SUKKUR — In the ad-hoc child malnutrition facility at the Railway Hospital in Sukkur, mothers cradle and nurse their toddlers, all emaciated and weakened. A row of beds runs either side of the ward in the brown and gray-painted Raj-era hospital, upon one of which sits three year-old Zamina. She was malnourished before the floods hit, but the flight from the family farm in Thulla to this heaving city in northern Sindh worsened the tiny girl’s condition considerably, says Dr Sakina Jafri, pausing to speak as she moved from bed to bed. “With the threat of disease all around, young children are most prone,” she said. “And when they are so young and are malnourished, it only adds to that level of vulnerability.”
SINDH PROVINCE, PAKISTAN – The bridge leads out of Sukkur to the town of Larkana, a two-hour drive to the north-west and closer to the restive province of Balochistan, home of a long-running separatist movement and, more recently, al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban. The turmoil caused by the monsoon floods has brought trouble to towns and cities that have been relatively calm and secure. Coming downhill over the ramp of the bridge, a crowd of around three hundred mainly men and boys were blocking half the road, fists raised and pointing toward whatever traffic came their way.
GARHI KHUDA BAKSH — Outside Garhi Khuda Baksh in Sindh Province, men, women and children lie under upturned beds which have been propped up at an angle with sticks or broken-off tree branches. Those I spoke with understand clearly what the disaster that has befallen their country means. “We have been set back thirty years,” said Fatima, a mother of seven ,and one of twelve people seeking shade under a rough-and-ready shelter made from plastic sheeting and bamboo, loosely tied-down with rope and a peg on two corners, running diagonally from top-right to bottom-left.
LARKANA – It is 40 degrees celsius in the mid-afternoon. Buffalo submerge themselves in floodwaters covering farmland to cool off. Only their heads are above water as they snort and shake to dismiss the morass of flies buzzing around. For many among the estimated 6 million people now homeless by the floods in Pakistan, such comfort remains elusive. Many are still without basic shelter and rest under trees, under their carts, and beneath makeshift canopies fashioned from beds, blankets and whatever bits of timber or trees they can find
SINDH PROVINCE — Dirty, tired and bedraggled, Imran beckons us over to the women who fled their village. They came thirty miles on foot only to spend almost three weeks here in the dead heat at this makeshift camp outside Sukkur in southern Pakistan. “Take some photographs”, he implores. “You sure this is OK?” I reply, our conversation translated from Sindhi to English and back again by Nizam Ud Din Bharchood, a long time charity worker for Hands, a NGO based in southern Pakistan. “Go ahead, he insists!” assured Nizam. Often foreigners cannot take photos of women or girls in Pakistan, but Imran waives this, showing a canny insight into how best to raise awareness about his people’s plight. The ladies, adorned in their assorted pinks, greens and orange veils, clasp their children close and sit atop a rusted old bed, one of the few possessions they managed to carry from one of their houses. Photo taken, Imran explains their plight. “We are here twenty days now, without any shelter and only a little food.”
SUKKUR — On the road in from the airport, the water shimmered under the moonlight as men, women and children sat in the dark, near the would-be lakeshore. During the day, river dolphins can usually be spotted in the nearby river. It sounds idyllic, you might think, but not so. This dusty and ramshackle town is at the front-line of one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters in living memory. Usually there is no water lapping up at the roadside, and the only people there would be those out for an evening snack after the daytime Ramadan fast.
BAGH — Since the October 8 earthquake that killed an estimated 73000-80000 people in northern Pakistan, there have been over 2000 aftershocks. Some have been significant. On Friday December 2, an aftershock strong enough to shake each of the few standing buildings hit Bagh city in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the part of the old princely state of Kashmir now in Pakistan. Then, just last week, a 6.7 magnitude quake in Afghanistan was felt across the entire affected region in northern Pakistan. There have been about 60 aftershocks between 5 and 6 on the Richter Scale. Strong enough to remind people of the first 7.6 magnitude quake, which left almost 3.5 million homeless, and anxiously wondering whether they would have enough of the right shelter to survive the winter. An already-traumatised people receive an almost-daily reminder of the thirteen second disaster that wreaked such destruction. Fear adds to fear, and compounds the worries generated by the winter which is already here. But at least nature can be blamed in its entirety for the destruction and massive loss of life caused by the quake. Or can it? As Kubilay Hilyilmaz, earthquake specialist engineer with GOAL says: “Earthquakes don’t kill people, engineers do. Or more precisely, poor engineering in building design and construction.”
BAGH — Tanveer Ariz runs the Awami Hardware store in Arja, 4800 feet up in the Himalayan foothills. Taking in the equivalent of €3300in the first day of the voucher scheme, he said “People are buying waterproof storage boxes, gas heaters, electric heaters. Elsewhere they are buying more food, as the roads up to their higher villages will be blocked in a few weeks.” With the vouchers, the same families have money and the discretion to purchase supplementary survival materials from 163 shops and stalls. The local economy – almost as devastated as the people it serves – receives a much-needed injection of hard cash. In Ireland, the Small Firms Association has predicted that consumer spending over the Christmas period will reach €4 billion, with up to €22m an hour being spent on Christmas Eve, representing an increase of 10% on last year. If the whole world spent €22 million an hour on earthquake-stricken Pakistan, ten hours outlay would generate more than enough to meet emergency survival needs. Most or all of the boxes on the shopping list could ticked off very quickly.
BAGH — As the Himalayan winter hits the three million left homeless after the October 8 south Asian earthquake, a vastly underfunded relief effort threatens to end 2005 with another humanitarian disaster. UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator Jan Egeland recently described 2005 as ‘the year of disaster’, as first the Indian Ocean tsunami, the food crisis in Niger, Hurricane Stan, Hurricane Katrina all left destruction and death in their wake. Egeland and his boss UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently launched the 2006 UN Consolidated Appeals for 2006, seeking $$US4.7 billion to alleviate suffering in 26 countries marked by disaster or conflict. “It’s not like we’re asking too much,” Egeland told reporters after the launch of the appeal in New York. “For the equivalent of two cups of coffee per person for the one billion affluent people in the world, we would cover all the needs of 31 million people in a desperate situation for a year.”
BAGH — The drive across Azad Jammu and Kashmir would ordinarily be a compelling experience for any traveller. The 10,000 foot-high Himalayan foothills provide a backdrop of stunning beauty. Pine trees cover the rocky slopes, and along the horizon, the snow-peaks of the Karakorum and Himalayas emerge between the lower peaks in this desolate area of northern Pakistan. But these snow-peaks are a harbinger of a different reality for northern Pakistan. What United Nations boss Kofi Annan terms ‘the merciless Himalayan winter’ has arrived – with snow already piling on densely-populated higher ground, hundreds of cases of pneumonia, and, children dying. Another harbinger: on Tuesday 6 last, the Pakistani Met Office forecast an even harsher-than-usual winter for Kashmir and the northern areas of the country.