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Poor response worsens Pakistan flood crises

A closer look at flood rescue efforts reveals a dismal attempt that hardly dignifies an already encumbered people.
Last modified: 13 Sep 2011 02:02
The government appears to be complacent with poor preparations and meagre efforts to assist its people. [Reuters]

It pours and pours.

There has been no let-up in the torrents across the Badin district - a land that receives less than 60 mm of rain in a year has now seen over 300 mm in just of 48 hours.

But it was a crisis already in the making because of record rains in the country’s southern province of Sind which received an incredible 1,000 mm of rain in less than three weeks and the deluge still continues pounding several districts in the area.

The problem has been exacerbated because the Left Bank Overflow Drain or LBOD has not been working at its optimum. The drain, with a usual capacity to withstand up to 6,000 cusecs of water flow, and sends overflow to the Arabian Sea has been the victim of poor planning and design as well as excessive government corruption has had its capability reduced to around 4,000 cusecs.

Since Badin and many parts of Sind are prone to waterlogging, the land was not able to absorb the excessive rainfall and as such put a severe strain on the LOBD canal and caused major breaches in the poorly maintained embankments.

The other factor that complicated the situation was the drought-like conditions experienced in July; leading the government to flood its canals to help overcome the dry spell. The canals were in full flow when the unexpected wet spell struck - the worst in over 300 hundred years of recorded history

According to many locals the it is the worst flood they have seen in living memory. 

As we arrived in Badin the situation was already at crisis point and tens of thousands were on the move as the raging waters destroyed over 9,000 villages and destroyed over 2.5 million bales of cotton just weeks before the harvest.

But the real worry was the fact that large towns were cut-off by the flood.

Faulty foresight

One local who lost everything says the wealthy went off to Karachi and Hyderabad but the poor headed for the dunes of the Thar Desert to find a safe haven. With their farmland destroyed and wheat stocks under water these desperate people have been waiting since the end of Ramadan to be rescued.

However despite the fact the country experienced the worst flood since independence last year and  displaced 20 million people - the country was not only poorly equipped to deal with the crisis a testament to the pathetic shape but also equally oblivious to the plight of millions of people in Sindh.

While the people were desperately trying to save their lives by clinging to the elevated embankments of the roads the local television stations were all telecasting a press conference of a political leader living in self-imposed exile in London.

For days the Pakistani media showed nothing else but the political bickering amongst various parties.

An old woman came up to me and said “why have you come here, to give us food or water. And where are the so called leaders who have forsaken us to such a plight?”

The only help these people had was from the Jamaat ud Dawaa, an aid organisation, who not only brought in their volunteers with boats and food rations to cook fresh meals and to help evacuate people from the flood and to send in their doctors to help out.

But even they admitted they could not meet the dire needs of a people afflicted by a catastrophe.

If anyone had any doubts that the ruling government was totally incompetent they only had to visit the calamity zone and ask the people who have lost everything and were now living under tarpaulins and thin plastic sheets propped up on twigs and branches.

Be grateful

Pakistan's prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani congratulated his provincial and federal teams on doing a splendid job but on the ground they did nothing at all and if they did try to fool the world - then they failed.

As my team and I left Badin, we stopped at a roadside school now a makeshift camp for those running away from the flood. The school was under several feet of dark brown water.

Our fixer asked the man appointed as the head of relief camp about the toilet facilities; he said the people could relieve themselves in the water!

A father holding his child asked me to have a look inside. For a moment I thought why am I doing this but when I looked into the eyes of the children and saw their innocent smiles I followed the children and their dad into waist-high muck to see the fetid conditions they were living under.

The stench of sewage and human waste was unbearable. 

The proud family of 8 children and their parents spent their nights in a room full of the dirty water. They told me to tell the world what they were going through. There were hundreds more in the same compound including pregnant women and sick children

As I walked back through the filth I saw a government-appointed caretaker sitting on a chair outside the compound in spotless light blue clothes, while the women sat on the ground.

He told me they have a roof over their heads and shouldn’t be complaining and I turned around to tell him “I would not even put my dog in such a place!”