Saturday 10 December 2016

'I live here, and now this river takes everything away from me'

As floodwater fast threatens to cover still more of Pakistan, Mubashar Hasan witnesses unimaginable devastation

Published 15/08/2010 | 05:00

LOST: Bhirao (5) minds her baby brother after fleeing from floodwater with her family in Sukkur, Sindh province, Pakistan. Photos: Reuters / Akhtar Soomro
LOST: Bhirao (5) minds her baby brother after fleeing from floodwater with her family in Sukkur, Sindh province, Pakistan. Photos: Reuters / Akhtar Soomro

I ENCOUNTERED perhaps one of the most striking scenes of my life today when I saw a woman with two cows fleeing her home in knee-deep water in a village named Sial at the district Dadu in Sindh province. The woman was struggling to walk and manage her two livestock. At some point, as per my worry, she fell down, as the land under her feet was slippery and muddy.

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I saw that unknown women pull herself up and start to walk on the unseen road with her livestock. However, she never lost the ropes of her livestock.

It was a living hell, with roads and parts of houses and trees submerged under water and the temperature between 48 and 50 degrees.

"We have no hope from anyone," said 60-year-old frustrated Mohammad Chukmat, who also was fleeing with his 20 livestock to a safer place.

Local political parties had set up shelters there and I saw police patrol the main road of Sial, parts of which were submerged under water.

"The water level is seven feet high in my house," Chukmat said with tearful eyes, adding, "I want to go back to my home."

A total of 50,000 people are affected in the district, where authorities managed to evacuate 2,119 people but 6,200 livestock were dead.

"The biggest difficulty we faced was that people here don't want to leave their houses even when local authorities have announced evacuation plans for them," said Sher Mohammad, education coordinator of Safcow, Oxfam's local partner in Dadu.

"Authorities even ann- ounced section 144 to force people to leave their houses, but still the ratio of people leaving danger zones is low," Sher Mohammad said.

Indeed, it is a complex situation here: which should come first, human life or livestock? At least to some people here, saving livestock means saving their own lives, because for those without livestock, living would be as difficult or equal to death.

As soon as I approached the city of Sukkur, I felt the tension in the air. I saw many people were stopping their cars on Sukkur Barrage and anxiously looking down to the water flows of the Indus River to measure the increase of the water level.

Sukkur Barrage is in the media headlines as the next possible place to be hit by floodwater. If it happens, according to official predictions many parts of the Sindh Province will go under water. To understand the level of threat I went to Sukkur.

After entering the city, I was roaming in an old, dirty, deprived and congested suburb named Myani Road near Sukkur Barrage by the riverside. Many shops were closed down and some people in small groups were discussing what to do in the crisis. A few of them were going to the river to measure the water level.

Dr Natwar Lal, who was among the group, told me with a tense voice: "We are living in fear here as at any moment water could submerge our shops and homes."

I went further and reached a place called Bandar Road by the riverside. Here I saw many people including young kids, women, men and elderly people coming up the street with their belongings. They said their villages had been submerged by water and they had nowhere to live apart from the city streets.

They are hungry and jobless, and they had newly become homeless. Dirty shanties on the street are now their new homes. The heat -- between 48 and 50 degrees -- is unbearable .

"I have been living in my house since 1973 with my family, and now this river takes everything away from me," said 69-year-old Amriya Begum, pointing to the surging water level of the Indus River with an angry but helpless look.

Around 3,000 people are now living like Amriya Begum in the shanties on the city streets, according to the people here, where kids are roaming around in dirt, mud and flies with little or no food to eat, and there are no jobs for adults to earn money to buy food.

When I asked them to stand in a group to provide a photo opportunity, they started to shout "Help! Help!" while throwing their hands in the air. I have never seen such a sight in my life. I felt sad, very sad for them.

The Sukkur Barrage (the biggest barrage -- or floods control system -- in the world) is under threat from these floods. As of August 12, the barrage, which was designed in 1923 to handle 900,000 cubic metres of water per second, is straining with 1.1 million cubic metres of water per second. This is equivalent to the total daily water consumption of Dublin going over the barrage every half a second, or a year's supply every three minutes. And it will get worse.

Oxfam is pushing the international community to up the level of assistance for those stranded in these floods. A mega disaster like this needs a mega response.

Donate in any of Oxfam Ireland's 49 shops, at www.oxfamireland.org, or by telephoning (1850) 30 40 55 (ROI) or (0800) 0 30 40 55 (NI)

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