Heavy rains started to lash as I headed towards the flood hit southern Punjab. Every one inside the bus was concerned for those living in makeshift shelters we passed. The tents would never stand a chance against these strong winds.
Nobody knew it was coming. We never expected this. The latest update from the UN suggests 17.2 million people have been affected by the floods. 1,600 people have been killed while thousands have been affected with various skin and stomach diseases.
The USA and other countries worldwide have now pledged more than $700 million towards flood relief in Pakistan. The International Monetary Fund is looking at all possible ways to help the country deal with the economic impact of the devastating floods.
These efforts were too slow for Khan Bela. Survivors awaited for outside aid for about two weeks after this village sank in nine feet of water. Caritas was the first to reach there, says the Pakistan army. The twenty tents supplied a week ago by local diocesan member Caritas Multan now house families which are only accessible by boats. Khan Bela and its surrounding villages are submerged in water spreading across 80 kilometers.
The second wave of Church aid to Khan Bela combined relief from Caritas Multan, Church of Pakistan Lahore diocese and the Federal Ministry for Minorities. The villagers gathered on Aug 26 at the distribution point as the Church convoy approached. They shared their plight with bishops including Bishop Andrew Francis of Multan and Anglican Bishop Alexander John Malik of Lahore diocese as well as Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities.
Shortly before handing over the packages at the embankment, Bishop Francis prayed for the survivors.
It was difficult to get comments from most of the beneficiaries belonging to the Saraiki-speaking community (a language of the ethnic groups of Central Pakistan). The translator would get lost in the repeated burst of garbled sentences from the survivors, still haunted by panic.
Not willing to leave their homes, now turned in heaps of mud, many families are still living on the edge of an embankment in hope that water will recede soon. Besides Caritas tents, the rest of the shelters on this embankment are simply composed of charpoys (woven beds) leaning over large drums or plastic sheets draped over twigs.
“What can you give us, what have you brought” are the common questions asked of every person visiting the camps of flood affected. Eager eyes always gazing upon the visitor’s hands; questioning what world has done for them.
The media is also highlighting the helplessness of those who have lost all their belongings. Despair reflects in every face talking on TV screens about how the victims are now dealing with flood situation.
A relief packet usually lasts for two days in a family of six, a typical village family unit. However imparting skills enhancing tools like sewing machines can help bringing back the confidence and hope among the survivors. While food and clothes remain a great need, the world has to think of ways to help them live with dignity.
Kamran Chaudhry is the Caritas Pakistan communicator for the relief phase of Floods in Pakistan 2010.