By Save the Children’s Communications Officer, Punjab
Thursday, October 21, 2010
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 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 to face over the last few days. One of the women I interviewed told me that, “It was sudden trouble that 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 was so strong that it gave way. We were worried but with the help of a rescue team, we went across the water. My shoes were washed away as we crossed the road. I walked barefoot for 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 for the identification of badly affected communities. 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, possessions all were 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 water.
We saw the people who just left their towns and were staying on up hills. They hope for the best in their lives as maybe they will go back to their houses. But they worry about how they will reconstruct their homes. Parents are fearful as their young children are not secure in these open shelters. Life is like a bed of thorns for them.
I did manage to get some important information, which formed part of Save the Children’s assessments of the worst-affected areas. The terrible condition of the flooded areas made me determined to continue walking and reporting the situation to my office. We are all making effort to help the poor people of south Punjab but a lot of work lies ahead of us.