UNICEF Communication Officer Zeeshan Suhail recently toured the flood-devastated Sindh province of Pakistan. Below is his first-hand account.
I recently travelled with UNICEF photographer Asad Zaidi to the flood-hit districts of Jacobabad and Shikarpur in northern Sindh. Our goal was to listen and talk to families, in particular children, who were displaced by flooding due to this yearâ€™s monsoon rains, which have caused heavy damage in 15 districts in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan provinces. According to the National Disaster Management Authority, almost 5.06 million people have been affected and nearly 460,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed, causing widespread displacement. We wanted to highlight the severity of the situation on the ground and UNICEF and partnersâ€™ work to support people through this crisis and beyond.
On the first day we visited Jacobabad, the worst-affected district in Sindh. Two weeks after the last of the monsoon rains lashed the locality, we saw nothing but rice and cotton fields still flooded. Most had up to two feet of water, but other areas had nearly five feet. On our drive through the district, tents lined the narrow highway, with multiple dwellers seeking shelter in one tent. When I asked them why they made their temporary homes here, their response was simple: It was higher ground. Some had moved the very day the rain started pouring, while others came a few days after it stopped raining.
Clean Water from UNICEF
I was so proud to see that most roadside communities were receiving safe drinking water from UNICEF water trucks. People saw the trucks from afar and got their pots, bottles and cans ready in advance of the trucksâ€™ arrival. We also noticed a convoy of World Food Program trucks offloading flour, while our friends from the Pakistan Red Crescent Society were purifying water for flood-affected families.
Displacement Causes Health Risks
When we arrived, many families had moved from their homes and villages to the nearest high groundâ€”be it close to their home or further away on a road or highway. Most left because their homes were badly damaged or destroyed. Some stayed because they managed to find high ground in their vicinity.
We met many families in one particular village, Chandran, who had lugged all the belongings they could save and stowed them in the nearest, large brick home of a local landowner who was in the city when the floods struck. He permitted them to stay till the water receded. It will be many weeks before they will return to their homes â€”some will shift back, while others will reconstructâ€”since the water recession process has been slow. The stagnating water has become home to countless disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Itâ€™s an awful sight to see young children playing in that water, blissfully unaware of the risks it poses.
Schooling and Services Disrupted
We met many children who had just resumed school after the summer hiatus, but their education was disrupted due to the floods. In fact, many school buildings, as well as basic health facilities, were badly damaged and areÂ still under water. I shudder to think how people seek medical assistance in an emergency of this nature. Many of the roadside tent dwellers had similar concerns: the need for food, water, sanitation, reconstruction support and health care.
We also met with a senior health official in Jacobabad, the Executive District Officer (EDO) for Health. His request from UNICEF was clear: his office needed support in restoring the damaged cold chain for vaccines, as well as replacement of the vaccines that had been destroyed. In the aftermath of emergencies, children are at risk of abuse, exploitation and violence. According to the EDOâ€™s office, there were no reports of children being kidnapped or trafficked in northern Sindh. Protection of children after emergencies is a top priority for UNICEF and those we work with.
One man in Shikarpur told me about his familyâ€™s difficulties in coping with the aftermath of the floods. â€śDisease-infected flies bother us during the day; malaria and dengue mosquitos at night. What is one to do?â€ť Indeed, as waters recede, it will take months for flood-affected communities to achieve any sense of normalcy. Many lost their rice crop which was nearly ready to be harvested. Now their fears are heightened for the upcoming wheat crop. If the water doesnâ€™t dry in time, they will have lost the opportunity to harvest two major cash crops by the time next year’s monsoon comes around.
Resilience and Hope Amid Suffering
We were only able to spend two days among the flood-affected communities of northern Sindh, but we were able to see a lot more than just the misery these families hadÂ encountered. The people we metÂ displayed resilience and hope despite their losses. Itâ€™s now up to usÂ in the humanitarian community to ensure we donâ€™t let them down.
You can support Pakistan’sÂ flood victims by donating to UNICEF’s disaster relief efforts for the childrenÂ of Pakistan.