A series of eyewitness accounts from volunteers at relief camps across the country:
Last weekend I accompanied the PYA team that went to Rajanpur. At midnight on August 14, I was in Lahore surrounded by 50 young volunteers who were packing the food ration packs for the flood affectees. The night of Independence Day was spent packing and loading relief items on the trucks. Quite a few of these volunteers joined us on very short notice when I asked for help on Twitter.
We left Lahore at noon the next day and constantly provided live updates and coverage via Twitter (@hushamahmed and @ali_abbas_zaidi). The Muzaffargarh-DG Khan road link to reach Rajanpur was closed so we had to take the longer route. The journey which normally 10 hours took us around 18 hours as we traveled Multan, Sadiqabad, and then finally entered Sindh from Kot Sabzal. Traffic was disrupted at most places, so had to make stops at Rahimyar Khan and then at Kot Sabzal as water flooding the fields often had at quite a few points inundated the road. From Kashmore we entered into the Punjab after which we then headed north towards Rajanpur.
Rajanpur city has been saved from the devastation of floods but hundreds of thousands of acres of crops have been damaged. The cotton belt of south Punjab and sugar-cane farmers have suffered an immense blow. Our target was Tehsil Jampur, one of the most affected area of district Rajanpur.
As we entered Jampur, we realised that the supplies we had brought with us would not have proved enough for the thousands of residents who had their homes destroyed and were out in the open. Jampur, famous for its woodwork and furniture , was now completely flooded under many feet of water. The main town had just one hospital and when the flood came, the boundary walls collapsed, sweeping away everything. The local graveyard, built on the land provided by a Hindu landlord Ram Thakur Das, had been ravaged while the historic Islamia College building lay submerged in water. Security was very fragile in the area; I heard reports of many incidents where thieves had come on boats to steal belongings and whatever remained in the abandoned houses. Even the ceiling fans of the flooded hospital had been stolen.
Jampur presented a textbook case of limited capacity of the state. The district administration was conspicuously absent. Apart from the one or two relief camps set up in the few government buildings, nothing else could be seen. Furthermore, the feudal rivalries in the area had exacerbated the woes of locals. The decisions to make cuts in the river bank and to create bunds were being made on the whims of a few. Flood relief efforts, the few which had started, were seen as a rivalry between Gurchanis and Ghazalis. It had all come down to the matter of who voted for whom. Aftab Mastoi, a local, said, “Our MPA has gone to America. Our MNA is not here as well. We have been abandoned by the Punjab government once again.”
We traveled to the area of Kot Adewal in Tehsil Jampur which was only accessible through boats. What we witnessed there was heart-wrenching. It was a narrow long strip of road with water on both sides. There were thousands of people out in the open in the scorching heat with their trunks and cattle on the road and using their charpoi as their only shelter. Diseases like gastroenteritis and other infections were rampant. People were reluctant to move from there even as the water level rose.
As the relief goods of the team were being moved to the distribution point, they were attacked by a violent mob. The government has to ensure security for all relief organisations if they want to make sure that people visit the far flung areas to deliver aid.
Jampur has been one of the hardest hit areas and the floods have turned the clock many years back. In the words of Maryam Noor Malik, a volunteer of PYA, “I have traveled to Nowshehra and other areas of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa before. I admit the damage there is immense, especially as far as number of casualties is concerned. But the helplessness and dismal conditions, which I have seen here in Jampur and in other areas of South Punjab, surpass anything else. There are hundreds of thousands of people here in the open without any shelter.”
The devastation caused by floods is colossal. The response, relief and rehabilitation, has to match the scale of disaster. For the time being we are lagging far behind and the clock is ticking fast.
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