Pakistan: “It was like the world had come to an end.”
The first signs of destruction are visible just a two-hour drive away from Karachi as you enter the low-lying province of Lower Sindh in southern Pakistan.
Abandoned shells of poultry farms stretch on both sides of the road next to deserted wheat fields while roofs of larger buildings have collapsed in what appears to be the aftermath of a war.
“It was like the world had come to an end,” a man later told me, recounting the terrifying moment two months ago when unprecedented torrential monsoon rains flooded this whole region, uprooting more than five million people from their homes.
Many of them still live in miserable makeshift tents along elevated roads and levies, unable to cultivate these flooded lands.
In one camp in Badin district, one of the hardest hit areas, some 50 families are living right at the edge of the road, so close that passing cars swerve to avoid hitting children.
They’re crammed under plastic sheets held by wooden poles, sleeping next to the few possessions they could save: bundles of clothes, a few pots and pans and the occasional straw bed.
“Children here are weak and malnourished, you can see this with your own eyes,” said Samjho, a 22-year-old mother.
She explained that her son got sick and died soon after the floods. They buried him in the water since there was nowhere else to lay him to rest.
“Children’s throats get sore after drinking contaminated water from the nearby canal. We have nothing left in this world; there’s no hope for us,” she added, staring at the surrounding flooded fields, pointing at the distance to the rooftops of the wooden shacks popping out of the water, the place they used to live.
Stocks running out
Many hospitals have been destroyed, and most schools are either occupied by internally displaced people or were wiped away.
The UN warns that food and medicine stocks are running out, while diseases like malaria and acute diarrhoea are increasing sharply due to stagnant flood-water, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk.
Images of emaciated children waiting to be treated at our emergency nutrition units keep coming to my mind days after having left the area.
I had seen similar scenes in Kenya and Somalia during the recent East Africa crisis, a disaster that got the world’s attention.
But the world doesn’t seem to have noticed this crisis at all.
Only 22 per cent of the US$357 million UN emergency appeal has been received so far.
Room for hope
At a child friendly space run by Save the Children, groups of children were engrossed in a game called carrom board, a mix between billiards and table shuffleboard.
Others carefully drew colourful pictures of peacocks and birds.
“Before they used to draw only water, fish and confused lines; many were traumatized,” a social worker told me.
“Look at them now. They’re happily drawing other images,” he said, adding with a smile that there is one thing they keep drawing: candles.
That will continue, he thought, until the electricity comes back.
This post was written by Alfonso Daniels, Media Manager, Save the Children.