wall of thorny brush, with a single gate, to keep animals in and thieves out. Clothes were hanging out to dry on improvised lines. Children played in the pathways between shelters. Guided by one of the older villagers, Luke learned about how villagers set up their kitchens and the insides of the houses, installing their own shelves and bed mats. To Luke, these small touches seemed to be “an obvious improvement over the wrecked houses” and made temporary shelters a more livable, inviting space.


Luke only saw a few villages and their temporary shelters, but the program under the supervision of AKPBS has not only provided temporary shelters for thousands of people who lost their homes but also given people a base from which to rebuild their lives. By the end of March, the program had completed 363 shelters in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral area and 462 shelters in Sindh, with several thousand more shelters under construction.

The Relief and Early Recovery Program (RERP) is a humanitarian assistance project designed to benefit communities in Pakistan affected by the floods that devastated the country. The program addresses needs in six sectors, including immediate material assistance, health care, shelter, infrastructure repair, and water and sanitation assistance. It targets nearly a quarter of a million people in Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral, and Thatta areas. RERP involves the Aga Khan Planning and Building Services (AKPBS), the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), and the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP), each working within its operational mandate, to deliver support to the affected population.