Despair of Pakistan's forgotten flood victims
- 28 October 2010
- From the section South Asia
Liaqat Babar, a farmer in Pakistan's Southern province of Sindh, sees just one escape from the hunger, loss and torment inflicted by the recent catastrophic floods. Suicide.
"When I see my kids, I feel like killing myself," he says.
"We are powerless. We just keep quiet and ask God for death."
Three months after the flooding which affected 20 million people and one fifth of the country, Liaqat has no home, no hope and no answers for his six children.
"They are crying for food, " he says.
"I tell them God will send someone very kind, and I send them to sleep. In the morning they ask again for food, and I say again that God will send someone."
Queuing in vain
Liaqat was among a throng of broken men queuing for hours under a blistering sun, at a distribution of aid in the town of Daur.
Like many other areas in Sindh, Daur is cut off by water - an island of desperation.
Troops were deployed to control the hungry, who began gathering at six in the morning.
With a single helicopter the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) could only bring in 250-300 rations. But three or four times that number had joined the queue.
"It is heartbreaking," said WFP's Dorte Jessen, looking across at the swelling crowd.
"The need is so big, and you want to help everyone."
But they could not all be helped that day. Liaqat was among those who was left empty handed.
Soon there could be even less to go round. The WFP says it will have to cut rations - by half - in November because of a lack of donations. The UN's $2bn appeal for Pakistan is less than 40% funded.
Dying from hunger
There is already the spectre of malnutrition. It is always a problem in Sindh province and now it is rising dangerously, according to Dorte Jessen.
"In the camps we have been tracking, the malnutrition rate is shockingly high," she says.
"The rates were high before. Now they are alarmingly high."
In a hospital in the city of Sukkur we found some of hunger's young victims. The grimy airless paediatric ward was overcrowded.
Some of the seriously-ill children were two to a bed, among them a six-month-old boy called Ali Nawaz.
He was motionless and skeletal - his body shrunken by starvation. Ali Nawaz was also suffering from pneumonia - contracted from sleeping under an open sky.
His grandmother Mai Sehat was keeping a vigil by his side.
"We had no transport to take him anywhere," she said, through her tears.
"We are absolutely helpless due to poverty. We are in agony now, because of Ali Nawaz. I can't bear to look at him in this condition."
As she spoke she stroked his tiny frame, calling out to God again and again to give long life to her only grandchild.
Casualty of chaos
Other flood victims have already buried their children. In a camp in the town of Shikarpur we found two grieving families.
Basra Qurban lost her 18-month-old daughter Aasia during a chaotic food distribution. The little girl was knocked from her mother's arms and killed by her fall.
"Her back was broken on the spot," Basra said.
"When she was born we thought we would give her a good education and a good environment. That child was the most dear one."
Since the food distribution that killed her daughter two weeks ago, Basra has received no help.
"We are dying from hunger," she said. "Our only hope is in God."
Her neighbours in the camp say that when they protested about Aasia's death, the authorities responded fast.
"We had a sit-down protest and blocked the road," said Liaqat Hussain.
"People from the government came and beat us with sticks and told us to get back to the camp."
Like many others we met in our return visit to Sindh province, they told us they had received no help from the government.
It has admitted to a slow start in responding to the crisis, but months later it is still struggling to cope.
It is a short walk from the camp to the spot where Nimani Bakhsh buried her twin girls, Hanifa and Sharifa, in the shade of a large tree.
They lived for just 12 days. Nimani says they died of hunger because she could not produce enough milk.
"Please come back, my children," she said, weeping at the graveside.
"You have gone to the other world my children, but please come back. Oh God please bring them back."
Aasia, Hanifa and Sharifa are among the flood's hidden victims - their passing almost unnoticed. The fear is that many more will be at risk in the months ahead.
Aid agencies say many promises of help have receded with the flood waters. They warn that funds are drying up, as new threats are emerging.
Diseases are spreading, and winter is closing in on the 20 million flood victims - seven million of whom still do not have shelter.
We found some of them deep in the flood zone, in Dadu district. It took two hours to reach them, by boat. We travelled with the Pakistan army across farmland still buried beneath the water.
A young mother called Parveen was cradling her baby son Mohammed Hussain in her arms and wondering how he would survive the falling temperatures.
She and thousands of others are marooned on a network of embankments, hostage to the flood waters, and exposed to heat, cold and mosquitoes.
"We are worried about the winter," she said. "We have no blankets and no warm clothes, and there is nothing to eat."
After two months on the embankments they do not even have tents - failed by their leaders, and by the international community.