Massive Flooding, Stewing Resentment In Pakistan

  • Hide caption
    An aerial view shows the flooded Kharo Chan village in Pakistan's Sindh province on Aug. 25. The United Nations has described the widespread flooding in Pakistan as unprecedented, with more than one-third of the nation underwater. Officials say as many as 20 million people have been affected during Pakistan's worst flooding in 80 years.
    Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Pakistanis displaced by floods take shelter in temporary tents made with charpoys (bedsteads) near a makeshift camp in Baseera in Punjab province on Aug. 26. The United Nations warned that 800,000 people in desperate need of aid had been cut off by the deluge across the country and appealed for more helicopters to deliver supplies to those people reachable only by air.
    Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A boy and other displaced villagers plead for relief rations as a soldier waves a stick in an attempt to maintain order in the Sultan Colony army flood relief camp on Aug. 25. Pakistan's agricultural heartland has been devastated, with rice, corn and wheat crops destroyed by floods.
    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Suffering from high fever and spasms, Allah Detta is carried by soldiers as he is rushed to receive medical treatment in the Sultan Colony army flood relief camp. Military and aid organizations are struggling to cope with the scale of the disaster, in which more than 1,600 people have died and millions have been displaced.
    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A boy carries water through a flooded yard in the village of Vasandawali in Punjab. The United Nations has appealed for $460 million to deal with the immediate aftermath of the floods, but has warned that billions will be required in the long term, with villages, businesses, crops and infrastructure wiped out.
    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A man helps his wife cross a river in Kasbag Gujarat. The United Nations estimates that 4.6 million people in Pakistan are still without shelter.
    Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Yakub, 8, lies next to his mother Aug. 22 at a makeshift hospital in Muzaffargarh in Punjab, where he's receiving treatment for diarrhea. The U.N. warned that up to 3.5 million children are at risk from water-borne diseases and feared a "second wave" of deaths from disease after cholera was confirmed in some patients.
    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Flood victims fight for relief bags distributed by soldiers in Nowshera on Aug. 20. U.N. agencies stepped up calls for donors to deliver on their pledges for Pakistan to prevent what U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called a "slow-motion tsunami" from wreaking further catastrophe.
    A. Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Wind from a Pakistani navy helicopter blows furniture into the water as a man stands on top of his roof during an emergency aid distribution near Bachel in Sindh Province, southern Pakistan.The U.N. said the massive floods have eclipsed the scale of the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
    Kevin Frayer/AP
  • Hide caption
    A flood survivor sleeps on a hammock Aug. 13 in Shah Jamal village.
    Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    U.S. Chinook helicopters carrying flood survivors arrive Aug. 9 in Khwazakhela in the Swat Valley. As anger mounts among survivors, the Pakistani government and U.N. officials have appealed for more urgent relief efforts.
    Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Dried mud surrounds cars Aug. 5 in Nowshera.
    Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Onlookers perched on a damaged bridge watch a man cross a river by rope Aug. 3 in Swat Valley's Chakdara.
    AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Residents grab water bottles dropped from a Pakistani air force helicopter Aug. 2 in Nowshera, where thousands were affected by the floods.
    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Bibi Gul (center) sits with her family in a school transformed into a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Nowshera. The monsoon swallowed up Gul's house and two of her children. With no news of her son and daughter days later, she is distraught.
    Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A boy takes a moment to rest after salvaging belongings from his destroyed home in Pabbi.
    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A boy makes his way along a flooded pathway in Pabbi.
    Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

1 of 17

View slideshow i

In Pakistan, three weeks after the worst flooding on record, waters continue to submerge villages in southern Punjab province. The flooded Indus River is beginning to recede, but not before washing away about 1 million homes and spreading disease.

The initial sluggish response from international donors has picked up pace as the United Nations now estimates that more than 8 million people are in urgent need of food, shelter and water.

In the south of the country, while the rains have subsided, the dire conditions have not.

Hungry flood victims beg for food. Men, women and children wade through waters teeming with venomous snakes. Strong currents sometimes pull people under as they attempt to return to their homes in villages that have become islands surrounded by floodwaters.

Villagers, displaced from their homes by flooding, fight for bags of flour. i i

Villagers, displaced from their homes by flooding, fight for bags of flour during relief distribution Friday on the outskirts of Muzaffargarh in Punjab province. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Villagers, displaced from their homes by flooding, fight for bags of flour.

Villagers, displaced from their homes by flooding, fight for bags of flour during relief distribution Friday on the outskirts of Muzaffargarh in Punjab province.

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Death On The Floodwaters

In the inundated district of Muzaffargarh, the headmaster of a government middle school, Abdul Hamid, has renal failure and needs dialysis. His doctor says he could die soon.

"We can't go to the hospitals. There is no transport. How can we go to the hospitals? It is a problem of life and death," Hamid says.

Last week, this school principal with an ashen face took a motorcycle over a badly rutted road to escape the flooding. He hasn't had dialysis since. "We have to be fatalists, and leave it to destiny," he says. "That is what is happening here."

In the same way that Hurricane Katrina laid bare the abject poverty of the U.S. Gulf Coast, Pakistan's floods have exposed dismal conditions and poor governance in southern Punjab province.

The provincial government insists it has deployed over 800 mobile medical units. But they have not been in evidence this week.

As a crowd gathers to watch the water rapidly rising in a canal outside the village of Shehr Sultan, local elders say they have never seen the Indus River flood this far east. The canal now raging with water has been dry for a decade, they say.

Resentment Among The Poor

It is widely believed among people here that whatever measures were taken to divert the water protected the lands of the rich at the expense of the poor.

Sardar Zulfikar Khosa, an adviser to the chief minister of the Punjab, says that is not true.

"Who would be stupid enough to take on the responsibility of drowning say 30 villages or 40 villages? Which idiot would ever go and take such a decision? This is a collective decision. It is not — I repeat — not an individual's decision," he says.

Pakistani villagers lay sandbags.
Banaras Khan/AFP

The province's chief irrigation engineer says this unstoppable flood was "a once-in-500-years event."

But that hasn't stopped deep-seated resentment against Pakistan's wealthy and powerful from surfacing among the masses of poor, displaced people. "The cities have been spared while rural villages are drowning!" a crowd gathered in Shehr Sultan shouts.

Eighteen-year-old Mohammad Imran, an electrician, says if the government did show up in the village there could be trouble. "If we are suffering, we will not sit quiet," he says.

Zardari's 'Katrina'

The flooding that destroyed whole villages and killed at least 1,500 people has been called Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's Katrina.

Earlier this month, Zardari left the country on a European tour as floodwaters ravaged the northwest, an area teeming with militants.

There are fears that the Islamist militants could exploit the growing anger and undermine the government's fight against the Taliban and its honeycomb of associates.

Political analyst Haider Abbas Gardezi, who lives in the southern Punjab city of Multan, says that while the president showed insensitivity by taking his European trip, he is by no means the only one deserving blame in a government that was slow to act.

This is a defining moment for the government, Gardezi says.

"They are standing at a crossroads. They have to see that if they cannot manage things in a very proficient way — if they cannot go to the people in a very transparent, democratic, and friendly way — things can really fire back and this vacuum can be filled by those forces ... which we don't want," he says.

An Opening For Extremists?

Extremist groups have moved quickly to fill the void in relief work. Pakistan's interior minister said Friday that banned extremist groups will not be allowed to visit the flood-affected areas. But amid the current chaos in the flooded areas, it is not clear how such a ban could be enforced.

In the village of Bahawal Nala, surrounded by floodwaters and safely accessible only by boat, Zaffar Hussain and Pakistanis like him feel set adrift.

Tasleem Mai, 25, was washed out of her home near Muzaffargarh.

Tasleem Mai, 25, was washed out of her home near Muzaffargarh when the Indus River reached levels not seen in living memory. She now lives on the edge of the waterlogged road with her four children. Most flood victims have not gone to camps but are staying near their homes to ensure against theft. Julie McCarthy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy/NPR

He buried his sister and his brother-in-law this week.

"Five people in my family were crossing this water in search of rations on the other side," he says. "We were holding hands, but got knocked over in the wake of a wave made by a passing truck. We lost our grip and my sister and her husband were swept away."

The cost of the flood is also counted in 4 million acres of ruined farmland, most of it here in the country's cotton belt.

Wasim Hassan Langrial, a doctor and farmer, has lost 500 acres of crops, mostly cotton, sugar cane and rice. He estimates that it will take eight to 10 years for Pakistani farmers to recover.

Eight million people need the bare necessities — shelter, food and clean water — yet from the perspective in Pakistan the global response to the crisis has been lackluster.

Meanwhile, the fatigued men and women and children of Pakistan are slogging through one watery indignity after another.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.