Pakistan floods: An aid worker's diary

Emergencies article written on the 11 Aug 2010

Zulfiquar Ali Haider is a public health engineer working for Oxfam in flood-hit northern Pakistan. He is in Swat – one of the worst-hit areas – and this is his eyewitness account.

Day Four

Sometimes I wonder how much more misery this country can take.

The front of today’s newspaper says that 750,000 people were ordered to evacuate Muzaffargarh town in Southern Punjab, when some had already fled flooding in other areas.

The minister whose constituency the town falls in was apparently in tears when she spoke about it in a press conference.

There has been so much destruction, but the rains keep coming. I find myself wondering when it will end.

There have been heavy rains in Swat again today.

We managed to keep most of the trucking of clean water going, but we had to stop work in one of the outlying villages called Fatehpur, where we were planning to distribute hygiene kits (which include items like soap and buckets) and household kits (which include pots and mats) to 435 families.

This location is about 15km (9 miles) away from the centre of our operations in Mingora, but there were risks of mudslides on the road, so we could not get there.

We brainstormed on what we would do if it rained again tomorrow.

The rains don’t seem to be stopping anytime soon, so we need to be creative in our approach.

We worked out that we could drive safely for a certain distance and then we’d carry the items to their destination on our heads for the last kilometres. These people have lost everything; they are relying on us to get this aid to them.

Other problems have emerged. We have found that some families have not been collecting the water that we are trucking to them.

Women in this area do not leave their homes without a man accompanying them, so when their husbands have been on other business, there has been no-one to collect the water and they have gone without.

I met with a local civil society organisation and we discussed mobilising volunteers to take this water to the women in their homes. They need the clean water so I want to see that they get it.

Day Three

People in Swat have so many stories to tell the world. I am afraid none of them are happy stories.

Today I met 40-year-old Akbar Ali, a father of four, in Amirzeb village in Swat where I was distributing relief from Oxfam.

Ali, a strongly built 6-ft-tall man, seems devastated.

Gushing floodwaters washed away all his belongings as well as the three buildings that made up his home.

I went with Ali to see the wreckage and it was a heart-wrenching experience.

A person new in the area might think that the buildings had collapsed as the result of an earthquake.

It is really hard to believe that floodwater can cause such destruction. However, it is the reality.

I feel really sad to look into the eyes of Ali’s daughters. They are not supposed to undergo such cruelty.

News from elsewhere in Pakistan is equally grim.

I was speaking with my colleague, Faisal Gilani, who was in Nowshera district today.

It is in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the same province where Swat is.

The story is the same – brutal and heartbreaking.

Gilani tells me that all he can see is destruction around him.

Roads are damaged, houses have collapsed and many people are living on the road with their belongings.

All the flood shelters are overcrowded and like Swat there is no electricity in Nowshera.

He said he saw people who had become homeless collecting bricks and remaining pieces of their homes.

According to Gilani, authorities in Khandarkale village have lost all the official records – including census, revenue and land record papers – since flood waters have washed away everything.

I thought to myself: perhaps records are less important now because surviving here has become the biggest challenge for people.

Day Two

It’s been raining heavily in Swat valley since Friday night. The rain stopped in the late afternoon on Saturday.

With the surge and the intensity of rain, I see that apprehension among people of Swat is increasing.

Some of them have gone near to the Swat River to observe the rise of the water level amid heavy rain. I could see their grim faces even from distant while I was returning to my office after distributing relief amongst flood-hit people.

This miserable and dreadful rain has forced our relief work to slow down. It is because some of the roads we need to take to reach flood-affected people are at risk of mudslides.

On Saturday a small group of Oxfam colleagues led by the country director of Oxfam GB’s Pakistan programme Neva Khan had to abandon their trip to Swat as mudslides resulted from heavy rainfall caused a road blockade at Malakandh Pass. The group was coming from Islamabad.

However, in Swat amid this heavy rainfall we distributed soaps, mugs, sanitary towels, clean drinking water and shelter kits among around 222 families in the municipality area.

In addition to that, one of our teams went to a village call Morgojor to distribute relief materials. This village is 20 kilometres (13 miles) away from the Swat municipality area. The road our team had taken became at risk of mudslides against the backdrop of heavy rainfall.

The team leader of that group said to me over the phone that they would wait for the rain to slow down and will start again. These natural risks are now becoming a general reality for us.

We are trying to reach more people but our job is becoming very difficult since the geographic structure of Swat and continuous rain making it harder and harder,

But we will keep trying.

Day One

As I approached Swat on 3 August, I saw collapsed houses on both sides of the road. Many of the people had come out into the streets because they no longer had a home.

The ferocity of the floods took villagers by surprise They spent their nights stranded, under open sky, sometimes in the rain.

It is a very difficult time for the people of Swat as they are sandwiched between serious disaster and conflict. I wonder how much stress people can take in one life.

I have been in many disaster zones in the world for my job. Floods are nothing new to me, but what strikes me here is the level of shock among the people.

I have been speaking to many of the victims. The flood has taken them by complete surprise.

Many parts of Swat are still not accessible because road transport systems have completely collapsed.

Oxfam is trying to reach the most inaccessible areas.

We have identified 13 severely damaged places where there is little or no response from international aid agencies.

We need to walk for hours and even ride donkeys to reach some of those areas, but we are determined to reach them with our support soon.

Source: BBC Online
Copyright: BBC