IRC on the Ground in Flood-Ravaged Pakistan: “The Situation Is Desperate”
A girl looks at the damage from a wall after her family returned to find their home destroyed from heavy floods in Nowshera, in northwestern Pakistan.
Photo: REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood, courtesy www.AlertNet.org
The International Rescue Committee is on the ground providing aid to victims of the worst flooding in Pakistan’s modern history. At least 1,400 people have been killed and three million people have been affected by the devastating monsoon rains.
“Our greatest concern right now is that people’s supplies of drinking water have been contaminated by the flood waters,” said the IRC’s Pakistan director Tammy Hasselfeldt. “The reports of diarrhea and gastrointestinal problems are rapidly increasing.”
In response, the IRC will, in the coming weeks, launch a major aid effort to clean contaminated wells and repair broken water systems.
“In the first phase, as water levels are slowly receding, we are also going to distribute plastic sheeting for shelter, blankets, bednets to prevent malaria, hygiene material, water purification tablets and other essential material,” Hasselfeldt said.
The monsoon rains continued this week making it extremely difficult for aid workers to reach the affected areas. IRC teams on the ground report that large areas of northwestern Pakistan have suffered extensive damage with entire villages, roads, bridges and dams washed away in the deluge. The communication infrastructure has also been destroyed, effectively cutting off towns and villages from the outside world.
“While we are active in 11 districts across northwestern Pakistan, our response at present will target the worst affected districts: Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Noweshera, Charsadda, Swat and Dir,” Hasselfeldt said.
In the past week, IRC teams visited some 200 villages in Swat district and estimates that nearly 200,000 people remain trapped by broken roads and bridges and are awaiting assistance. On July 31, IRC teams rented all-terrain vehicles and ferried 300 desperate people from villages in the Bahrain, Maidan and Matta areas to higher ground across a treacherous mountain pass.
“Our staff report that the floods have caused extensive landslides across Swat,” Hasselfedt said. “Whole villages have been washed away in the current, along with livestock, medical supplies and food. Residents have few means to find shelter from ongoing rainstorms or the daytime heat.”
Soon firewood too will be in short supply. The little dry wood that is available is prioritized for cooking and staying warm in the cool evenings rather than for boiling water, which has contributed to the increase in disease.
To make matters worse, forecasters predict more flash floods in the devastated northwest and other parts of the country in the coming days. So far, nearly one million people have lost their homes or have been forced to flee, according to the United Nations. Some 1.8 million are in need of food aid.
“The situation is desperate,” Hasselfedt said. “It will take a very long time and increased support from the outside world to help people recover from this catastrophe.”