World Agenda

Last updated: 25 november, 2010 - 10:34 GMT

Revisiting Pakistan’s flood victims

Jill McGivering (left) and producer Caroline Finnigan recording for Assignment in a flood-affected village in Pakistan

Jill McGivering (left) and producer Caroline Finnigan recording for Assignment in a flood-affected village in Pakistan

Award-winning BBC correspondent Jill McGivering gives a personal account of her first return to Pakistan since the floods and admits to feeling a sense of helplessness while reporting on the plight of communities.

I’ve reported from Pakistan a great deal in the last few years, making programmes about growing militancy and the impact of the violence on local people. I also covered the catastrophic floods here in August.

Now, on this return visit, my focus is on the aftermath of those floods. But the threat of militant attacks is still a constant presence.

I know from personal experience how quickly journalists can get caught up in sudden outbreaks of violence. It happened to me less than two years ago when I went to Lahore to make a documentary.

Militants launched a sustained assault on a police training academy in the city. My producer Caroline Finnigan and I abandoned our own plans and dashed down to the scene.

They tell me their stories because they want me to solve their problems and provide what they need. Of course I can’t. All I can do is report and I find it hard not to feel guilt about that each time I drive away.

BBC correspondent Jill McGivering

We ended up crouching behind a low wall on a rooftop across the street from the academy, reporting live for eight hours.

Careful measures

This time, I’m travelling through rural parts of southern Punjab, where there are few Westerners.

Caroline and I are well aware of how conspicuous we are.

We stay in a small guesthouse and its owner is also aware of the potential dangers.

We’re careful to keep in daily contact with the BBC’s high-risk team and the bureau chief in Islamabad and to take their advice.

Damaged infrastructure

There are logistical challenges too as we travel to communities which were badly hit by the floods and are now living in tents.

The physical infrastructure all around them has been badly damaged. Some roads have been swept away, leaving little but sand.

At times, the jeep struggles. We drive along one road which ends abruptly at the River Indus which carried much of the floodwater in August.

Pakistan's flood-affected landscape, showing a road surface reduced to sand

Pakistan's flood-affected landscape, showing a road surface reduced to sand

The bridge which carried the road has completely disappeared, leaving jagged edges on both banks and nothing in between.

Winter approaching

The relief and reconstruction effort is being implemented on a vast scale.

The government has rolled out a massive compensation scheme and many groups, including local and international charities, are helping to provide tents, blankets, medicine and food.

But there’s still a great deal of unmet need.

Winter is approaching. People sleeping in flimsy tents at night say they lack quilts and blankets to keep warm and, as a result, their children are already becoming ill.

Feelings of guilt

There’s also a lot of anger.

I’m repeatedly mobbed by local people who shout that the government is failing to help them, that officials who distribute aid are corrupt and that promised compensation hasn’t reached them.

They tell me their stories because they want me to solve their problems and provide what they need.

Of course I can’t. All I can do is report and I find it hard not to feel guilt about that each time I drive away.

Problems compounded

Jill McGivering and Caroline Finnigan interviewing a woman who has lost her house and belongings in the floods and complains that she is not getting aid

Jill and Caroline interviewing a woman who has lost her house and belongings in the floods and complains that she is not getting aid

I do put their complaints to the government in Islamabad.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik insists that the system is working and that the government’s performance is not at fault.

The cry of ‘corruption’ is just an easy slogan, he says.

It is clear though that Pakistan was already dogged by many serious problems, including militancy and economic crisis, and for millions here, the floods have only compounded that misery.

You can hear Jill McGivering’s documentary Anger in Punjab in this Thursday’s edition of Assignment on the BBC World Service and by clicking click here

And to hear Jill’s award-winning documentary Dying to Give Birth, click click here

Also on World Agenda

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.