‘No one is caring for us’: Pakistanis struggle for survival after floods

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MIRPURKHAS, Pakistan — Catastrophic flooding that has killed more than 1,300 people in Pakistan has also forced millions from their homes, overwhelming government relief efforts. Thousands are camped out along roads in makeshift tents, others have sought shelter in abandoned buildings, and for those who have managed to reach a camp for the displaced, aid is in short supply.

A 45-year-old laborer named Lawang and 16 members of his family are among the desperate. They have been living under a plastic sheet on the side of a road in rural Sindh for over two weeks. Lawang, who does not have a last name, said nearly everyone from his village in Mirpurkhas fled when the waters rose above five feet and buildings began to collapse. The road was the nearest high ground they could find.

“We have been here in these shelters for 16 days, but no one came to us,” he said. His flimsy shelter was just one of about 70 along more than a kilometer of the road.

For many living along roadsides, tents are nothing but a single plastic sheet held up by thin wooden poles. Other shelters are built with cloth hung between branches cut from nearby trees. Farming equipment and livestock rescued from the floods by families fortunate enough to walk to safety dot the dusty fields. But many, like Lawang, were able to bring only what they could carry: a few blankets, clothing and a pot for boiling water.

“Some people on their own bring us cooked food twice a day,” Lawang said. “But no one from the government has visited us.”

Anger is rising across Pakistan over the slow pace of the government’s relief efforts. Pakistani officials say they have been hampered by the scale of the crisis: Some 33 million people have been affected, more than 500,000 houses destroyed. Hundreds of villages remain underwater.

In Sindh province, many experienced nonstop rain for more than two months, a torrent officials attribute to climate change. The flooding began in June, but those displaced say the government began to respond and requested outside help only last month.

See the scale of Pakistan’s flooding in maps, photos and videos

At a government-run camp in a school just outside Hyderabad, Sindh’s second-largest city, cooked meals are provided twice a day to the roughly 300 people sheltering there.

But the building lacks clean drinking water and electricity. The bathrooms often run out of water. Desks are stacked haphazardly in classroom corners to make space for families to sleep, eat and cook on the ground. But in the 90-degree heat most people sleep outdoors.

“No one is caring for us,” said Raj Kumar, who has been at the camp with his family for over a week. Kumar, who suffers from a heart condition, said a doctor visited the camp once but didn’t provide him any medicine.

A health worker who helps manage the camp warns that the conditions there are particularly dangerous for children.

“We have 107 children in the camp and most of them are malnourished,” Zareena Khaliqdad said. “There is no plan for providing milk” or other food for infants, she said.

“The people living here in the camps from the neighboring villages are poor,” Khaliqdad said. And now, “the floods have made them jobless, so they can’t buy food for their children.”

Zain ul-Abedin, a local official in Mirpurkhas, said the government has set up hundreds of camps across Sindh province but has “very limited relief goods as compared to the devastation.”

“Some individuals and humanitarian organizations are taking care of people, where the government relief workers have not visited yet,” he said. “People are getting food, but they need tents, mosquito nets and other relief goods urgently.”

Abedin said the crisis is “unprecedented” in Pakistan’s history and unlike anything he saw in 2010, the last time the country experienced catastrophic flooding.

Mohsin Sheikh, a local official in Dadu, another hard-hit district, said the government is doing everything it can to help those in need.

“There was resistance from the people,” he said. “They ignored the government threat alert. They thought they could survive like they did in the 2010 floods,” he said.

But in Sindh, this disaster has already affected more than double the number of districts hit in 2010.

“I am not denying the fact that the people have complaints about the relief goods, but the situation is not normal,” he said. “It is beyond the resources of the government.”

Unable to find a camp, some 50 families in Mirpurkhas were sheltering in a partially flooded hospital. Krishan, 18, and his sister were staying in one of the rooms that was still dry. They fled their village when water levels suddenly rose above five feet. All they have with them is the clothing they were wearing.

“My own house was completely destroyed in the flood, all three rooms collapsed from the rains,” Krishan said. “I lost everything.”

Most of the families have been in the abandoned hospital for over two weeks and have never seen a local official or aid organization.

“No one from the government and civil society visited us. Not a single person,” said Rachand, 30, also sheltering in the building. “You are the first to come came here and ask about our woes and worries.”

Naveed Hassan Awan, with the Islamic Relief aid group, said the scale of the rains and floods that followed caught everyone by surprise. “No one was ready to cope with the emerging crisis. Not only the government but also the aid agencies,” he said. “There were shortages of relief goods in the market, no tents were available. Now the international community has become active and more relief goods will be arriving.”

But he warned that the humanitarian need is likely to continue for weeks or longer: “The crisis could continue for months and the government should speed up its efforts to save the people from the upcoming cold weather.”

Damage to crops and farmland — what the majority of Sindh’s rural population relies on to feed and support their families — also risks pushing millions deeper into poverty.

“The recent unusual rains and floods have washed away the cash crops of cotton, rice and vegetables that were ready to harvest,” Sharjeel Inam Memon, Sindh’s information minister, told The Washington Post. “The loss of these crops will definitely have a negative economic impact on the lives of the farmers and landowners.”

“It could take three to four years for the farmers to revive their agriculture farms,” he said.

At the makeshift camp along the road in Mirpurkhas, Ram Chand, 25, sat outside his tent with his family of six.

“We survived in the heavy rains, but now I’m stuck here with no idea what to do. I am a farm laborer, but all the fields are underwater. Even once the water recedes, I have no way to feed my family or revive my life.”

George reported from Dadu, Pakistan.

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Susannah George

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