Pakistan: signs of a deepening crisis
It’s been almost two months since the floods hit Pakistan. It’s difficult to see how life can possibly return to normal for the millions of people who have been affected. As children languish on roadsides, railroad tracks, relief camps and overcrowded hospital wards, their fight against hunger and disease goes on and on.
Although the humanitarian community has made some progress, the scale of the disaster is such that it will take several months for the initial phase of relief and rescue to be completed. The destruction of homes, infrastructure, schools and loss of agricultural land has left millions of poor people in Pakistan in a very desperate and hopeless situation. I hope that enough progress can be made during the mammoth rehabilitation process before the onset of next year’s monsoon rains.
Floods hit poor hardest
I have visited several camps, health clinics and have seen with my own eyes the condition of villages in Sindh and Punjab provinces after the flood waters have receded. These floods discriminated against the poorer sections of society who lived in mud houses and survived by tilling other peoples land. As they watch their lives being wrecked by the merciless flood waters, they wait for whatever help is available and spend most of the day praying to be able to turn the clock back and return to their homes and lives as they were before the disaster began.
As these unfortunate communities have been without shelter, food, and medical care for over six weeks, the signs of a deepening crisis are obvious. The district health departments are clearly overstretched as more and more patients need to be tended to. The municipal hospitals in Sukkur, Shikarpur and Jacobabad districts in Sindh province are overcrowded with thousands of children needing treatment for skin infections, respiratory problems and watery diarrhea. Most of these conditions are caused by living around contaminated flood water and are aggravated by the absence of clean food and drinking water.
I have seen hundreds of children who barely seem alive. Their skin color is pale, their eyes vacant and their movement minimal. As they lie in their mother’s laps, they are unable even to cry for help. The mothers all tell similar stories of how they have lost their homes, their health and their livelihoods. For women who are not used to leaving their home villages, they are forced to live in overcrowded and unhygienic camps where life has become regimental. Each mother yearns to return home but they know that they have no homes to return to. They are thrown together in an unfamiliar setting and are surrounded by disease and misery. However, these brave women are coping for the sake of their children.
With the future looking bleak in every respect, it’s difficult to find any ray of hope or encouragement. My colleagues in Save the Children’s field offices work day and night to provide shelter, food and medical aid to the flood victims in several parts of the country. They know the scale of the task in front of them is immense and they also know that this emergency is far from over.
Many hundreds of our staff worked throughout the Eid holidays and continued to provide food and medical care to flood affected communities. Also, our child protection teams organized Eid festivals with food, games and gifts for children living in relief camps. If it accomplished nothing else, this gesture managed to bring smiles to the faces of the children who have had to cope with the trauma of displacement, and uncertainty.