For the past several days, the people of Pakistan have been told to evacuate town after town, village after village. But as the flood-triggered humanitarian disaster continues to unfold and cast its dark shadow, the economic cost is now increasingly evident. It could have serious ramifications for the relief effort that is yet to get into full gear.
We witnessed hundreds of thousands of people on the move in Punjab province, stopping just briefly to regain strength, before continuing on along a straight road, followed by encroaching waters. It was like a flock of sheep without a Sheppard. There was no one at hand to guide these people to safer places.
Punjab's Muzzafargarh district is home to at least three thermal power units that produce much needed electricity in a country already suffering its worst energy crisis. At least one such power unit at Lal Pir has been shut down and it said to be under several feet of water. The unit in Kot Addu is surrounded by water, while the town itself is inundated.
But that’s not all - Pakistan’s largest oil refinery, which Pak Arab Refinery Company (PARCO) built with help from the United Arab Emirates, is now under threat. The refinery has been shut down to prevent any damage in case of flooding and many dykes have been breached to help divert the water from entering this vital facility.
The shutdown has led to hundreds of trucks being stranded on the main road from Muzafargarh to Multan. That city saw long queues as people rushed to buy dwindling supplies of fuel - a scene Pakistan’s prime minister must have witnessed as he visited Multan, his hometown.
Back in Muzafargarh, the breaching of riverbanks has caused the evacuation of the district's main city. Many people who have been on the move had stopped briefly, hoping they were safe, but were also told to leave this city. Just before the waters entered the city, Banks and the National Registration Authority moved both documents and valuables to the city of Multan.
[ibimage==3358==blogpostFeaturedImage==none==self==null]After covering Muzaffargarh, we drove to the adjoining district of Layyah, where the waters had wrought havoc. Despite the fact that the water was now receding, large swathes of territory were still submerged. In some cases, entire villages had vanished without out a trace.
Some of the residents who opted to stay back to protect their homes and belongings endured an ordeal, the likes of which they had never seen. Nazar Hussain said at first, things seemed normal. He said when he and his family slept, everything was as expected, but when they woke up, they were surrounded by water.
"I called a boat owner and begged him to save my family I could hear the cries of people [calling] for help and saw dead bodies and animals being carried by raging waters."
When help arrived, he sent his children and wife to safety. "I told them I will see you if I am still alive,” he said, wiping his tears.
We rented a local boat to travel into the flood waters. It was eerily quite and the heat and humidity were unbearable. Everything was surreal about this place.
Ducking and bending to avoid the branches of trees, we traveled through what were once populated villages. Now it was all gone.