By Erum Noor Muzaffar

With the ongoing climate crisis resulting in extreme droughts and floods, it’s time to think about ways and means to combat natural disasters. In this regard You! takes a look at a Disaster Risk Reduction project initiated in Umerkot district, Sindh…

Warmer temperatures over time are changing weather patterns and disrupting the usual balance of nature– resulting in droughts and floods. Climate change and increasingly extreme weather events have caused a surge in natural disasters over the past 50 years disproportionately impacting poorer countries, stated the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

Droughts are among the greatest threats to sustainable development, especially in developing countries. Longer, more intense droughts threaten crops, wildlife and freshwater supplies. In fact, forecasts estimate that by 2050 droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population.

The participants at the recently-held seminar on DRR in Karachi
The participants at the recently-held seminar on DRR in Karachi

Umerkot District in focus

Water scarcity is one of the main challenges for communities in the Thar Desert, which also includes almost half of Umerkot district. Umerkot is located in the East of Sindh, about 60 km from the Indian border. Umerkot district has two distinct geographical portions: i.e. the irrigated area in the north and west and the desert in the south and east. One can see the sand dunes spreading towards east with thorny bushes. Towards west are the alluvial planes with vast stretches of vegetation. There is no river or natural stream in the district.

Water scarcity is a common problem in most villages of Umerkot. Rural women carrying matkas on their heads and young boys riding donkey carts to fetch water long distances away are an everyday sight here. The main sources of income of people of Umerkot are agriculture and livestock, which are totally dependent on the availability of water.

There are two types of water available in the area. The first source of water is the tubewell but it is bitter in taste and is undrinkable. The second type is the locally constructed wells that yield sweet and drinkable water, but the yielding process is very slow. The water from this point of source is collected on a first come first serve basis. The person who gets to the well first has the right to get water as much as he desires meanwhile the other has to wait long hours for their turn. Many of these wells are at a long distance from homes in most Umerkot villages and fetching water is often left up to the women or children of the house. This means long walks and waiting under the scorching sun for women, young girls and boys. And with long droughts on top, it becomes challenging for the people of Umerkot to survive.

Community World Service Asia, a humanitarian and development organisation, during its field operations observed significant negative impact on the lives and well-being of local communities due to chronic water shortage and drought. There was a need for enhanced disaster resilience among affected communities to ensure their access to water and build capacities on drought resilient agricultural practices.

Keeping that target in mind, Community World Service Asia (CWSA) with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan and the technical assistance of CWS Japan and Japan Conservation Engineers Co. Ltd., in collaboration with the Department of Rural Sociology Sindh Agriculture University of Tando Jam, implemented a drought risk mitigation initiative in Umerkot. The project, lasting from January 2019 to August 2022, aimed at enhancing disaster resilience of underprivileged local communities living in remote and hazard prone villages in Umerkot District, against droughts through improving their access to water and introducing new and sustainable agricultural practices.


Changing lives

Dai lives in Nau Subhani, one of the villages of Umerkot. Until 2019 when CWSA field workers visited it, the village had remained neglected. Other than a few underground rainwater harvesting tanks built several years ago, it had nothing to show in terms of modernity.

Though uneducated, Dai is a member of the Village Committee. She is vocal about community water woes. She told that their source of potable water was the army’s Water Point 3, about eight kilometres away by the roadside. This water carried tiny squiggly critters and it had to be put in either a plastic bottle or a cooking utensil and left in the hot sun for the worms to be killed. Yet, the water gave them gastric problems. The other source of potable water was the water tanker the community purchased from Umerkot. At Rs 7000 per tanker, this was no mean investment that lasted about twenty days in the crumbling underground tanks. Groups of three to four households would pool in the money. It is hard to imagine how a community living well below the poverty line could make such recurring expenditure.

After the necessary training in, among other things, kitchen gardening in 2020, CWSA provided the village with fourteen underground concrete tanks to harvest rain water and in 2021 installed a reverse osmosis (RO) plant to deliver 5000 litres over twenty-four hours. All of a sudden, the long treks and the longer wait at WP 3 were over. “With the underground tanks filled by rain, the training on kitchen gardening came in very handy,” expressed Dai. She was happy to harvest her first crop and her family dined on the best vegetables in a very long time. With the first vegetable harvest over with, she is preparing to plant the next batch of spinach, rapeseed and marrow. Thinking ahead, she is saving seeds from harvest to use again.

The story of Shaibaan is one of courage and determination. Living with her seven children in the remote village of Ratan Bheel in Umerkot district, Shaibaan is constantly multi-tasking to meet the needs of her family. Selected alongside thirty other women from Ratan Bheel and nearby villages, Shaibaan was trained on kitchen gardening techniques in March 2019. The group of women were familiarised on the concept of kitchen gardening. They were taught different vegetable sowing and pest control techniques. Shaibaan replicated the training in fourteen other households in her village. “I did not think of growing a kitchen garden in this desert area. When Shaibaan came to my house with this initiative, I was amazed to know how we can grow clean and healthy vegetables in our yards for our daily consumption when cooking food. We now have the pleasure of eating homemade nutritious vegetables of various kinds,” elucidates Saleemat, another Ratan Bheel kitchen gardener.

Another story is of Mariam, who lives in Dediyo Mangrio, a village in Umerkot District. She is also vocal like Dai and knows how the CWSA intervention has changed lives in their village. She is happy with the fuel-efficient cooking stove introduced by the organisation. “The earlier traditional stove used up to five kilograms of fuel wood to cook one meal for the family. But with the new fuel-efficient stoves that can take two pots at a time, the same amount of cooking consumes somewhat less than half that amount of fuel,” she points out. Mariam now devotes the extra time on her needlework and is making some money from selling her colourful rallis.

Mariam and her husband Sabir got their Disaster Risk Reduction training with CWSA and are now members of the DRR committee. The training taught them the imperative of collecting and storing fodder for the lean period. They were also made aware of their right over the Livestock Department and that they could demand for their animals to be vaccinated. Countless animals have been preserved in one year since the training.

Not only that, the RO plant installed in their village, also brought a wave of prosperity. The water tanker from Umerkot cost them a hefty Rs 10,000 which lasted four to five households about a fortnight. Exempted of that expense, the community is now spending the savings on education. Mariam believes it is her children’s education that will eventually change their lives.

(The writer is indebted to Salman Rashid for sharing stories of Dai and Shaibaan.)


National Seminar on Disaster Risk Reduction

Recently, a National Seminar on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) was held in Karachi. The seminar was organised by Community World Service Asia in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Japan and Department of Rural Sociology Sindh Agriculture University of Tando Jam. The seminar was attended by different stakeholders and media representatives.

Its aim was to promote a global culture of raising awareness on disaster reduction, including disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness among the Pakistani community most affected by recurrent climate induced hazards and supporting drought-resilient agricultural practices in rural communities. The event was designed to bring relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, public and private organisations, academia and the civil society together, who have worked together on mitigating drought impact in the Sindh Province and to explore collaborative efforts for more long-term resilience building.


“Pakistan is one of the co-signer countries of World Trade Organization (WTO). The agreements on Agriculture in the context of free trade worldwide have increased the responsibilities of agricultural universities of the country to groom and motivate the youth specialising in different disciplines of agriculture by strengthening their efforts manifold to face the competition in agriculture trade and services worldwide,” noted Dr Muhammad Javed Sheikh, Associate Professor and Chairman, Department of Rural Sociology, Sindh Agriculture University Tando Jam, while presenting his paper.

While talking about Electrical Resistivity Survey (ERS), Nazar Gul, Deputy Director, DRIP-PCRWR, Tando Jam, explained, “In districts like Thar and UmerKot, dug well water is the oldest and primary source of water. However, water supply from these wells is insufficient to meet the demand of the growing rural population. Anyone can install any number of wells of any capacity, at any depth and can pump any amount of water at any time. Drilling of wells therefore, entirely depends on the advice of the local drillers and wishes of the farmers. This practice has led to groundwater depletion, both quantitatively and qualitatively. And these wells dry out during the drought periods. The solution of this problem is ERS, a technique that is being used now to identify the viable spots or locations of great groundwater potentials. ERS is based on application of Ohms Law and measures the average resistivity of the earth on the ground surface. This method has advantage over others in the sense that water quality can be determined along with the specific yield etc.”

While shedding light on the salient features of the project, Tassaduq Hussain, Program Coordinator, CWSA, shared, “We provided relevant water related information to the locals. We conducted comprehensive 204 Climate Resilient Agriculture Training Sessions that benefitted 3,960 men and women. We also held 299 Kitchen Gardening Sessions where locals were informed about latest techniques, benefitted 5,759 men and women. We also conducted 207 community awareness sessions on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) with 3,894 individuals. The locals also got to know about Water Harvesting Tanks and R.O (reverse osmosis) Plants. During the project, technology transfer workshops were also held in a bid to update locals with latest technology.”

“Now, due to CWSA’s constant efforts in the last three years, access to agricultural water and relevant farming practice/technology is improved in drought affected areas. Communities have their village plans available which they can utilise to mitigate disaster impact. They are applying the learnings in practice. Farmers are practicing the learned techniques such as seed germination tests, etc. Community members use home based vegetable and utilising saved amount to fulfil other needs,” he concluded.

Erum Noor Muzaffar is the editor of You! magazine. She can be reached at


More than a thousand people have died and millions have lost their homes across Pakistan as torrential rains hit the country. Widespread rain and thunder storms have also struck districts Mirpurkhas and Umerkot of Sindh province, where a majority of Community World Service Asia’s humanitarian and development programmes are focused. These extreme rains are critically affecting vulnerable communities already living in poverty and has damaged infrastructure in the area, with no electricity and limited communication access.

People in Umerkot have been forced to abandon their homes as crops and livestock are washed away across the province. The flood-affected communities in Umerkot are in need of food, tents, clean drinking water, mosquito nets, ration bags and hygiene kits. Hundreds of miles of roads have been damaged, making many areas in Umerkot inaccessible to emergency services.

“Pakistan is in the middle of the food, climate, water, population and environmental crisis. Pakistan has faced 152 extreme events in the last two decades with constant shifts in rainfall patterns, intensity and frequency. We are also home to the hottest cities in the world for three years straight with temperatures rising up to 53.7C which is an unlivable situation,” said Sherry Rehman, Climate Change Minister of Pakistan.

Community World Service Asia is in coordination with the local government and other stakeholders and is closely monitoring the situation on the ground to start immediate relief operations.

To effectively empower women socially and economically and reduce economic inequality, it is critical to encourage women in rural entrepreneurship. Rural women’s entrepreneurship is a relatively recent phenomenon in Pakistan, and policy efforts to encourage rural women’s interest in entrepreneurship need more work in well-targeted ways. The absence of or lack of awareness of entrepreneurial processes is having a significant impact on the enterprising capability of aspiring rural women entrepreneurs in the country. Furthermore, their lack of experience or expertise in formal enterprises’ management and marketing affairs further impacts their potential for business expansion and profitability.

Community World Service Asia (CWSA) has worked with rural women artisans on enhancing their skills, providing them exposure and promoted their craftsmanship in the national and regional market for more than a decade. CWSA has worked with over a thousand women artisans through its livelihoods programme, giving them a platform to enhance their embroidery and stitching skills and become economically empowered. We have particularly worked towards creating and establishing many market linkages for these artisans to expand their clientele and increase demand for their products. We believe that by establishing sustainable links and maintaining partnership models that are tangible in their deliverables and outcomes, we can provide a critical platform for changing rural women’s position from one of vulnerability to one of decision makers and successful change makers.

By creating or participating in a formal Chamber of Commerce, women entrepreneurs can avail more opportunities to prove their economic clout and convince the government and large corporations to pay attention to specific requirements of women in the workplace and in the enterprise sector. The establishment of an active association specifically focused on women will ensure mentoring, information sharing, simplification of processes and support to rural businesses through policy lobbying.

To develop a pertinent platform, an Association of Rural Women Entrepreneurs is in the process of being registered with the Women Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Pakistan, which will ensure representation of thirty rural artisans as members. CWSA’s team supported the women artisans to prepare and submit all required documents for the registration of the association, including SIM cards, national identification cards and complete profiles of each artisan. Shaiyanne Malik, CWSA’s consultant on women’s skill building and empowerment projects, is in close coordination with the Women Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Pakistan to process and complete the registration of the association successfully. The association will promote entrepreneurship of rural artisans and help rural women connect with business hubs and institutes that will further help them achieve social and economic empowerment.

The primary goal of this association is to give technical assistance and coaching to women who are starting businesses, as well as to promote initiatives from the Export Development Funds (EDF) that are specially targeted for women. It will provide women economic liberty as well as an effective voice to echo their issues, challenges and needs. The chamber will assist rural women in building and operating successful and secure businesses and careers, along with gaining access to government contracts and developing their leadership skills.

This association will be dedicated to changing the economics of business and labour markets, as well as removing impediments to long-term business and economic growth of women in rural regions. In the future, the association will look at funding and capacity-building options, along with promoting the work and products of these rural artisans on a global scale.

A depression formed due to strong convective clouds over the south east of the Arabian Sea intensified into a severe cyclone storm named Cyclone TAUKTAE on May 15th. Centered at a distance of approximately 1640 km south-southeast of Karachi, the cyclone posed a potential catastrophic threat to parts of India and Pakistan. On May 16th however, the Pakistan Meteorological Department reported that the cyclone will not make a landfall along Pakistan’s coastal belt and has in fact further intensified into a Very Severe Cyclone Storm (VSCS), centering at a distance of 1210 km south-southeast of Karachi. Latest reports suggest that even though the storm will not directly hit Pakistan, widespread rains, dust/thunderstorms with heavy to very heavy falls and gusty winds of 70-90Km/h are likely to occur in Thatta, Badin, Tharparkar, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar and Umerkot districts of Sindh province in Pakistan from May 17th to 20th May 2021. The same weather conditions are likely to impact Karachi, Hyderabad, Jamshoro, Shaheed Bainazirabad, Sukkur, Larkana, Shikarpur, Jacobabad and Dadu districts from May 18th till May 20th.

The Government of Sindh has declared an emergency in all districts located at the coastal belt of the province. It has ordered to remove all bill boards in the area, cleared choking points of storm water drains and restricted fishermen from going into the sea or rivers until May 20th as part of preparatory measures.

Expected heavy rains in the mentioned districts may be life threatening, causing floods, severe damage to property and infrastructure and could leave affected-communities in need of Shelter, Food, NFIs[1] and WASH support.

Community World Service Asia Response:

Community World Service Asia is closely monitoring the situation. Its emergency response team is in close coordination and contact with the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) Sindh and other relevant district offices of the Deputy Commissioners. The teams are on standby and will start relief operations immediately if required.


Shama Mall
Deputy Regional Director
Programs & Organisational Development
Tele: 92-21-34390541-4

Palwashay Arbab
Head of Communications
Tele: +92 42 35865338


[1] Non-Food Items

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“From the Desert to the Ramp”, a short documentary developed by Community World Service Asia and PLUM Media Tank, showcasing the transformative journey of rural artisan women becoming the hands and heart of an urban fashion brand, was screened at an event titled “The Craft Journey”at the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture (IVS) in Karachi last week.

The event celebrated the successful collaboration between Community World Service Asia (CWSA), the Danish Centre for Culture and Development (CKU), the Department of Textile Design at IVS, and the Women Enterprise Groups representing artisans from Umerkot and Thatta Districts of Sindh. It was this consistent year-long collaboration that made the journey of these artisans posible and conclusive.

Students and Faculty members of IVS, representatives from Community World Service Asia, Centre for Culture and Development (CKU), the artisans of Umerkot and Thatta participated in this event. They all witnessed the exquisite products that were produced through the mix of impeccable craftsmanship and design aesthetics of the merger between artisans and students.  Prominent fashion designers and popular fashion and home brands representatives such as Khaadi, Habitt, Tarzz, Nida Azwer Atelier, Mahwish Hassan and Saniya Maskatiya, attended the event.

The primary objective of this collaborative project was to empower marginalized women artisans towards taking an active role in decision making and represent themselves with the indigenous craft tradition of their region. The project also aimed at establishing sustainable linkages between the artisan community and the urban markets to maintain a continuous chain of demand and supply meeting current market trends, while upholding the handicraft identity. It also aimed at empowering the rural artisans to take control of their own business, thereby creating a strong, mutually beneficial professional relationship.

During the span of 12 months, various collaborative design workshops in selected villages of Umerkot and at the IVS campus in Karachi were conducted. They covered extensive data collection of artisans and various embroideries practiced in the region, initial sampling, designing of a cohesive project range, procurement of raw material, execution and finishing of the first collection of over 800 apparel products.

In a span of 40 days, 679 women artisans created masterpieces of art and skill combined for distinguished Pakistani designers within demanding deadlines. They worked tirelessly to produce 1700 products that are true specimen of tradition-meets-modernity. To introduce these handcrafted masterpieces to the fashion industry and clientele, a brand Taanka  at the reputable fashion platform of Pakistan Fashion Design Counsel (PFDC) in Lahore was launched, followed by a Craft Festivals, to further promote the brand and the Sindhi folk culture and handicrafts, was held at Dolmen Mall in Karachi.

A very significant step towards providing an entrepreneurial platform to the artisans has been establishing the link with well known designers and fashion brands through meetings and exposure visits. These experienced designers have been evaluating the skill and potential of the groups of artisans and planning possibilities of future long term collaborations with them. These meetings were arranged at Indus Valley School of Arts & Architecture through their Textile department where meetings between artisans representing WEGs in Umerkot met with Rizwan Beyg, Wardha Saleem (popular and very high-end fashion designers) and the crafts brand Tali, to have one to one sessions.

This collaboration has concluded with a new beginning for the artisans to emerge as successful entrepreneurs and showcase their brilliant skill under the brand TAANKA (Visit Taanka’s social media page to see the products produced and available for sale and order @ )

Community World Service Asia is working to enhance the livelihoods opportunities of rural artisan women by linking them with students from design institutes in Karachi.  The artisans and students are collaborating to produce innovative designs which combine traditional handicraft skills with the demands and trends of the modern urban market.  The initiative, supported by the Danish Center for Culture and Development, aims to connect these rural artisans to an urban customer base in order to develop a profitable and sustainable source of income.  The project also provides students with an exciting opportunity to share their skills and knowledge, and learn about the cultural and artistic heritage and value of these handicraft traditions.  This month, we spoke with Zehra Ilyas, a fourth year design student at the prestigious Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, to hear about her experience of the project so far.

Q: Why do you think there is a need for such a program that connects women in rural communities with young women like yourself studying design in urban centers?

A: We, as design intervention students, are taught how to sustain crafts that exist in our country and how to help their revival in a way that the livelihoods of the people who are working in rural areas can be improved. We are also benefitting from them in that these types of embroidery are not available all over the world.

Q: What do you feel that you are gaining from your involvement in the project?

A: They [the artisans] are producing a different type of embroidery that no other part of the world can produce. It’s a great thing to have that sort of craft revival in your own country so that you can get linked to your roots and you can do something different from what is already being produced. More specifically, I would like to point out that in a time when there is so much mass production, if there are hand-embroidered products, that of course creates an impact.

Q: As a designer, what have you learnt from the artisans?

A: It was a very humbling experience.  We think that we know everything, but when we meet them, we know that there is so much more to learn, not just because of the embroidery that they are doing, but the fact that they are very experienced with their embroidery. We feel like we know it and that we can just draw it, but there’s more to it. The way they are so patient with it, they are so good with their work and are extremely disciplined with it.

Q: What were the main challenges that you faced while visiting the artisans in their rural village?

A: Language was the biggest barrier. Secondly, there were time constraints as one or two hours are not enough with each artisan. That was one problem but they were so hospitable and nice. There were no other issues as such besides language and time.

Q: What do you think is the importance of empowering women – especially in a country like Pakistan where we are still struggling to provide basic rights to women?

A: Pakistan, being a third world country and the education level being so low, making women independent should be one of the biggest aims of the country. When we look at how women are oppressed it’s very important to make them independent. Teaching them how to be independent, I believe, that is a very big step. It gives them confidence to deal with people and situations. If I give them an order and ask them to produce something in a given time frame, it develops them in a different way.

Q: What other projects or brands have impacted your interested in a project that encourages collaboration between rural and urban communities?

A: Well, FnkAsia [a brand which sells women’s clothing and accessories] collaborates with a group in Chitral. It’s a good brand and the products are expensive. The thing is that the products are being sold and the artisans are being paid. That is the basic aim.

Q: What did you learn from them?

A: Patience. I am not a very patient person and even though there was a language barrier, the artisans were so calm and relaxed with us.




The heatwave that hit Pakistan during the last three days has led to an unprecedented increase in morbidity and deaths among the underprivileged populations of Sindh.

Since Saturday June 20th, the extreme hot spell in Karachi and other areas of Southern Pakistan have led to a death toll of 530 people which is expected to escalate further with the rise in temperature as per reports by the three leading English Daily Newspapers (Dawn, The News & Express Tribune). The Daily Express has however reported the death toll to have reached a 1000 people. Hundreds of affected populations have been hospitalized for sun-strokes and other heat related complications. Many are still awaiting emergency health assistance in the far-flung areas of interior Sind and Southern Punjab.

The temperature in Southern Pakistan has been recorded at a constant high continuum, ranging from 43 degree Celsius (in Karachi) to 49 degree Celsius in Jacobabad. As per environmental experts, the country’s heat index has risen because of poor environmental conditions since the past couple of decades. This intense heat wave is affecting the destitute populations more because of the extended electricity breakdowns they face and the unavailability of drinkable water. Fasting in the holy month of Ramadan by many people in these areas may have also contributed to the growing crisis.

Allan A. Calma
Deputy Director
Disaster Management Program
Cell: +92 301 5801621

Muhammad Fazal
Associate Director
Emergencies/DRR/Climate Change
Cell: +92 332 5586134

Palwashay Arbab
Senior Communications Officer
Cell: +92 42 3586 5338