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Pakistan Floods and Gender – Context Piece (September 2010)

Pakistan is facing the worst floods in its history due to the heaviest monsoon rains seen the country for more than 80 years. At least 35 districts in north-west Pakistan have been severely affected by the floods, affecting the lives of an estimated over 1.5 million people, while nine other districts have been moderately affected. Some 1,500 people are reported dead, with this number likely to rise as the waters recede. This new disaster comes in the wake of the IDP emergency caused earlier this year; nearly 1.3 million persons were already displaced because of the conflict, while 1.9 million had returned to their native areas. More than 160,000 sq km of land - a fifth of the country - have been affected by the disaster, an area the size of Belgium, Austria and Switzerland combined. Almost 1.2 million houses are now reported as having been either damaged or destroyed in the country. The overall death toll has risen to 1,539, with 2,055 people now confirmed as injured.

A large number of women and children continue to feel the impact of the second wave of floods, with a spur of the Indus River now stretching through the southern parts of the country. The floods have destroyed or damaged crops, including cotton, rice, sugarcane, maize and others over an area of 4.25 million acres making millions of poor children and women vulnerable to malnutrition, especially those living in the farming communities.

More than 100,000 heavily pregnant women face the risk of infection and disease in flood-ravaged Pakistan. Save the Children said at least 500,000 expectant mothers have been affected by the floods, with tens of thousands of newborn babies and women in potential danger in the coming months. Many mothers would be forced to give birth in temporary shelters or tents, with no access to clean water or healthcare. This presents appalling risks in terms of disease and infection, and ultimately poses a serious threat to the lives of mothers and their newborn babies.

The country already had a high infant mortality rate before the disaster, with one in 20 babies dying before they were a month old.

According to the RHRC (Reproductive Health Response in Crises Consortium), 85 percent of persons displaced by the flood are women and children. As the floodwaters rise, they are at acute risk from starvation, exposure, sexual assault, and water-borne diseases. However, providing them with assistance is more difficult than these basic facts suggest. In traditional Pakistani society, it is taboo for women to receive aid or medical care from male relief workers, preventing many of them from seeking such aid in the first place.

Assessments revealed that in darkness, women and girl children run a high risk of getting sexually assaulted, mothers are unable to properly feed infants, they cannot go to washroom because of fear of snake bites, sexual abuse and harassment; they cannot properly give medication to sick family members, specially infants, and children and they are unable to find material for specific needs especially related to menstruation and personal cleanliness. The loss of homes and livelihoods is a further strain and cause of stress; for women, access to their needs becomes even more precarious as their support systems have been eroded. In this environment of constant fear, cold, immobility and lack of hygiene related material, skin diseases and other diseases are likely to skyrocket. It is also going to get cold soon, hence the need for blankets.

No. of people affected by province


Estimated number of women and children affected




Women 15-49 years of age


Khyber Pakhtunkhwa


Pregnant women




Children under 18 years of age




Children under 5 years of age




Children under 1 year of age


Gilgit Baltistan









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