Disaster and relief in southern Punjab
After spending three weeks in the cold and mountainous Swat valley, I arrived in the hot and humid climate of Multan to work alongside Save the Children teams working in the Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan districts worst affected by floods in Pakistan.
The floods arrived here in late July and early August. There were reports of nearly 300,000 people displaced overnight. There was also news of entire villages on the highways and in government schools of Muzaffargarh and Multan. However, none of the reports came close to the reality on ground.
Destruction in Muzaffargarh
The sight of makeshift shelters and tents begins at the border of Muzaffargarh and Multan districts. Long lines of men, women and children are found stranded on both sides of the busy traffic. Besides those displaced from remote areas, people from nearby villages are also found on the highway – their dilapidated homes visible a few meters away.
It’s mind-boggling to consider the number of people affected by the floods. For example, the district of Muzaffargarh has four tehsils (an administrative district) out of which two, Muzaffargarh and Kot Addo, are completely underwater.
The lives of approximately 112,000 men, women and children have been disrupted by the flooding in Kot Addo alone. They don’t have food, shelter, clothing or access to health care and have completely lost their livelihoods due to the floods. They will certainly require assistance in the coming months, if not years, to not only resettle and establish their lives but also to rebuild their income-generating activities.
Aid to Brahimwala
Save the Children is the first humanitarian organization that has provided food rations (wheat, lentils, cooking oil and micronutrient biscuits) and tents, jerry cans, water buckets and blankets to people who have lost their homes in Muzaffargarh district.
During one aid distribution to the village of Brahimwala, I heard how the villagers had fled their homes to reach safe ground 25 kilometers away in the city of Muzaffargarh. When they arrived they found no registration points or information centers available. They spent many days under the open sun before finding temporary shelters on open grounds, roads and rampantly setup camps. Food and drinking water distribution was irregular and chaos erupted each time a truck arrived with provisions.
Unfortunately, the urban poor who live in shantytowns of Muzaffargarh and Multan had joined the displaced and fought to grab whatever donations they could lay their hands on. In the village of Sandewala, three women were crushed by a mob while chasing a food ration truck.
As soon as the waters receded, people returned to their homes. Although most villages are still submerged by putrid water and mud, families have pitched up tents alongside roads and canals. The flood waters in Brahimwala, which have now receded, demolished each and every house in the village. The conditions are appalling but with nowhere else to turn, people are living amidst mud, flies and the remains of their houses squashed on the ground. The murky flood waters and searing heat has worsened the dismal condition and have increased the prevalence of diseases like diarrhea, malaria, skin and respiratory infections.
Save the Children has provided food rations to 2000 families and will reach another 13,000 families in southern Punjab within the next two weeks. Eight health teams are working in the area and four more will begin operating by the end of this week. Child friendly spaces for children to play and learn, have been established.
Each and every member of Save the Children realizes that intense and continued support is essential to help the flood-affected people in Punjab rebuild their lives.