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As Flood Waters Recede in Pakistan, Relief Efforts Step Up


As the superflood in Pakistan continues to move towards the Arabian Sea, its aftermath is only just beginning.

The flooding is only the start of a bigger catastrophe that will continue to claim lives," said Mohamed Al Maadheed, vice-president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, at the end of his visit to Pakistan last week.

Al Maadheed was speaking after seeing the havoc and dislocation left behind by the now-receding flood waters around the city of Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

"The Pakistani people are extremely resilient," he added, "but they need support and resources as it will take a long time to rebuild.

The visit coincided with a major increase in the Red Cross and Red Crescent response to the flooding, with more relief teams and supplies arriving in Pakistan from around the world.

Increased response

The American Red Cross increased its commitment to $5 million to help Pakistani families meet their most basic needs. This includes emptying and shipping out two of our global regional warehouses full of supplies such as tarps, sleeping mats, buckets, and water containers for 50,000 people, underwriting costs of the disaster response, and deploying disaster experts to coordinate relief efforts on the ground.

A Red Cross basic health care Emergency Response Unit (ERU) began treating injured residents of the improvised settlement of Larkana, in Upper Sindh this past weekend, treating more than 70 patients. Its first patient was 15-year-old Shomaila Bhutto, who was running a fever.

The ERU consists of a fixed base and two mobile clinics staffed by a team of nearly 20 doctors, nurses, midwives, emotional specialists and technicians.

"As a result of the flood, mostly we've seen skin diseases, upper airway infections, malnutrition, made worse with poor access to water, and abdominal pain, a bit of diarrhea, but mostly respiratory-tract infection," said Dr Alain Parent, a specialist in emergency-medicine at the Hôtel Dieu teaching hospital in Quebec City.

Nationwide, 32 Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) medical teams have provided emergency treatment to more than 75,000 people to date.

Safe Water

The PRCS, the equivalent of the American Red Cross in Pakistan, has also been stepping up its efforts to get safe drinking water to tens of thousands of flood-displaced people camped out beside roads, canals and rail tracks and in improvised settlements all over Sindh.

Specialist PRCS teams have reactivated equipment used as part of the response to the 2007 floods. One unit, trucked from Karachi, has been set up at Shikarpur town, near a flyover where some 300 families – or about 2,000 people – are sleeping in Red Crescent tents.

"We're pumping up to 20,000 liters a day," said Nasir Khan, the PRCS team leader at the site. "The people here were drinking dirty water from a lake before this."

Safer location

A small tented camp beside the main road between Khairpur and Sukkur has meanwhile become one of the most recent to be adopted by the Red Crescent, who manage it jointly with the NGO Aitemaad Pakistan.

Some 300 families moved there a few days ago after vacating the empty school they had first taken refuge in when they fled their villages in the Jacobabad area.

In its way, and compared to what they would have left behind, it's a model.

There are five wells that pump reasonably safe water, plenty of food, and neat lines of tents pitched by PRCS volunteers.

There is nothing to do except watch the traffic roar past, but at least these people are safe, neither hungry nor thirsty, and there is what they call a "nine to five" doctor who tends to the now-familiar flood-related sicknesses – especially the bacterial skin complaints many of the children have contracted.

All insist they will go back to their land, where they grew mainly sugar cane as well as wheat, vegetables and cotton, as soon as the water retreats.

But it will be at least four months, according to Pakistani observers, before newly dried-out land can be sown; several more months before anything useful is harvested.