Return to the floodzone

As monsoon hits province once again, two years after large parts of Sindh were flooded, many are still living in camps.

I wish it wasn’t there. But as our convoy drives down the dusty, narrow dirt track it looms into view.

Another camp. It was two years ago when I last visited Sindh province, southern Pakistan, to cover the flooding that had engulfed the area.

Back then I arrived with my television crew. Then, as now, the first thing to hit me was the intense heat.

In Urdu there is a word “sholay”. It means flames of the sun. That day it felt the sun was at it’s fiercest. I was mistaken. The summer was only just beginning.

Living in a camp under “sholay” is a cruel thing.

The interior of Sindh is a harsh place at the best of times. It’s rural and poor, with little infrastructure.

Shikarpur is a typical town in this region. The vast majority here are tenant farmers, who work the land on behalf of big landowning families.

Desperation and hunger

When the flood came in 2010, hundreds of thousands were affected. At almost every turn, the sights we saw were harrowing.

In the centre of Shikarpur, an entire village had set up on a bridge. Women tried their hardest to placate screaming, starving children. The men of the village, just weeks earlier proud farmers, were reduced to begging in the street.

Instantly we were mobbed. They thought we had food, shelter and water. We had nothing to give. Just a camera to record.

This time around and little had changed. In two years, villagers from this region still wear the same look on their faces. It’s a look of desperation coupled with hunger.

Just outside of Shikarpur, Jacobabad Mohammed Osman lives under a ramshackle tent with his two wives and ten children.

At night they share two rickety wooden beds bound together with coarse rope. The youngest child, born in the camp, hangs from a sling, her face covered in flies.

“When we have nothing, what is the point of wishing things were better?” Mohammed says when I ask him how he copes under such conditions. “We have God. To him we pray, what more can we do…”

There are no more questions I can ask Mohammed, it’s pointless asking him if he is hopeful for the future. The dread on his face says it all.

The camps have moved around. The one we visited this time had been set up just two months ago. But for the families living there it was one in a long line of many.

Relief effort

This is not to say things have not improved. For many flood victims relief has come. They have returned home. But even home presents its own problems.

In Shikarpur I spoke to the assistant commissioner of the district, Asim Javed. He is one of the top civil servants and responsible for getting aid to those that need it the most.

I told him what I had seen, that people in his district and in others, still didn’t have the help they need to get on with their lives. His answer surprised me.

“Even if we give out a hundred blankets, a hundred ration packs to a man, he will always say I have nothing … We can’t just fill their tummies.”

It would be wrong of me to suggest that Pakistan’s government has given up on those affected by the flood. They haven’t.

But what Hashim was getting at was that many of the flood victims had nothing to begin with. So whatever help is given doesn’t address the root cause: Poverty.

As I walk around the districts of Sindh Province, the poverty is visible on every corner.

Flood victims or not, helping everyone here is a mammoth if not impossible task. I asked Hashim what constitutes a successful aid effort. “If we can get them back to how they were before,” he says.

In many ways that means getting out of the camps, and into the communities where they came from. Houses that are simple brick structures, that don’t have electricity or running water.

Where one meal a day is standard for many. Where children run around, no school to go to, no playground to play in. Whatever you think of that, it beats a camp.

But the camps are still home for some. The numbers are impossible to gather, and things have simply stagnated for those who are stuck there. Whose homes are still underwater.

They remain, with no hope.


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