A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
Oxfam's Tariq Malik speaks to rescue workers and people affected by severe flooding in Muzaffargar, Pakistan.
District Muzaffargarh is called Doaba in the local language, meaning a piece of land that lies between two rivers. This geographic advantage for Muzaffargarh turned into a disadvantage when rivers Chenab and Indus surged on both its sides, leaving huge numbers of people from 443 small villages in sub-districts Alipur, Jatoi, and Kot Adu homeless.
The District Government so far has evacuated 90,285 people, mainly small farmers, tenants and daily wagers. There are 49 relief camps in the district. Doaba, Oxfam's partner named after the area it operates in, issued warnings in ten villages in Jatoi tehsil. [Doaba has issued over 178 early warnings to 178 villages across the Punjab area.] It also has plans in place to carry out initial assessments for the needs of people in the relief camps over the next two weeks. It provided a boat to emergency service Rescue 1122.
It was raining when a team of ten rescue workers loaded one boat owned by Doaba and a rented bus and left for Rangpur, 65 kilometers away from the district headquarters.
Ejaz Ahmed, in charge of Rescue 1122 in Muzaffargarh said, "We have received news on mobile phones that the river Chenab has inundated nearly 20 small villages there and the now the town is in danger."
When asked what a single boat would do for the thousands that are stranded, he replied, "we are doing what we can. Rescue 1122 has two boats that are engaged in rescue work in the Mehmoodabad area."
Oxfam teams couldn't visit the camps or move to the DG Khan district further south in Punjab, as the floods had reportedly damaged Ghazigoth Bridge, which is on the route. Taunsa Barrage – the other access to DG Khan – has been closed to traffic for days. The team travelled back to Layyah, which took six hours as there was heavy rain. On the way, I was thinking of the rented vehicle for the rescue workers heaving with exhaustion.
All along the route people were seen taking shelter under trees. Cows, goats and buffaloes were found tethered to trees, munching on the green patches along the road. A young boy hailing from the Chowk Munda, sipping a cup of tea at a roadside hotel, said, "this area is safe because it is surrounded by sand dunes that act as natural protection against floods." He said people from the devastated villages are flocking to this area to save their lives and livestock.
Zafar lund, director of Heerik Development Foundation, Oxfam's partner organization who has worked in the area for a decade, said that civil society has three demands to make from the government:
- establishment of a flood commission to investigate the causes of flood destruction;
- compensation payment through cheques; and
- damage assessment in consultation with government, NGOs and community notables.