South Asia

Pakistan Indus flood diary - day four

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Media captionPeople crowd an aid distribution centre in northern Punjab

This week, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool is tracing the path of destruction wreaked by Pakistan's recent floods by travelling the length of the country on the mighty Indus river.

In his diary's fourth instalment, he sees how officials are struggling to cope with the huge humanitarian impact of the disaster. Aleem will finish his travels in the southern province of Sindh.


The fourth leg of our journey has been dominated by an incredibly sad illustration of the desperation that millions have been left to endure in the wake of the floods.

But the day had started very differently.

Image caption Flood victims desperate for help rushed the truck carrying aid. Image: Bhasker Solanki

Our drive south along the Indus took us to the city of Muzaffargarh, where we met the government official, Tahir Khurshid, in his office.

As we sat there, we watched a stream of local residents come to ask for help.

"We'll be handing out 20,000 rupees to every family on Monday," he told them all. "Just be patient." And the visitors would traipse out.

Mr Khurshid showed us detailed maps of the flood-affected areas and daily target sheets he and his staff had drawn up.

We started to become convinced that while the area had been one of the worst hit, it had an administration that was focussed and that the situation was under control. We were told no-one had been left out of the aid effort.

We should have known that when a district has an estimated 300,000 families affected, and more than 700,000 acres of land had been under water, including fertile agricultural areas, that it was far too good to be true.

It soon become clear the suffering here is, in reality, almost too widespread to comprehend.

We had been told of a government food distribution that was taking place further south and Mr Khurshid agreed to accompany us there.

Hundreds of people who had lost their homes, livelihoods and belongings were waiting for the aid truck by the time it arrived.

Six weeks since the crisis began, and with no jobs or possessions, few of them had the means to help themselves and had become totally dependent on handouts.

"It is all very organised," Mr Khurshid said. "We take a look at people's ID cards and if they are indeed from areas that were submerged, then they will get food."

Several sacks containing rice, sugar, oil and other basics certainly were handed out in an orderly manner, but in a matter of seconds, the mood changed.

Some flood victims got turned away, others started to worry that the food would run out before their turn had come. Panic set in, and the distribution descended into chaos.

The crowd surged towards the truck, fighting each other to get close. From all sides, men started clambering up the sides of the vehicle and jumping on to the sacks of aid and trying to pass them down.

More and more followed suit. Our cameraman, Bhasker, had been filming from the truck, but was soon surrounded by frantic people trying to lay their hands on whatever goods they could.

As the situation got all the more dangerous, the decision was taken to drive the truck, complete with dozens of flood victims - and our cameraman - away from the rest of the crowd so no more people could get in.

Image caption The distribution of aid quickly descended into chaos. Image: Bhasker Solanki

We followed the huge truck as it sped down the highway, filled with people, past areas that were still under water. An extraordinary sight.

It finally slowed down enough for all the men to climb out, still clinging to their new rations.

But one person remained in the back of truck.

Looking wide-eyed and frightened was a thin, old woman. She rushed from one side of the truck to the other, looking over the sides but too scared to climb down.

Despairing, she crouched inside the vehicle until some people clambered back into the truck to help her.

Barefoot, she walked past us back down the road we had driven along at such speed. She was gripping a bag of sugar and a bottle of cooking oil, and sobbing.