Remembering the day the floods hit Punjab
Categorized as the biggest disaster in the country’s history, the Pakistan floods of 2010 will dissipate, but their effects will be long-lasting. Millions of people were made homeless. Some still are. Those who have returned home find only mayhem and ruin.
When the floods were about to enter Punjab, people were warned to leave their homes, but most didn’t leave until the water was about four feet high. They said they hear these warnings every year and thought that maybe the tide would stop. It didn’t.
During the first days of the floods, I went to the Union Council Baseera in district Muzzafargarh. I traveled by car but ultimately had to walk when the water levels became too high for the car to move. I walked for three miles to conduct interviews with families who were evacuating the area. It was not possible for them to continue the journey because the floodwaters stood at 15 feet. I then traveled in a boat to visit marooned communities. After one and half hours, I reached an island (Tibba Bhatian) where 270 people were waiting for help. They had been without food and drinking water for three days.
Scores of them joined us on the boat for the return journey. On the way to back, young children, women and men talked about the ordeal they had faced. One of the women I interviewed told me: “This sudden emergency has destroyed everything in my life. My children are in trauma, just crying and asking why is this happening. They ask for food and water, but nothing is available.”
When I reached the town, I found out that the road had been broken in many places. The day before it had been fine, but the force of the water had been so strong that it had given way and had become flooded. We were worried, but with the help of a rescue team, we waded across the water. My shoes were washed away as we crossed the road. I walked barefoot for the next three miles.
The next day, we went to the Sycop office, which is a national organization working on the project with Save the Children. Here, we met a principal coordinator, and he was ready to go with us to the flooded areas to help identify the worst-affected communities that needed immediate emergency aid.
We headed for Chowk Munda and a relief camp run by the district government and local NGOs. There we met a woman who had lost her four children, husband and father to the floodwaters. She was in shock and her relatives were taking care of her. I saw hundreds of people who were homeless within the space a few hours. Their homes, land and possessions all washed away by rapids. There was no hope in their eyes.
On the same day, we visited the people who were staying near the main road of Muzzafargarh to Multan. They had neither shelter nor food. It was my first assignment in the flood zone and, of course, it was a painful moment when I saw the people struggling to escape the floodwaters.
We saw the people who had just left their towns and were staying on up in the hills. They hoped they would be able to go back to their houses. But now they worry about how they will reconstruct their homes. Parents are fearful as their young children are not secure living in open shelters. Life is like a bed of thorns for them.
In those early days I did manage to get some important information, which formed part of Save the Children’s assessments of the worst-affected areas.
We’re all working hard to help the people living in terrible conditions in the flood-affected areas of south Punjab, but a lot of work lies ahead.
This was written by Save the Children’s Communications Officer, Punjab.