Military operations in Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) finally eliminated militants from the valley in 2009. Over 1.6 million of the 2.2 million people displaced had returned home by August, hoping to rebuild their lives. The very next year, however, saw devastating floods in the region.
The flood waters receded, leaving much of the reconstruction work undone. Basic infrastructure such as roads linking villages to main arteries, streets, culverts, small bridges and irrigation channels had been damaged, placing new obstacles in the way of communities wishing to rebuild.
Small bridges, roads and water channels are essential parts of life in mountainous Swat. In some areas, collapsed bridges cut off communication between two halves of a single village, or forced children to wade through swift streams to reach school. Damaged roads increased travel times to hospitals and markets.
UNDP and its government partners, the KP Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) and Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PaRRSA), KP initiated the restoration and rehabilitation of damaged community infrastructure with US$ 11.67 million from the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD). The project aimed to empower communities by enabling them to participate in the identification of schemes and monitoring of reconstruction work.
The 2010 flood had left the small bridge over the river Bargain badly damaged and, within a year, the bridge collapsed. Bargain’s people found themselves on either side of a stream and many villages in the region were cut off from the main road.
- One million people have benefited from 761 community basic infrastructure schemes;
- Community organizations have been established to help women and men participate in the development of their communities;
- Project oversight committees have been trained to monitor construction activities;
- Street paving and link roads have reduced the vulnerability of people with disabilities, children, the elderly, and especially women who usually fetch firewood, water and daily household items on foot;
- Restored irrigation channels and drainage channels have increased water availability, reduced waterborne disease and improved agricultural yields.
The bridge was rebuilt with UNDP and SFD support. In addition, a six-km stretch of PCC road was resurfaced in the village, making transport swift and easy. “It has not just improved my life, everyone has benefited,” says Ibrahim, a driver in the area. “It has facilitated trade. It has allowed improved movement of goods. Since the cost of transportation has fallen, the prices of goods are also under control now.”
Similarly, a newly rebuilt Gidarsar link road connecting Dad village to the rest of the world has changed the lives of 5,000 people living in the area. The village teacher, Akhtar Ali, lives four kilometres away and is delighted with the new road, saying, “Where it used to take two hours for me to reach school, on my motorbike I arrive in 30 minutes. I can teach [my pupils] with peace of mind. The road is bringing economic benefits to the area, as well. “For farmers, this road has provided cheaper access to both markets for agricultural output and for modern inputs. Transportation costs have fallen, so farmers are making better profits.”
“Not just I, my students, farmers of the Gidarsar and surrounding villages and inhabitants of the area in general, are the beneficiaries of this SFD-funded project. The Saudis and UNDP have worked so well in these areas, people are obliged to them” said Mr. Ali.
There are countless such stories from across Swat as communities are helped to recover from natural and man-made disasters. A project impact evaluation study conducted by an independent consulting firm has revealed that community access to markets, education and health services has improved by 90 percent, while access to livelihoods has improved by 85 percent. Women in particular have benefited as their mobility has improved and they have timely access to medical care.
In all, the period 2011–2016 was marked by the rehabilitation of 761 schemes, including 107 link roads, 284 street pavements, 159 culverts, 84 small bridges and 127 irrigation/drainage channels through the Community Resilience Malakand project. This has bettered the living standards of over one million people in Swat.