Fear and floods in the land of my fathers

Published: August 13, 2010
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An aerial view from a Pakistan navy rescue helicopter shows flood-affected area in Ghotki district. PHOTO: AFP

My grand father used to tell us about a flood that swept away hundreds of villages in our district, Larkana in 1945. Our family was forced to leave their home and move.  The second flood that hit our area was in 1947 and had the same intensity. Many lost their loved ones and a few elderly men can still recall the devastation.

With this dark history, it is little surprise the 2010 floods have caused panic in my village even though it does not fall in the Katcha area. “I have learnt that flood water is coming towards our village! Please tell me where we can go now,” said someone from my village over a worried phone call.

This flood has created panic among people living across Sindh causing large scale devastation. According to government figures around 1.5 million people have been affected in the province. Meanwhile, another major flow is still expected on August 14.

International organisations including the UN have termed the recent floods in Pakistan worse than the tsunami as well as earthquakes of Pakistan and Haiti, which resulted in massive devastations. But there seems no significant role of donor agencies, NGOS working on relief and rescue operations and disaster management.

The worst situation has been witnessed in Sindh where around 20 districts face flooding. Thousands of people are still stranded in their villages and the people who have been shifted in relief camps are forced to sleep on empty stomachs. Government officials have claimed that they cannot approach marooned areas and roads and railway lines have been inundated. But political parties, who always blame each other, have not reached areas to rescue the people.  Chief Minister Sindh addressing a press conference on Friday in Sukkur said “Victims living in relief camps must continue their tolerance, if government is not providing them food and other facilities. Why don’t they recall the days when they were not able to get rations and sleep without a serving of food for their children.”

Meanwhile officials at the Irrigation Department and Provincial Disaster Management Authority say “this is just start, the big disaster is still to come.”

There are reports of four members of the same family drowning near Khandhkot. A woman talking to local TV channel said:

“We insisted our neighbors come along with us, but the family was not willing to move. I am told that all children and women have been swept away in the flow.”

The eyes of the women were brimming with tears while talking to journalists:

“My two buffalos and one goat were also swept away. I tied my suitcase with pieces of rope to an electric pole in my makeshift house and managed to escape.” 

The floods have created a law and order situation much like African countries where hungry people are snatching food from each other to survive.  Our elected representatives and ministers appear busy with photo sessions on the protective embankments but they don’t bother to go deep inside. Some have accused powerful ministers of breaking the Tori Protective embankment deliberately in an attempt to save their standing crop, which has led to millions of acre land being submerged.

Water borne diseases have started to spread plus reports of many snake bite cases. There are reports of children, women and men and livestock being swept away but since no one has access to the exact figure the loss cannot be quoted. Many people have taken shelter in temples and mosques. The National Highway linking Peshawar to Karachi has been submerged as well. People in every district fear being flooded and a large number of them live in settled areas of Kashmore, Khandhot, Shikarpur, Thul, Garhi Yasin. They have evacuated their houses following the flood warning, but people residing in Katcha (riverain) area remain stranded. Until Wednesday, Jacobabad town, (which is named after General John Jacob) was in danger of being submerged and warnings had been issued to Larkana, Kamber Shahdadkot and Dadu.

In a press conference Chief Secretary Sindh said Shikarpur could be next in line as flood waters gushed towards the city. He said that while around 1.5 million people from five districts have been impacted so far – the figure could double.

Boat riding dacoits have come out of their hide outs and entered towns to start looting houses and shops.  Many cities near to River Indus like Sukkur, Larkana, Khairpur and Sijawal remain under threat of flooding as another water flow carrying 11 lac  cusecs from up country is expected to arrive at Guddu Barrage, which according to irrigation officials could damage Sukkur Barrage.

According to the Sindh Abadghar Board more than ten acres of  fertilized land where crops ( including paddy, cotton and sugar cane) have been devastated causing billions of rupees in loss. This will lead to great inflation in the prices of food in the coming months.

While floods are a major catastrophe the disaster has veen compunded due to mismanagement of government authorities. Organizations who often approach international donors by playing cards like hunger and poverty remain silent in this hour of need.

Meanwhile, a large number of people have started to arrive in Karachi to escape the rising waters but there seem no arrangement to provide them with shelter.  I think the government must make plan for displaced people of Sindh without delay.

hafeez.tunio

Hafeez Tunio

A reporter working on the Karachi pages of The Express Tribune. He covers political and environment stories. He says he wants to write on environmental issues, because he loves nature - in spite of what it did to him.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.