Channel 4 reports seven weeks after Pakistan was hit by the worst floods in its history
Tens of thousands of people remain stranded in villages and farmsteads across the northwest of Sindh Province, seven weeks after Pakistan’s disastrous floods first struck.
Channel 4 News has flown over the region with US marines who are providing a lifeline to those marooned without any supplies in what is still an ocean of floodwater.
Even as this airlift continues, new areas are still being inundated. Further south, near the town of Dadu, we travelled to a region in which 150 villages have been flooded since Tuesday.
The fresh flooding is not due to more rain, but was caused by the breaching of levees surrounding Manchar Lake, which is fed by the Indus River and had grown to four times its normal size.
Flying out of the Pakistani Army base at Pano Aqil, four huge CH-53 Super Sea-Stallion helicopters and four smaller CH-46 Sea Knights have spent more than a month flying several such mercy-missions each day. Their airdrops have been focused on a region, on the east bank of the River Indus, southwest of the city of Jacobabad, whose population was evacuated last month.
From the air, travelling at 170 miles per hour, all you can see below is water, stretching from horizon to horizon for mile after mile. The helicopters land where they can find enough dry ground to put down, but usually end up dropping their aid supplies, flour and high-energy biscuits, as they hover 20 feet above the ground.
The US Marines, accompanied by Pakistani soldiers, are greeted by scenes of desperation, as hungry villagers, who will not have eaten properly in weeks, chase after the jettisoned boxes and sacks and fight the powerful downdraft of the helicopter rotors to get to them first. It is the survival of the fastest.
The Marines, many of whom until this mission had been stationed in the Gulf of Aden in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, have been deeply affected by what they have witnessed in Pakistan.
“I see our mission here as trying to help people who are starving. I see our mission as trying to alleviate human suffering. That is our mission,” said Rear Admiral Sinclair Harris, Commander of Expeditionary Strike Group Five.
“If a side bit of it happens with better will, better relations with the Pakistan government, that’s fine. I know we’ve made a difference, especially to those starving on ground. These people have not eaten for four to six weeks. We will do anything we can to get out and help them sustain while we wait for roads to open up. I know we’ve made a difference.”
Flying over this region we spotted many farms, villages, and even entire towns which had been entirely abandoned, their inhabitants evacuated to the hundreds of camps which have been set up for displaced people.
There are more than 200 such camps in the city of Sukkur, which straddles the Indus, a short distance from the big Pakistan army base from which the US Marines fly. More than 150,000 people have converged on Sukkur, having been forced to abandon their homes.
In villages where people do remain, drinking water sources will have been contaminated. No one has yet begun to assess the health situation in these isolated areas.
There have been warnings of a looming malarial epidemic as mosquitoes are breeding in huge numbers in the stinking, stagnant flood water as it evaporates. Other waterborne diseases pose serious health risks, while malnutrition, particularly among children, could lead to many deaths.
Rice crops in flooded areas are ruined and the seed crop destroyed. Ten million Pakistanis will be reliant on food aid for at least another year.
Ever greater numbers are being added to the ranks of the homeless. South of Dadu, near the town of Bhan Saeedabad, more than 150 villages have been submerged since Tuesday, the result of a kilometre-long breach in nearby Manchar Lake. The lake proved unable to cope with the pressure of floodwater build-up.
We took a boat to the village of Jadani, a few miles south of Bhan Saeedabad. Half the village has been submerged and many of its 650 residents have evacuated following a government warning. We heard of many villages, however, which were hit by the floodwater without warning.
‘Shock and sadness’
The rice fields of Jadani, which is home to the Pahnwar tribal clan, are now under six to eight feet of water. A woman whose house was also submerged told us: “We are in a state of shock and sadness. Many of our homes have been destroyed,” said Naseeba Khatoon.