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Pakistan Flood Victims Tell of Suffering, Unfolding Disaster in Southern Sindh Province

StorySeptember 10, 2010
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Pakistan is still reeling from the worst floods in its history. Some 21 million people have been affected even as the flooding continues. Forty villages were submerged in the past few days, and a fifty-foot breach in an embankment this morning has sent flood waters surging toward three more towns. Independent journalist Madiha Tahir was in the flood-ravaged Sindh province last week and filed this report from Sukkur. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Pakistan is still reeling from the worst floods in its history. The top United Nations emergency relief official, Baroness Amos, visited the southern Pakistani province of Sindh this week and described the disaster as an immense and still unfolding catastrophe. She said there is a new emergency being created every day, adding that people were most concerned about diseases, hunger and the lack of adequate shelter.

AMY GOODMAN: Some 21 million people have been affected, even as the flooding continues. Forty villages were submerged in the past few days, and a fifty-foot breach in an embankment this morning has sent flood waters surging towards three more towns.

Well, independent journalist Madiha Tahir was in the flood-ravaged Sindh province this past week and filed her report from Sukkur.

    MADIHA TAHIR: This was once farmland, but now it takes a boat to get across. Beneath the water, which is fifteen to thirty feet deep, lie the remains of rice and wheat crops, the only income for many of the poor here in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh.

    This is one of several villages in the area that’s been utterly devastated by the floods. Every single home here has been completely destroyed, and there’s water on all sides.

    VILLAGE WOMAN: [translated] There were thirty houses, and all thirty were destroyed. We sleep under the open sky.

    VILLAGE MAN: [translated] We were asleep, and we didn’t know the flood was coming. We realized it when things started to fall and the water flowed under our beds.

    MADIHA TAHIR: Those who found transport have fled to camps. That’s where the government appears to be focusing its relief efforts. This is Larkana, the hometown of the Bhutto family. And at this food distribution site, the government is working with one of the largest Pakistani NGOs, the Sindh Rural Support Organization, or SRSO, along with the UN’s World Food Program, to deliver food to 60,000 individuals. Saqib Khan works with SRSO to track distributions.

    SAQIB KHAN: So, yesterday the SRSO team went out to a couple of camps, and they assessed the number of families there. The workers have pretty much been going around the clock. In the last thirty-six hours, people have slept about three hours. Yeah, they’re exhausted, but they’re still at it.

    MADIHA TAHIR: The organizers expect to distribute to 800 families today. Khan explains how the distribution process works.

    SAQIB KHAN: There are usually two people who are registering, and there are rangers for protection and security, and then there is labor.

    MADIHA TAHIR: Some of that labor are internally displaced people, or IDPs, themselves.

    INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSON: [translated] We’re grateful that we’re getting paid and they’re giving us food to eat. We’re unloading a truck every two to three hours. We get 150 rupees per truck. That’s good enough, I guess.

    MADIHA TAHIR: Dr. Sono Khangharani heads SRSO. He says the Sindh provincial government has been a critical partner, providing funds as well as services.

    DR. SONO KHANGHARANI: It was a very difficult task for the government, so I think it’s been a joint effort. Take my example. I have been protected. I have been given security wherever, even in the middle of the night and early in the morning. At whatever time I had required the security, government has provided that security. If that security would have not been there, my organization would have not been able to even distribute a penny.

    MADIHA TAHIR: But while the government has partnered with larger NGOs, many smaller organizations and private camp sites have also cropped up. They may get funds and goods from the government, but there is little oversight. At these camps, everything, from access to food and medical help, is becoming a problem.

    This is Ayesha Zadi. She has lost two girls. They fell ill after coming to a small camp only a few miles from Sukkur city.

    AYESHA ZADI: [translated] I took them to the hospital, but I didn’t have money, so they didn’t get treatment. So I put them in the government hospital. One daughter died on the first day. The second died on the second day. We didn’t have a proper funeral for them. I couldn’t even afford a coffin.

    MADIHA TAHIR: The elder daughter, Nasima, was six years old. Her sister Samina was only twelve months.

    AYESHA ZADI: [translated] It’s making me sad to remember my children. I remember how much pain they were in. My children suffered.

    MADIHA TAHIR: Ayesha’s camp is run by a small local organization called SPSO. It was only recently registered as an NGO. The camp is 450 makeshift tents constructed from sheets provided by USAID and sticks that the IDPs have bought themselves. The residents here complain that the tents are hot and, most importantly, that they get food and water only sporadically. Hamza Mahesar is one of the camp administrators. He admits that food provided by the district government is running low, because they have many more refugees than they initially planned for.

    HAMZA MAHESAR: [translated] The government couldn’t handle 400 camps here. They said they would increase food slowly.

    MADIHA TAHIR: Mahesar expects another 400 camps at this site soon, totaling over 900 camps, each with a family. That’s a hundred more families than were present at SRSO’s food distribution. But the total staff of Mahesar’s NGO is seven people. Still, he thinks the basic problem is not the lack of food nor the lack of staff, but the refugees.

    HAMZA MAHESAR: Discipline. Problem is discipline. [translated] We had to beat them with sticks just to be able to distribute food properly, but still they don’t learn. It is true, isn’t it?

    MADIHA TAHIR: Mahesar claims that additional staff is hired on a contractual basis as needed and that at least thirty volunteers have been helping at the camp. But during the afternoon, when meals were to be served, we saw no volunteers, no additional staff, and no food. For the refugees at this camp, that’s a sure sign that the government has abandoned them. And for Ayesha, it may mean more grief. Her youngest is now ill with a fever and stomach pains.

    AYESHA ZADI: [translated] No one has taken us in their care. No one is helping us.

    MADIHA TAHIR: Whether the government can, or will, remains to be seen.

AMY GOODMAN: Independent journalist Madiha Tahir reporting from Sindh province in Pakistan. Pakistan has experienced the worst flooding in its history.

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