For villagers in Sindh, home is where relief is

Afp August 06, 2010

DURRANI MEHAR: Authorities in densely-populated Sindh were busy evacuating villagers on Friday and warning of major floods in the next 48 hours.

Bedraggled women, children and elderly men in shabby clothes were being deposited on the banks by rescue boats that waited along a giant lake in the village of Durrani Mehar, northern Sindh.

The meteorological office issued a red alert overnight, warning of an “imminent” and “extreme” flood threat to Sindh, especially along River Indus.

“At least 11 districts are at risk of flooding in Sindh, where more than 500,000 people have been relocated to safer places and evacuation continues,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Relief workers have their work cut out for them as a lot of needs are yet to be addressed. Warnings have been sent out about the spread of diseases and as the floods roar on, more and more people are now relying on relief items. Although Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said that relief items in sufficient quantity have been provided, many people say they have received no assistance from the government.

“We have nothing. I have no food and water to give to my children. We desperately need help,” Jannat Bibi, a 30-year-old mother of eight, said. Her husband Khadim Mirani is missing in the flood.

The two-week-old crisis has changed the lives of millions, most of them from impoverished areas of the province. Families have lost members.

“Two of my children have drowned and we don’t know where they are,” said Mohammad Bakhsh, 50, a resident of Qasim Goth village. “I’ve got calls on my mobile saying 20 to 25 children from our family are stranded in the village and are hanging on to tree branches. We are begging the authorities to rescue them.”

Even when the crisis is over, it will take time for Bakhsh’s life to straighten out. “Our cattle died and the cotton crop is completely destroyed,” he said.

Sindh Irrigation Minister Jam Saifullah Dharejo said that hundreds of villages were flooded in the province and that embankments at Sukkur barrage were being reinforced.

“Some 200,000 people have been evacuated and we are now forcing people who are not willing to leave the area. Unprecedented rain has also hindered rescue and relief activities, but we are working with the armed forces to avoid further loss of human life,” he said.

Further north in Punjab, people are streaming out of flooded villages, wading barefoot through water, their belongings crammed onto donkey carts and cars, or on their backs. But heavy rain has not allowed many people to pack their things before fleeing.

“Everybody is leaving. We came out empty-handed. We didn’t have enough time to take our belongings,” Ghulam Mustafa, 26, a resident of Mehmood Kot village said.

Officials warned that dams could burst as heavy rain lashed the town of Kot Addu, transforming the area into a giant lake.

“All these villages are dangerous now. We are evacuating the population. Important installations are in danger,” said Manzoor Sarwar, police chief for the Muzaffargarh district.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2010.


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