Pakistan floods: Aid worker's diary
- 13 August 2010
- From the section South Asia
Zulfiquar Ali Haider is a public health engineer working for the charity Oxfam in flood-hit northern Pakistan. He is in Swat - one of the worst-hit areas - and this is his eyewitness account:
Oxfam focuses on supplying clean water in emergencies because it is vital.
There is lots water around, but it is dirty and contaminated. Water-borne diseases, like diarrhoea, are a huge risk in the aftermath of a disaster like this, and children are especially vulnerable.
A sip from a stagnant pool can be deadly.
This is why in Swat we are rehabilitating municipal water systems and trucking water to people.
Food is also a key need. Our livelihoods and food security team has been visiting Swat and assessing how we can help people access food.
They have found that local markets are still in existence and functioning, but those who have lost most cannot afford to buy food.
We are looking to introduce vouchers, which people can swap at market stalls for food. This is quicker than bringing food in and provides a boost to the shattered local economy.
This disaster will reverberate for sometime. The losses have just been tremendous.
But some things have survived and we want to preserve them. Many cattle were washed away, but not all of them.
The ones that survived are weak and vulnerable and could still succumb to disease. If they survive they are a source of income for their owners, if they are lost, their owners are more desperate still. We are planning to vaccinate the surviving animals against disease.
The weather forecasts for the country look grim again. The front page of local newspaper Dawn says that a massive flood may inundate four districts of Punjab and eight districts in Sindh this weekend.
I wonder when this will end.
Oxfam's humanitarian director, Jane Cocking, was in Swat with me today visiting flood-affected people and seeing Oxfam's programmes. Much of Swat is cut off and roads have been completely washed away. She said she was stunned by people's resilience.
We met people who had walked down from their villages. Old men, women and children had walked for two days to collect one bag of food which they were going to take back with them.
Thousands of people still have no access to fresh water and food that they desperately need. Oxfam has called this crisis a mega-disaster and it really is. There is still so much to do to get aid to those who need it.
The crisis is also countrywide. Even being here, that is hard for me to fathom. Sukkur barrage is headlining the media as the next possible place to be hit by flood water. If it happens, officials predict that many parts of the Sindh province will go under water. It is roughly 1,300km (800 miles) south of me.
I spoke to a colleague in Sindh today, he was in the city of Sukkur. He said it was tense. He saw many people stopping their cars and anxiously looking down to the Indus River to measure the increase in water level.
He said he had reached a place called Bandar Road by the riverside. There he saw many people of all ages on the streets with their belongings. They said their villages had been submerged by the floods and that they had nowhere to live apart from the city's streets.
Monsoon season is far from over. I fear that we have not seen the worst of this disaster.
Sometimes I wonder how much more misery this country can take.
The front of today's newspaper says that 750,000 people were ordered to evacuate Muzaffargarh town in Southern Punjab, when some had already fled flooding in other areas.
The minister whose constituency the town falls in was apparently in tears when she spoke about it in a press conference.
There has been so much destruction, but the rains keep coming. I find myself wondering when it will end.
There have been heavy rains in Swat again today.
We managed to keep most of the trucking of clean water going, but we had to stop work in one of the outlying villages called Fatehpur, where we were planning to distribute hygiene kits (which include items like soap and buckets) and household kits (which include pots and mats) to 435 families.
This location is about 15km (9 miles) away from the centre of our operations in Mingora, but there were risks of mudslides on the road, so we could not get there.
We brainstormed on what we would do if it rained again tomorrow.
The rains don't seem to be stopping anytime soon, so we need to be creative in our approach.
We worked out that we could drive safely for a certain distance and then we'd carry the items to their destination on our heads for the last kilometres. These people have lost everything; they are relying on us to get this aid to them.
Other problems have emerged. We have found that some families have not been collecting the water that we are trucking to them.
Women in this area do not leave their homes without a man accompanying them, so when their husbands have been on other business, there has been no-one to collect the water and they have gone without.
I met with a local civil society organisation and we discussed mobilising volunteers to take this water to the women in their homes. They need the clean water so I want to see that they get it.
People in Swat have so many stories to tell the world. I am afraid none of them are happy stories.
Today I met 40-year-old Akbar Ali, a father of four, in Amirzeb village in Swat where I was distributing relief from Oxfam.
Ali, a strongly built 6-ft-tall man, seems devastated.
Gushing floodwaters washed away all his belongings as well as the three buildings that made up his home.
I went with Ali to see the wreckage and it was a heart-wrenching experience.
A person new in the area might think that the buildings had collapsed as the result of an earthquake.
It is really hard to believe that floodwater can cause such destruction. However, it is the reality.
I feel really sad to look into the eyes of Ali's daughters. They are not supposed to undergo such cruelty.
News from elsewhere in Pakistan is equally grim.
I was speaking with my colleague, Faisal Gilani, who was in Nowshera district today.
It is in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the same province where Swat is.
The story is the same - brutal and heartbreaking.
Gilani tells me that all he can see is destruction around him.
Roads are damaged, houses have collapsed and many people are living on the road with their belongings.
All the flood shelters are overcrowded and like Swat there is no electricity in Nowshera.
He said he saw people who had become homeless collecting bricks and remaining pieces of their homes.
According to Gilani, authorities in Khandarkale village have lost all the official records - including census, revenue and land record papers - since flood waters have washed away everything.
I thought to myself: perhaps records are less important now because surviving here has become the biggest challenge for people.
It's been raining heavily in Swat valley since Friday night. The rain stopped in the late afternoon on Saturday.
With the surge and the intensity of rain, I see that apprehension among people of Swat is increasing.
Some of them have gone near to the Swat River to observe the rise of the water level amid heavy rain. I could see their grim faces even from distant while I was returning to my office after distributing relief amongst flood-hit people.
This miserable and dreadful rain has forced our relief work to slow down. It is because some of the roads we need to take to reach flood-affected people are at risk of mudslides.
On Saturday a small group of Oxfam colleagues led by the country director of Oxfam GB's Pakistan programme Neva Khan had to abandon their trip to Swat as mudslides resulted from heavy rainfall caused a road blockade at Malakandh Pass. The group was coming from Islamabad.
However, in Swat amid this heavy rainfall we distributed soaps, mugs, sanitary towels, clean drinking water and shelter kits among around 222 families in the municipality area.
In addition to that, one of our teams went to a village call Morgojor to distribute relief materials. This village is 20 kilometres (13 miles) away from the Swat municipality area. The road our team had taken became at risk of mudslides against the backdrop of heavy rainfall.
The team leader of that group said to me over the phone that they would wait for the rain to slow down and will start again. These natural risks are now becoming a general reality for us.
We are trying to reach more people but our job is becoming very difficult since the geographic structure of Swat and continuous rain making it harder and harder,
But we will keep trying.
As I approached Swat on 3 August, I saw collapsed houses on both sides of the road. Many of the people had come out into the streets because they no longer had a home.
The ferocity of the floods took villagers by surprise They spent their nights stranded, under open sky, sometimes in the rain.
It is a very difficult time for the people of Swat as they are sandwiched between serious disaster and conflict. I wonder how much stress people can take in one life.
I have been in many disaster zones in the world for my job. Floods are nothing new to me, but what strikes me here is the level of shock among the people.
I have been speaking to many of the victims. The flood has taken them by complete surprise.
Many parts of Swat are still not accessible because road transport systems have completely collapsed.
Oxfam is trying to reach the most inaccessible areas.
We have identified 13 severely damaged places where there is little or no response from international aid agencies.
We need to walk for hours and even ride donkeys to reach some of those areas, but we are determined to reach them with our support soon.