Tears and Hope for Pakistan's Flood Victims
Since July 31, 2010, one fifth of the nation of Pakistan has been gradually submerged under the most devastating floods of its existence. The United Nations estimates that the deluge has affected 21 million people, ruined 9 million acres of farmland and left 72,000 children at “high risk of death”, with millions of others vulnerable to waterborne disease.
With overwhelming figures like this, what can one person do? Yet to save even a single life is to save a nation, for what is a nation but a collection of lives? This view has given YWAM Pakistan courage to face the overwhelming challenge that was all around.
On September 5, our convoy of four vehicles, twenty-five volunteers, and 5,500kg of relief supplies set out to the areas around Pakistan’s southeastern city of Thatta. Tent cities there, erected by hundreds of charitable organizations, are accommodating thousands of Pakistanis who have sought refuge from the floods, having seen homes, livestock, and on many occasions, loved ones, engulfed by what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s described as a “slow-moving tsunami.”
Further out, in Makli, the site of the Moghul-era “world’s biggest graveyard”, things are much less organized: People and belongings, only some with tents, are camped out right across the cemetery.
Hunger and sickness lurk everywhere and virtually everybody is impoverished. Most of the victims were poor to begin with, now their situation is simply even more hopeless, and injustice abounds. The rich disappeared to safety in the nick of time, but few warned the poor of the impending flood. Now the peasants are too terrified to think of returning home, afraid they will be blamed for the loss of crops they were tending. Despite this, many of those in the “tent cities” have been encouraged by the efforts of various relief groups in recent weeks.
We decided to carry on and the situation changed further. As we drive, the roads gradually worsen, and people accustomed to suffering sit passively on the side of the highway. A truck laden with food staples does not induce hysteria, for the truly poor know all too well not to get their hopes up.
At the first village we stop by a building perched on high ground, a police inspector in charge emerges and greets us. He is relieved to hear that we have come with food (flour, oil and tea) and hand-fans (when we surveyed several camps, we noticed that most people had no way to stay cool inside their sweltering tents). He tells us that nobody has come here for ten days despite the fact that the devastation occurred weeks ago. We distribute aid and then move on, hearing there are victims in even more desperate need further out.
Soon, the winding, bumpy road, about 10 meters higher than the surrounding inundated countryside, is the only consistently dry land in the area. We finally come upon a group of fishermen and their families encamped on the road. Their former village, somewhere in the waters off to the left, no longer exists. They tell us we are the first relief to arrive, an agonizing three weeks after the floods struck. A few adults have gone out in search of help but have yet to return. Their children are left to the care of other villagers.
As we begin making our way through the various makeshift shelters, handing out supplies, the stories begin to flow. We notice fishing nets carefully laid outside many of the homes. Our leader asks one man if there are still fish to catch, he shrugs and says yes, but nobody to sell them to. An elderly woman tells us today she was pleading with God to please send somebody, anybody, to help – and there we were! God has listened. Many of those we meet tell us they have lost loved ones in the flood. Some have no family left at all. For their sake, I am grateful for the profound sense of community we discover here.
Yet the needs are immense. For now there is food, but how long can a person go without eating grains, vegetables or fruit? How long until disease strikes, when there is no clean water for drinking, cooking or washing? Without modern medical treatment, many of these people will die of preventable illness. Children have swollen bellies and others are covered in skin infections.
As we prepare to leave the fishermen’s community, people gather. We decide to take a group photo, and the children, scruffy to the last one, shriek with glee as a village prankster holds up a tiny snake on a stick, successfully eliciting smiles all around for the photo. Our new friends walk us to our vehicles, waving goodbye as we clamber in. Much more than relief distribution has occurred – friendship has been born.
As we drive away, carefully retracing the dusty, bumpy route, a boy runs after us, clutching something in his hand. Our van slows down and he passes up a bag to one of our volunteers… a gift of fresh fish.
This one-day outreach provided aid to about 1,200 people. It was just one relief project of many YWAM is organizing for the flood victims. We are working to deliver shipments of water filters, winter clothing, medical supplies and more for these and other communities of Pakistan's flood victims. Find out more at www.ywamrelief.org.uk or click below to donate.