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Pakistan: Unequal distribution of flood relief in Umerkot District

20 June 2023

Sindh is Pakistan’s third-largest province and is home to a diverse population of religious and ethnic minorities, including Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis. Despite supposedly guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens, the Pakistan Constitution falls short when it comes to guaranteeing the rights of minorities facing widespread discrimination and abuse in Sindh. As a result of the 2022 flood, Sindh also faces the greatest level of damage of all the country’s provinces.  

Between June and August 2022, Pakistan was affected by a devastating flood, most likely the worst in the country’s history. Around 33 million people were affected, including nearly 8 million displaced. More than 1,700 people are thought to have died. A post-disaster needs assessment found that total damages exceed US$14.9 billion, and total economic losses are likely to reach about US$15.2 billion. The recovery and reconstruction costs for Sindh alone are estimated to be approximately US$7.9 billion, the highest of any of the provinces. According to Pakistan’s Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Floods 2022 Report, overall decline in GDP as a direct impact of the floods is projected to be around 2.2 per cent of the 2022 fiscal year. Among the major sectors, the value of agriculture is projected to decline most, by 0.9 per cent of 2022 GDP, with floods causing most losses to cotton, dates, sugarcane and rice crops. Around one million livestock are estimated to have perished. 

Saghar, a Hindu man, feeds raw goat milk to son. His mother, seated next to him, gave birth to the boy during the floods, on a roadside with the help of other women trying to find refuge. The family travelled more than 30 kilometres on foot to reach the Cattle colony camp in Umerkot district, Sindh, Pakistan. Credit: Asad Zaidi.

The devastation was country-wide, yet the aftermath shows the underlying and systemic discrimination against minority communities affected by climate disasters. Caused by extreme cyclone rainfall, melting glaciers and a record-breaking heatwave, the 2022 flood is a clear example of how climate change is wreaking destruction on local communities, while exacerbating human rights violations due to inadequate housing policies, lack of infrastructure and unfair emergency relief policies for minority groups. Given the scale of the damage caused by the flood to Sindh, important lessons can be drawn from the experiences of minority communities living there.  

Pyari, a 23-year-old Hindu widow, lives with her two children in the village of Khushlani Mohala in Umerkot, one of the districts in Sindh worst affected by the floods. Pyari’s husband died three years ago. Since then, she has been working as a maid for the local landlord to support her family. She and her children were living in a tiny mud house provided by the landlord when the flood struck. Pyari was sound asleep with her two children next to her, when suddenly she heard screams coming from the cottage next door. She managed to get out of bed and was trying to leave the house when the water gushed in through the doors and windows. She rushed back to her bed and grabbed her two children. ‘I didn’t know what was happening to me,’ she recalls. ‘I was crying for help.’ Her neighbours heard her and managed to get into the house and help her and her children escape.

I suffered from the trauma of homelessness and instead of providing relief, the flood relief campaign actually added another mental burden on me.

Pyari moved with her children to a raised road embankment. She had no shelter for two weeks until the first relief supplies reached her location. Pyari came to know about the distribution of relief funds from her neighbours. Officials at the distribution point, however, were suspicious, and they pushed her away. ‘It is only after we went there’, Pyari maintains, ‘that I was somehow able to get my name on the distribution list, but I was unable to receive relief goods in a substantial amount. Now I have a tent and insufficient relief aid to get by.’  

Pyari further adds: ‘My two children and I faced harassment while receiving relief aid. We faced harassment from the aid distributors, security forces and locals. The harassment included sexually inappropriate remarks. I was told to provide these men sexual pleasures in the form of physical touch and sexual intercourse in exchange for relief aid.’ Moreover, Pyari added that her children were told to renounce their Hindu religion in order to get relief aid. ‘I suffered from the trauma of homelessness and instead of providing relief, the flood relief campaign actually added another mental burden on me,’ Pyari said.

Pooni, a Hindu lady and mother of five children, passes through their flooded village Sonpur with other children and women, after working in cotton fields now filled with floodwater in Umerkot district, Sindh, Pakistan. Credit: Asad Zaidi.

Women who identify as belonging to a minority are especially vulnerable in areas hit hard by climate disasters, as Pyari’s story shows. Hundreds of women like Pyari have been affected by the floods in south-western Pakistan, and six months later, they are still waiting for help. Local providers have adopted a distribution mechanism that enables majority population households to be the first to receive supplies. However, human rights experts emphasize the need to set up relief committees that include minority representatives who can identify members of their communities, for instance Hindu communities in Sindh, and ensure their inclusion in the distribution process.

The 2022 floods have only exacerbated the systemic discrimination and violence affecting minority Hindu women in the region.

Despite efforts from human rights organizations to raise awareness about the situation in Sindh, the reality on the ground has continued to deteriorate. The government has been criticized for its failure to take adequate measures to protect minority rights and for its inability to prosecute those responsible for violence and discrimination reported in the aftermath of the devastating floods. The government has also been accused of censorship and controlling the media, particularly in the case of media reports that are critical of the government or its relief policies. This has resulted in a lack of coverage of the human rights abuses faced by minority communities in Sindh. In addition, many media outlets in Pakistan practise self-censorship, avoiding controversial or sensitive topics out of fear of retribution from the government or other powerful actors. This has further contributed to the under-reporting of the post-flood situation faced by minority communities in Sindh.

One of the most serious violations of minority rights in the region is the forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam. This has become a common occurrence in Sindh, with reports of young Hindu girls being kidnapped, forcibly converted or else forcibly married to Muslim men. In many cases, these girls are unable to return to their families due to pressure from their captors and fear of retribution. Minority communities in Sindh also face physical violence and intimidation. Gender-based violence and sexual abuse targeting minority women have been reported by human rights monitors. The 2022 floods have only exacerbated the systemic discrimination and violence affecting minority Hindu women in the region.

As Pyari’s story shows, the recent floods in Sindh have led to major violations of minority rights, not least in the form of discrimination during the distribution of emergency aid and other resources. Minority communities in the region have reported that they have received less aid and support than other communities. This situation has left many members of the Hindu community in Sindh without access to basic necessities such as food, shelter and clean water, and has further exacerbated the already dire economic situation they face.

We are grateful to members of Saving Souls Foundation for their collaboration in the production of this chapter.

Photo: Trucks offload relief items along a path lined with temporary shelters. Sindh, Pakistan. 26 September 2022. Credit: European Union/Abdul Majeed.

This chapter is part of our ‘Minority and Indigenous Trends 2023: Focus on Water’ flagship report. Discover all chapters >


Huzaifa Nasir