Pakistani Farmer Helps Workers Hurt By Flood
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And we've been keeping close tabs on the floods in Pakistan, where high waters in the mountainous northern part of the country have hurtled down to the flat plains of the south. Let's hear now from one land owner whose 700 acre farm is next to the Indus River, and so in the path of the rushing waters. We spoke to Jawaid Amin Khwaja. He grows mangoes and sugarcane on his land. I asked him what we would see now if we were able to look out over his farm.
Mr. JAWAID AMIN KHWAJA (Land Owner): Well, you would just see the top bit of the sugarcane crop, because there's at places about five feet of water. And a lot of people who are in the low-lying areas have sort of moved up to small embankments that we had around the farm to protect us from the river. Now, you see a mass of people sitting there who've come from the low-lying areas.
MONTAGNE: And is that why there has not been a huge loss of life, even with all this devastation, is that people are able to move up just a little bit to higher ground?
Mr. KHWAJA: Exactly. In Punjab it's basically just all flat land. So when there is flooding, the water sort of moves in gradually. It's not like a torrent. And so people had a lot of time. We had at least a day's notice that there would be massive flooding in our area.
MONTAGNE: You know, I gather that your family has a small charitable foundation - what, that your grandfather started?
Mr. KHWAJA: Yeah. My grandfather set up this charitable foundation. And on a regular basis, we're running from schools in the village and around there, and also, a health center. And with this foundation, this time we've decided to adopt a thousand families and provide them immediate shelter, which is in the form of tents, and then provide them with relief, go right up to the point when they are ready to move back to their homes, and also help them in building those homes. And we see this taking place for the next five to six months, because there are places where the water probably won't recede for three months.
MONTAGNE: It sounds like there was a certain buildup of a response.
Mr. KHWAJA: I think you're right. Initially, when the flooding came, people didn't really understand the scale of the disaster because it was in such a vast area. I mean, it basically covers the length of the country, from our border to China, to right up to the Indian Ocean. People, I think, were just overwhelmed and took, you know, like almost a week for people to realize how to organize themselves.
You know, like our little organization, the initial response was to, you know, just buy a lot of food stuff and relief goods and try to ship them there. And then after a week, we realized that, you know, you have to do these things in a much more organized and planned way. And so we had to decide how many people can we meaningfully help, and we decided that 1,000 families would be a number that we think we can reasonably look after, and that means, you know, providing them with food, help, hygiene. We have organized these mobile hospitals, almost.
These are big vans where you can inspect the patient. You can even do minor surgery in there. There's clean, sort of, surgical areas inside the van, because you've got lots of skin rashes, skin problems because of the stagnant water, and also some waterborne disease like diarrhea and maybe even the beginning of malaria.
MONTAGNE: Is there a tradition of this sort of helping, reaching out at the nongovernmental level?
Mr. KHWAJA: Oh, most definitely. I remember when I was a young kid, we had this earthquake in 1970. I remember our whole house was - oh, well, there were seamstresses doing, you know, quilts and comforters, and there were all sorts of activity going on. It wasn't just in our house. I remember a lot of my friends, similar things were happening in their house. And it's almost spontaneous, you know. People just collected materials and donated it to the government, and they helped distribute them.
And now, I think because of all sorts of issues, a lot of people basically feel more comfortable donating to private organizations because they're, if nothing, they're far more efficient, you know, and less corrupt, obviously.
MONTAGNE: You know, looking out at, again, at your own crops that are underwater...
Mr. KHWAJA: Right.
MONTAGNE: ...have you lost everything this year?
Mr. KHWAJA: On my farm, I think part of my farm, which was under five to six feet of water, I don't think there was much would have survived there once the water recedes. I didn't have a lot of cotton this year, but people who had cotton have lost everything.
MONTAGNE: Mr. Khwaja, good luck to you.
Mr. KHWAJA: Oh, why, thank you.
MONTAGNE: Jawaid Amin Khwaja owns a large farm in the Punjab province. And this morning, a Japanese plane managed to land at the international airport there, loaded with aid. Still, the situation for many is dire. The U.N. says 800,000 Pakistanis continue to be stranded by the floods, reachable only by air.
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