PAKISTAN - “By tomorrow at any cost.” Arungzeb; World Vision’s Area Manager for Multan in Punjab is on the phone, in the car travelling from one cluster of shelters to another. Every call, text, e-mail and meeting is underpinned with the same determination to make things happen; to provide desperately needed aid in the biggest crisis we have faced.
Hassnain, another World Vision colleague, and I stand in sand so hot it burns my feet through the soles of my shoes. “We did a distribution of food here yesterday and are planning another tomorrow.” Around us are open-ended tents like playing cards propped against each other. Underneath each, a Charpai bed frame and a family of women and children in bright Punjabi colours, sheltering in the shade, baked in the hot air but at least not seared by the sun.
The adults use the tap at the back, while the children crawl underneath to catch water running from leaking pipes and joints
These people were swept from their homes two weeks ago by flood water that rose swiftly in the river. They had little warning or time to gather what they could carry: some pots, some food, the clothes they were wearing and their precious animals. They walked through the night in heavy rain. The women and children got transport on carts or in vehicles some of the way, while the men walked with their animals, 15 kilometres from home. Fifteen kilometres from where home used to be.
The camp is one of a score or more along this road outside Muzaffargarh, west of Multan city in Punjab province. The road follows the north-south route of the Indus River and a host of nameless tributaries and canals. The land is flat and sandy. It sits a little above the flooded Indus plains further to the west. It is also a few metres higher than the land these people lived on, land that now sits under water with trees half submerged and crops and houses drowned.
People displaced to these camps have been receiving haphazard support from different agencies. We arrived at this camp at the same time as a tractor towing a water tank. The tank is mobbed by children and adults with every sort of container from plastic bottles to metal bowls. The adults use the tap at the back, while the children crawl underneath to catch water running from leaking pipes and joints.
Further up the road a truck stops and people from a local agency toss clothes onto the ground near another camp of tents. People come to select a scarf or a blanket. It is a haphazard and demeaning way of delivering aid, but understandable given the sheer scale of need, which has drawn many inexperienced groups into the response.
The trauma of fleeing the flood, the toll of not enough food, not enough shelter, not enough water and too many flies has weakened them
What we hear from the people in the camp is that they are hanging on, surviving on what little food and water they receive. Wearing the clothes they escaped the flood in, keeping their infants and their animals alive. The truth is that they are in worse shape now than they were two weeks ago. The trauma of fleeing the flood, the toll of not enough food, not enough shelter, not enough water and too many flies has weakened them. Breastfeeding mothers and their infants are the most vulnerable. Their reserves of strength and hope are used up faster; their path to death is shorter.
Arungzeb’s words about World Vision’s mission to provide food and shelter ring clear for them. By tomorrow, at any cost.
First published on August 30, 2010, 14:07. Last updated on August 30, 2010, 14:27.