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Mules Bring Relief to Pakistan’s Stranded Flood Survivors

Pakistan continues to reel from the historic floods, which the UN now estimates have affected 4.5 million people. As the monsoon rains continue, the flooding is penetrating further south in the country.

The government ordered the evacuation of more than 350,000 people in Sindh province where new areas are expected be engulfed as swollen rivers fail to contain the vast body of water heading south toward the Arabian Sea.

In the northwest part of the country, the Pakistan Red Crescent Society continues to dispatch truckloads of food relief to desperate communities who have been forced from their homes by the floodwaters. For Atta Muhammad with the German Red Cross, reaching some of the worst hit areas is no easy task.

Atta works in the remote districts of Kohistan and Shangla in Pakistan’s northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These districts remain virtually cut off from the rest of the country since the floods swept down from the mountains six days ago. All the bridges in the area have been destroyed and no other aid groups are delivering relief in the area. Atta’s team of volunteers is on their own and they face a tough task, but because they are based in the area they know the communities here well.

“The only way to reach the affected areas is by foot. But trying to get food to 25,000 people scattered in small settlements throughout these valleys isn’t simple,” said Atta.

The solution is a tried and tested means of traditional transport in Pakistan’s mountain ranges: mules.

“Today we sent a week’s rations by mule train to Olander village for 120 families. It’s a ten-hour return trip and in the coming days we’ll be doing the same for other villages.”

Finding food for the ration packs hasn’t been easy. Stocks of basic commodities such as wheat flour, rice lentils and oil have dried up in Kohistan and reaching the nearest wholesale market has been a major challenge.

“It took our volunteers eight hours to reach the town of Besham yesterday. They went by foot and used tractor trolleys and a manual chair lift to cross rivers where bridges had been washed out,” explained Atta.

Tales from survivors recount a wall of water that swept through the valley taking with it many of the small settlements that once stood along the banks of the Khan Khwer River. Mohammed Abdullah and his four brothers could only watch as their homes and the green fields surrounding them were engulfed in the flash floods.

“All that remains is a pile of rocks,” recounted Abdullah. “We are a family of 40 and now we are living in the house of a relative in a single room. The women and children are weeping and sobbing; they can’t sleep at night and cry at the sound of any loud noise. I don’t know what will happen to us. We have lost everything.”

Over the next nine months, the collective global Red Cross and Red Crescent network plans to support the Pakistan Red Crescent Society in its plans to aid 35,000 families with relief items, emergency healthcare, access to safe drinking water, sanitation services and psychosocial support. As part of these efforts, 5,000 families are expected to receive basic shelter support in the form of tools and building materials. The American Red Cross is providing an initial $100,000 to support their ongoing relief efforts targeted at the most vulnerable populations, including women and children.