They may simply disappear – communities devastated by floods need our support
Sep 22, 2020

Photo caption / Abdul Jabbar and his son Muhammad Hashim walk across floodwater. Their home was devastated during the recent monsoon floods. September 16, 2020, rural Mirpurkhas district, Sindh, Pakistan.

I have covered many stories of suffering and hardship, but I am heartbroken by what I have witnessed during an assignment for the World Food Programme.

On 13 September, near the city of Badin we entered the worst flood-affected areas. For kilometres we saw never-ending temporary camps of the dispossessed by the side of the main road, families living in hastily erected shelters with what few possessions they had left.

Some people walk long distances in search of fresh water, but others drink the dirty water which lapped the roadside. Many farmers have lost their cattle in the floods. Those whose livestock survived are doing all they can to keep the animals alive, building shelters for them and sharing the little clean water they have with them. The animals are their only source of income and food now.

Children play in the dirty floodwater, and women wash clothes and bath their children using the same water. In the desert heat of Sindh, insects are common and the prevalence of water means flies and mosquitos are everywhere, adding to the risk of disease for those who have to live in the open.

For the Sindh region, monsoons are an annual event. But with climate change, the floods are getting worse. In the most recent flooding just weeks prior, scores of villages were destroyed and thousands of people were left homeless.

For some towns and villages, we had to travel by motorboat to reach there, such as Mirpurkhas. Villagers there told us they had seen no outsiders since the floods devastated their homes. All crops are gone, possessions lost, no more houses, and nothing to eat. All I could say to them was ‘I’m sorry’.

If they are left alone to fend for themselves, these nomadic tribes pictured here may not make it. Their mud homes and fragile livelihoods as subsistence farmers cannot withstand this onslaught. They may simply disappear - and that will be to our national shame.

What has happened here can and must be tackled with urgency. The World Food Programme has provided them with food rations – flour, pulses, cooking oil, and nutritious biscuits for children to prevent malnutrition. But for these communities to get back on their feet, they need more support in the coming months and even years.

The devastation is equally visible in one urban slum we visited in Karachi. Amidst damaged houses and roads, children run around barefoot; mothers with babies in their arms navigate carefully, trying not to trip through the puddles mixed with floodwater and sewage.

The effects of climate change are being increasingly felt here in Sindh, and they are taking a particularly heavy toll on the nomadic tribes, the subsistence farmers, and the women and children living in the urban slums, who we have met during this assignment.

As a nation, we need to confront this problem by starting to talk about it.

At one WFP food distribution site in Umerkot, families gather to receive their pre-packaged food ration. The villagers are all affected by the recent floods and are in desperate need of help. But ‘what will happen when this runs out?’ one villager asks. ‘And how can we rebuild our homes?’

By Saiyda Bashir
Photo slideshow for international media and wire services
All images by WFP/Arete/Saiyna Bashir