Is Pakistan 'failing' the people hit by the floods?
- 22 September 2011
- From the section South Asia
Pakistan's most needy are being left to fend for themselves after flooding devastated much of southern Sindh province.
It is astonishing and depressing that this is all happening again. Only this time, for the people of southern Pakistan, things appear even worse.
In travelling the vast flood-hit areas as we have been doing, what is striking this year, as compared to last, is the massive number of people who tell us they have had no help at all - not from aid agencies, not from the army and not from the government of Pakistan.
On the same day that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani gave bold assurances that flood victims could stay in government relief camps as long as they wanted and would all get the shelter and food they needed, we were travelling through rural Sindh.
On the highways that had not been swallowed by the waters, we saw thousands sleeping out in the open, on the roads.
Close to his destroyed village of Kamaro Sharif, we found Allahdeeno.
"What camps?" he asked us. "We've been everywhere around here. There are no government camps here."
The more we travelled, over hours and then days, the more we heard the same thing.
People in the district of Mirpurkhas, living close to the carcasses of drowned livestock, told us they were so desperate they had even been drinking the stagnant floodwaters.
Close to the town of Kandiari, we came across a group of women standing in the road, crying that their children were dying and that no-one cared.
At the new vegetable market in the city of Hyderabad, however, we found a sign reading: "Government medical relief camp".
It was run jointly with a charity and 2,000 people were living in enclosures meant for market traders. But even here they said that, for the most part, they had been left to fend for themselves.
It was in this camp that we met Sami, a young mother rocking back and forth with her one-year-old son, Nisar, in her arms.
She was crying. Hours earlier, her four-year-old daughter Maira had died. She told me how after her family home had been submerged by the floods they sought shelter at this camp, but then Maira became weak.
Then she pointed to her son: "He is in the same condition."
Nisar looked bony, gaunt and fragile. She said he had not eaten for days and that even in the camp they had not been given proper food.
We took mother and son to the camp's doctor, who pronounced Nisar severely malnourished and in need of milk. When asked why the boy was not given milk, the doctor told us that was not his job.
One person who claimed to be a camp organiser told me, pulling thousands of rupees from his back pocket, that money was not the problem.
"These are poor people. They were malnourished before they came here," he said.
We reminded him of his duties and left with a promise that all the children would get fed that night.
I raised these issues at the home of two brothers, Rais and Shafiq, who put us up that night when our car broke down in Mirpurkhas town.
"People from here are the poorest in Pakistan," said Rais. "They have no voice. That's why you can't see any aid coming this year. If a poor child dies, who will care?"
And Shafiq told me Pakistanis themselves - otherwise a generous people - hesitate to give to official relief funds now.
"No-one believes the money will be spent properly," he said.
And he predicted international help could no longer be relied on.
"The world doesn't believe Pakistan any more," he said, "and why should they?
"We have all the resources a country could want, but everything is badly managed and we always have our begging bowl out."
The authorities here will tell you they were already economically stretched, fighting a war against militants amongst other troubles.
They also say that no country in the world could have coped with a disaster affecting so many millions of people.
But incompetence, neglect and a now deep-rooted culture of corruption are undoubtedly adding to people's suffering.
Many Pakistanis bristle at the suggestion their country is a "failed state" but Pakistan is now failing Sami and her tiny son, Nisar, and hundreds of thousands of its most vulnerable citizens.
And the world has not yet come to their rescue.
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