“The Stench of Dead Bodies was Overpowering”

By Sonya Rehman

On the 20th of August, a flood survivor, perished from gastroenteritis in the city of Lahore. She was only 18-years old.

Having fled from her submerged village in Muzaffargarh, a district in the Punjab province of Pakistan, Farzana, along with her father had taken refuge at Farzana’s Uncle’s home in Lahore.

But it was too late. There are thousands of people like Farzana, victims of serious water-borne diseases – such as gastroenteritis and cholera – in the aftermath of the worst floods to have ever hit Pakistan. The destruction is far worse than the 2005 earthquake which killed 75,000 and left many more thousands homeless.

Photo by Faisal Kapadia

So far, at least 1,500 people have died in the floods and millions have been left destitute and stranded. Their lands and crops have been destroyed. They’ve lost everything – their loved ones, their cattle and all their possessions.

On his recent visit to Pakistan, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon stated: “I will never forget the destruction and suffering I have witnessed today. In the past I have witnessed many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”

People who have seen the destruction up close each have their own horror stories.

Faisal Kapadia, who works in Karachi, visited Sukkur – a city in Sindh province. Of his experience, Kapadia stated: “It was like something out of a painting of Dante’s hell – roads lined on both sides with thousands of people lying in the mud without shelter in 48OC heat.

“There was no sanitation and people were scrounging for food.”

Photo by Saad Sarfraz Sheikh

Kapadia also visited Shikarpur (also in Sindh) and saw the army urging people to leave. A mass evacuation was underway since the entire area was submerged.

“Inundated, villages and roads were washed away,” Kapadia said, “The stench of dead bodies was  unbearable, overpowering.”

Khurram Siddiqi, a young professional living in Lahore recently visited Kot Addu in Muzaffargarh with some friends.

Partnering with the PWP (Pakistan Wetlands Program), they travelled by truck with food and relief supplies.

“It’s not as easy or as organised as you’d imagine when you head out; not everyone’s sitting there in a camp, like on CNN, waiting for you to deliver supplies,” Siddiqi says. “This flood has been so unpredictable that people have moved to save their lives wherever they could find higher ground – and many are ending up just stuck in those new fields because they can’t go anywhere. So in our case, we really had to search them out, over a very large area.”

Even though many individuals are being proactive in the matter collecting aid and supplies, Siddiqi decries the weaknesses in the planning and logistics regarding reaching out to the flood victims.

He worries that relief efforts might result in emotional and physical fatigue once the real test begins, which is “the reconstruction and prevention of disease, whenever the waters recede.”

It is true. The real challenge will come in the aftermath of the floods when rebuilding what has been washed away and lost for good begins. The mammoth rehabilitation process in the months and years to come remains daunting.

The New Indian Express

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