Neva Khan: Things appear hard now – but it will be much more difficult once the world's attention wavers

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The Independent Online

Whether Pakistan can get back on its feet in three years depends on many things. It's about how well the international community mobilises to address the long-term needs of the country once the first wave of the disaster is over; it's about persuading people to be involved in reshaping their own futures. It's about how well governments and civil society work together towards a shared objective. And if all that's not done, it could take a lot longer.

The fact is that Pakistan isn't geared up for the long-term work. Emergency relief is one thing, but there are already huge challenges facing the government here regardless of the floods. The people who were worst affected, in very vulnerable areas, are in desperate need of a long-term look at how to mitigate those risks in future – because every monsoon season carries the risk of this happening.

Aid agencies, too, will find that the programmes we run will be severely impacted. We're trying to integrate our work on the flood's consequences into our general plans, which look ahead to 2014. And although in some areas we're still in the emergency phase, we're focusing on the long-term now.

As events move on, and the world's attention wavers, it won't be any harder for us to stay motivated. But it will be much harder for Pakistan to deal with the crisis once the public eye is elsewhere. And so right now we need to turn good intentions into action. Now we need the pledges that have come through to turn into cash that can get through the system quickly so agencies like ours can scale up and meet the needs of the people. It's one thing to respond to get things going, but we can't take our eye off the ball for the future. Because once you've finished doing the emergency rescue work, there is a huge range of issues that we'll have to address, touching on every aspect of life here – and affecting about 20 per cent of the country.

It's not just food, it's starting people's agricultural lives again; it's getting markets back in business; it's getting kids back to schools that are being used to house the displaced. It's even about getting landlords to agree to let people reconstruct their homes on their land.

This country, and this government, have been through so much already. But there are massive challenges ahead, and whether it's for three years or longer, we can't let our focus falter for a second.

The author is Oxfam's director in Pakistan