x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Aid scarce for flood survivors

Taimur Khan talks to desperate Pakistanis struggling to pick up the pieces as the worst floodwaters in 80 years move south.

Pakistani army volunteers carry an elderly villager during an evacuation operation in Sanawan near Multan in central Pakistan yesterday.
Pakistani army volunteers carry an elderly villager during an evacuation operation in Sanawan near Multan in central Pakistan yesterday.

CHARSADDA, PAKISTAN // Monsoon rains unleashed devastating floods in southern Pakistan yesterday, threatening Sindh province and the country's biggest city and commercial hub, Karachi. As the waters began to recede in the north-west, hungry and thirsty residents of once inundated towns and villages voiced fury at the lack of aid from their government. "We are waiting for any help from the government. They have done nothing. They should just come and at least see the condition we are in," said Yasser Ali, 35, as he gathered firewood with his two young sons along the side of the road. Nearby, where a bridge once stood, there was only a debris-choked river bed. "I lost my house, all of my possessions. Everything is covered in mud."

Pakistan's worst flooding in 80 years has already killed more than 1,600 and more deaths are likely as the raging waters spread south from the Punjab agricultural heartland in the north-west. Officials in Sindh are scrambling to prevent loss of life and more destruction to the mainstay agriculture industry. More than four million people nationwide have also lost their livelihoods and homes. Back around the north-western cities of Nowshera and Charsadda, 30km north of Peshawar, low-lying areas remained flooded yesterday, turning once profitable fields of sugar cane and corn into vast, oil-slicked swamps. The floodwaters, which began receding in the north-west on Tuesday, left behind scores of collapsed and cracking buildings, overturned cars and animal carcasses. Makeshift tents sheltering families, livestock and their remaining possessions lined the road between Nowshera and the town of Bappi.

"There is no drinking water at all. People have to walk 4km to get clean water. Diarrhoea and stomach problems are especially bad amongst the children, but there are no doctors," said Sajid, 30, describing the situation in his village, Gul Bela, near Charsadda. While assistance from the federal and provincial governments is only trickling into the area, private citizens, Islamic relief organisations and international aid groups are supplying some necessities. "There is no help from anyone except people from Peshawar who bring food and clothes," said Sajid, who only uses one name. "If the private people weren't helping us, we would die." Where some have been keen to help, others have sought to exploit. When lorries of food and supplies managed to get through to Gul Bela, local strong men and landlords confiscated the aid and sold it to desperate residents, Sajid said. With deeds and other personal papers lost in the flooding, there is also an increasing amount of fighting over property, he added. The absence of medical facilities is also acute. The largest hospital in Nowshera, the District Headquarters Hospital, sits gutted, with mud covering the floors of its darkened waiting room and hallways. All of the hospital's medical supplies and equipment were destroyed by the floodwaters, and a high-water mark is visible 4.5 metres up on the still damp and now moulding walls. A team from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) arrives at the hospital every morning to treat patients and clean the hospital. As a lorry filled with women, children and the mud-caked contents of a home drove through the hospital's gates yesterday, Dr Anthony Thouvenin, an MSF official, said that his team not yet encountered any cholera or outbreaks of disease, only scabies and diarrhoea.

While cities and towns farther south were only beginning their watery ordeal, shops in Nowshera's main bazaar yesterday that were submerged in water days earlier were re-opening and filling with goods. Amid collapsed colonial-era brick buildings along the bazaar's main street and the rotting carcass of a cow in front of a destroyed butcher's shop, shipments of household goods, DVDs, vegetables and building supplies were arriving by truck, clogging the muddy thoroughfare. Yet even as the they were starting to get back on their feet and the recovery was gaining pace, Nowshera's relatively prosperous residents expressed open disgust at the government's handling of the crisis, starting with the lack of forewarning from authorities. "At 6.30pm [on July 29] the police finally told the masjid to issue a warning. But by then the water was seven feet deep and everyone was stuck," said Fahim ul Islam, 29, whose family owns several shops and houses in the bazaar, all of which either collapsed or were gutted during the flood. "The government has provided us nothing," added his uncle, Zafar ul Islam, 60. "But we don't need any help from them. We will do it ourselves, like we always have." For Nowshera's poorest residents, the task of recovery is more formidable. On the edge of the city, 1,650 people displaced from their homes have occupied a public primary school. Each classroom was crammed yesterday with dozens of members of extended families, some missing children who were lost in the panic as the overflowing river tore through their neighbourhoods and villages. There is no clean drinking water in the makeshift camp and donated food arrives only sporadically by lorry. @Email:tkhan@thenational.ae