Pakistan’s floods come in waves
Last week my Pakistani colleagues and I visited the embankments of the Indus River in Ghotki, Upper Sindh, where floods have stranded more than 5,000 families. It is hot, maybe 40 degrees or more, with harsh sun and wind.
The stranded people are smallscale farmers reliant on their landlords and mostly indebted to money lenders. Their lives, already hard, are now made seemingly impossible. They left their homes in the middle of the night as flood waters consumed their homes, taking their livestock, buffalo and cattle.
Some men had stayed behind to protect what was left: submerged houses surrounded by stinking, rank water, black and green, with all sorts of debris around. They burned tree trunks cut for firewood to enable them to boil the water from the flood to drink.
The women moved further along the bund (embankment or levee) with their children and what household items they had, their simple cooking utensils laid out on the riverbank. They have no privacy, no toilets, nothing. Many have no shelter except for their clothes and some sheets for protection from the baking heat.
Men sat looking bewildered and sad: what could be their next move but to wait? I sat with a group of young men who looked tired and haggard. They told me that they had been reduced to drinking the flood water.
We looked out at the sea of flood water, which stretched as far as I could see; because the ground is saturated, it could be weeks before the water subsides.
These are the same people who suffered in the 2010 floods. The water level here is just 30 centimetres lower than it was at the height of the floods 5 years ago, and more flood water is expected in the days to come.
Despite a lack of hope, life does continue, even under these difficult conditions. Children play in the flood water, sharing it with the buffalo that are defecating in it. Sugar cane and all other crops have been wiped out and standpipes and water pumps are now submerged by over 3 metres of flood water.
People have no option but to drink the flood water unless they can find, or someone can provide, clean water from elsewhere. Disease – diarrhoea or cholera – threatens. Cattle do not have fodder.
The Pakistan army has been protecting and fortifying the bund with huge rocks, many transported in tractors and overladen trailers. One tractor and trailer was so heavy that it destroyed a bridge designed for donkey carts.
But the flood water is seeping through the bund and the added rocks may not do much to stop it, because up country the heavy rain continues and will enter the Indus River and be deposited in Sindh. If the Sukkur barrage (or dam) gives way, then millions of people will be affected by the flood, as they were in 2010.
In Ghotki, some people have received tents from the Provincial Disaster Management Authority. Others have started to help with food and drinking water.
But the stranded people will have many more needs and face another uphill struggle to piece their lives back together. They are resilient and have faith, yet they also live beside a huge river which is mostly dormant but which wakes to become an ocean when the monsoon is cruel.
Neill Garvie is Christian Aid's Pakistan Programme Manager.