To protect and serve: As Badin sank, its police were held hostage by duty

Published: March 29, 2012

While most of Badin’s police stations have been damaged, most of the police posts have been completely destroyed. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: 

The water upended lives and scattered the people of Badin helter skelter but there was one group of people that was expected to go on as usual – the police.

“We haven’t ever even been given so much as a bottle of water by relief workers, NGOs, or anyone who comes to help during the floods,” says Head Constable Ghulam Mohammad. “It’s almost as if we don’t exist.”

The Pingrio police station in Badin district is close to the border with Tharparkar and is where Ghulam Mohammad spends his days. His main office is flanked by stinking pools of water on either side.

“Initially, when the floods came, we got most of the water out but there is still some left on both sides – as you can see, it has nowhere to go.”

Most flood-hit districts of Sindh, including Badin, are thus still waterlogged and it is hard to drive for five minutes without coming across large ponds or small lakes of water throughout the countryside. The only silver lining is that there has been an influx of migratory birds that have made their homes on the water.

While most of Badin’s police stations have been damaged, most of the police posts have been completely destroyed. A post will serve as an on-the-job residence during shifts when police are conducting routine checks, explains HC Ghulam Mohammad.

“For now we have rented rooms in different places to accommodate our [men] and the funds are coming from the police,” he says.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has managed to scrape together a couple of million dollars to rehabilitate the police infrastructure. The money from the UNODC will go to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan as well as Sindh.

According to the UNODC assessment of nine districts within three police ranges in Sindh, 139 police stations were seriously damaged or destroyed in the 2011 floods and most of these suffered significant equipment loss. Additionally, 71 police posts were completely destroyed or damaged.

In Ghulam Mohammad’s police station, about four feet of water stood for 22 days, whose damage is still visible on the walls of the police station. “We had to help with evacuation and do our duties, it’s our job,” he explained. After people fled, there was barely anybody left in the town, just a few families here and there. Ghulam Mohammad and 50 other police officers had to stay back in the inundated town to ensure that shops, offices and homes weren’t looted.

The damage to the police stations and the fact that the police still have to continue work under such difficult circumstances is just one sacrifice the force has made. They also had to be away from their families and homes during this time, and returned to find them damaged or inundated by water.

At the moment, the UNODC can’t work on every police station because it is not feasible given the amount of funding they have received. “We’re starting work with priority police stations or working on the few larger ones,” says UNODC Pakistan Representative Jeremy Douglas. “We have conducted site assessments and have started seed funding for them. The police will have to make up the budget shortfall.”

Until now about 100 motorcycles have been donated along with 25 pickup trucks (commonly referred to as police mobiles), according to Douglas.

More heavy rains and potential flooding has been forecast this year and the monsoon season is just months away. Many flood survivors have been provided with some form of relief or assistance but the police still work in dilapidated and unhygienic environments.

When asked whether the police have been given any instructions for the coming floods, Head Constable Ghulam Mohammad said, “the provincial government or anyone hasn’t given us any plan for evacuations as of yet. We will continue to make do with what we have.”

Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2012.

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