Floods in Pakistan: Sindh is still submerged
I arrived in Badin district, southern Sindh early November 2011 on assignment for Oxfam to cover their response to the recent flooding in the province where millions of people had been displaced and crops, livestock as well as livelihoods had been destroyed due to the floods.
Earlier, I had visited the province in mid-September, immediately after the Pakistan government had made a delayed appeal to the international community for urgent assistance. I was struck by the extent of the flooding and how high the water level had reached, completely submerging and destroying roads, buildings and entire fields of wheat, sugarcane and cotton.
Visiting again in early October and the most recent trip with Oxfam I expected the water level to have dissipated but documented the same regions still underwater. As interest from the media has dissipated the flood waters have not.
My guide for the first day, Viram explained why the water was not going anywhere. It was connected to the Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD), a large artificial waterway constructed parallel to the Indus river to carry saline water from the plains of the Punjab to exit at the Arabian Sea, the southern tip of Sindh.
Heavy monsoon in August caused overflow into sub-drains of the LBOD that you pass over on a regular basis while travelling by road through southern Sindh). When the sub-drains filled up they overflowed into the surrounding area, submerging fields of crops, roads and entire villages. With the sub-drains resting lower than the LBOD there is no way for the water to escape in many regions, it is effectively held within a basin receding only with the assistance of the sun and in some cases pumps.
The impact on communities within the region was devastating; anybody whose home or means of making a livelihood lied below the LBOD was severely affected. Everyone tells the same tale of destruction no matter where you go within the affected districts.
A 14 year old boy travels on a cart, carrying mud to rebuild his family's home in Badin District, Sindh. Photo: Sam Phelps/Oxfam
Outside of Badin, on a strip of road snaking across a lake that was once an open plane, I met a 14 year old boy who was carrying rocks and mud on a donkey cart to his village for the reconstruction of his family’s home.
Herdsmen resting at a sub-drain to water their buffalo narrated their misfortunes. The regular migration of livestock each year from Badin district to the dry plains of Tharparkar usually takes place in June but as there had been no rains, the majority of herdsmen did not undertake the migration. The flooding forced them to eventually travel with their herds to Tharparkar anyway which had also been flooded in some regions. By this time the majority of decent fodder there had been washed away. Over 100,000 cattle are estimated to have died as a result of this.
The Mazir family who I met at the sub-drain were relatively lucky. They lost only five of their buffalo. On the second day of my journey I saw croppers wading through what once used to be crop fields trying to catch fish in wooden netted cages. The nine men working together caught one fish in four hours.
Despite the prevalent circumstances while covering the floods, on each visit to Sindh I was struck by the resilience of the Sindhi people – proud, hopeful and managing to crack a joke despite their predicament.
Sahib Khatoon, 61, an ethnic Balochi widow purchases food after cashing a check which she received under Oxfam’s cash for work project. Photo: Sam Phelps/Oxfam
Upon my visit to a camp in Mirpur Khas district, I witnessed members of the flood affected community receiving checks of Rs. 7000 ($80 USD) under Oxfam’s cash for work program. Later, while talking with Sahib Khatoon, a 61 year old ethnic Balochi widow I realized just how empowered the people felt after receiving this money. Sahib cashed her check from a nearby bank and purchased flour, rice and sugar. She expressed her joy at being able to spend the money on what she wanted. She also planned on buying clothes for her 8 children for Eid Al-Adha.
At the village of Geloi Kaloi, Malook a 50 year old farmer, father of 12 children and community leader joked with other villagers about his plans of marrying a third wife being sabotaged by the floods, while they stood surrounded by the rubble of fallen mud walls, branches and debris. When the two of us walked away from the other villagers and into his home to inspect the damage, Malook’s jovial and strong façade began to crack.
Standing under a collapsing roof, in what was once the family living room, one wall completely missing, another wall pasted with kitsch painted tropical beach scenes Malook began to weep. The full impact of his predicament and responsibility to his family, to shelter, feed and support them settled in but it passed quickly, he wiped the tears from his eyes and we walked back outside, briefly standing at the edge of what was once his courtyard so he could gather himself before rejoining the rest of the group.
Sindh is still submerged, though we might have forgotten the damage and destruction the floods caused, those who were affected are still living the nightmare everyday. They need help and they need it now.
Malook, 50 years old wipes off his tears as he stands in the ruins of his house, Sindh, Pakistan. Photo: Sam Phelps/Oxfam