A Scot is helping to spearhead the UK Government’s support to Pakistan following the devastating floods which have left a third of the country under water.
Dingwall-born Annabel Gerry is the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s Development Director for monsoon-hit Pakistan.
An area bigger than the whole of the UK has been flooded, killing over 1,100 people and affecting a further 33 million people.
The UK Government has so far offered £16.5million of life-saving humanitarian support to help provide shelter and essential supplies to people across Pakistan, including £15million announced on Thursday (September 1).
Annabel, 54, is helping to lead the UK’s response from the British Embassy in Islamabad.
“The UN’s General Secretary Antonio Guterres wasn’t wrong when he referred to this catastrophe as a ‘monsoon on steroids’ – it is utterly heart-breaking.
“The UK is proud to stand with Pakistan as a major humanitarian donor and we are working round the clock to get life-saving aid to the most vulnerable.
“Tens of millions of people are affected with many left homeless and we face a race against time to save lives because of the high risk of water-borne diseases spreading amongst displaced communities.
“The £15million aid package announced by the UK will offer a lifeline by providing food, clean water and shelter.
“It will also support families to repair their homes and maintain their livelihoods.”
The £15million funding comes after the UK pledged an initial £1.5million last month to help tackle the devastation of the floods.
It also comes on top of £55million the UK Government had already pledged at last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow to partner with Pakistan to fight climate change.
The Disasters Emergency Committee, a group of leading UK charities, launched its Pakistan Floods Appeal on Thursday – with the UK Government doubling British public’s donations up to £5million as part of its £15million overall aid package.
This year’s record monsoon is comparable to the devastating floods of 2010 – the deadliest in Pakistan’s history – which left more than 2,000 people dead.
Estimates suggest the floods have caused at least $10bn (£8.5bn) of damage and people now face serious food shortages after floods swept away huge swathes of agricultural land.
Pakistan was already suffering from an economic crisis.
Aid expert Annabel added:
“Transport links are cut off to many places, with bridges washed away, and an area the size of the UK is under water.
“I’ve heard heart breaking tales from many of our local partners about the challenges people face.
“Many people are living along the road sides in temporary shelter with nowhere even to go to the toilet.
“In at least one case, our partner organisation has had their office building in large part washed away making it very difficult for them to provide support to people in need in the community.”
Annabel, from Munlochy, in the Black Isle, leads the FCDO’s international development team working for the FCDO in Islamabad.
The married mum-of-three was first inspired to help the world’s poorest on trips to see her gran in Kenya.
“My dad was born and brought up in Kenya and I remember visiting my granny there when I was a little girl and noticing the poverty.
“I remember going to a local market and seeing other girls my own age helping their mums to sell vegetables and noticing they had no shoes on, did not have nice clothes, and never went to school.
“They’d maybe walked miles to be there, whereas we’d drive home in gran’s car.
“Even as an eight-year-old, I just felt this was not right, and I wanted to do something about it.”
As soon as Annabel left school, she took a gap year out to do voluntary humanitarian work in war-torn Sudan and Eritrea.
“It must have been very, very worrying for my parents, particularly when I went to Eritrea.
“It wasn’t yet an independent country, there were no international phone lines, no internet, and no postal system.
“If something had happened to me, no-one back home would have known for months.
“You had to be really careful because there were landmines everywhere.
“The week after we left a child was blown up in exactly the compound where I’d been living.
“My parents have got used to me working in dangerous places and it helps it’s a lot easier to stay in touch nowadays.
“Fortunately, I’ve only had a feeling of near misses.
“Shortly after I left Nigeria in 2011 the UN building in Abuja was bombed, killing at least 21 people.
“I’d been accustomed to going in and out that building all the time.”
The Scot took up her FCDO role in Pakistan in 2019 and has been at the forefront of championing women’s rights in Pakistan – ranked the fourth worst country in the world for gender equality.
In June, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced £130 million funding support for GOAL’s Action for Learning Project to help girls and vulnerable children get back into the classroom in Pakistan.
The programme will reduce barriers and schooling costs for girls, and work with the local authorities to train teachers and improve school management.
Only Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq rank lower than Pakistan on the World Economic Forum’s annual report on women’s rights and Annabel has been working to turn things around.
“The case that really motivated me was going to visit a primary school in a village near Mardan and the headmistress was not able to come out to greet us and show us around because of strict traditions preventing women meeting men.
“The male dignitaries all laughed – they thought it was funny.
“I was so cross about that on her behalf and made it abundantly clear it wasn’t right.
“The headmistress is a leader in her own right and doing a really important job, but because she’s a woman, and I had to meet her inside one of the classrooms with the male visitors waiting outside.
“Can you imagine going to a local village school anywhere in the UK and that being the case?
“I was completely outraged.”
Annabel’s proud her role as a senior UK diplomat has helped her challenge prejudices against women and girls.
“I remember standing up to address a conference on jobs and growth, and seeing that there were only three women in the room.
“I was so shocked that I wasn’t very diplomatic and said, ‘Thank you for inviting me to speak today, but I have to be honest that I don’t like what I see’.
“That certainly provoked a conversation among the male participants!
“In Pakistan, many people are still open about preferring sons over daughters, and for families who don’t have enough to go around, that may well mean that boys’ education and health is given more priority than girls.
“Ensuring girls get equal access to education is a building block to empowering women and improving the situation.”
Between 2015 and 2020, the UK helped 8.1 million girls around the world to get a decent education.
As President of the G7 last year, we led a collective commitment to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more reading by 2026.
“People question why we need to spend UK aid in Pakistan when there is a cost of living crisis at home.
“But there are still over 11 million girls out of school in Pakistan with no access to the essential skills that will give them opportunities for work and a livelihood.
“But imagine what those children could do given the right to shape their future?
“Accessing better jobs, maybe even starting businesses and creating jobs, providing better for their families.
“Research tells us that girls who complete their schooling will tend to marry later and have more choice over how and when to start a family.”
“As the pandemic and now devastating floods have shown, our countries are connected in so many ways, and if we don’t partner with places like Pakistan to tackle global challenges – health, education or climate – nothing will change.”