JEFFREY BROWN: Victims of the great flood in Pakistan protested today over lack of aid. They blocked a main highway in the south, even as fresh flood warnings were issued along the Indus River. Meanwhile disease began spreading among refugees in makeshift camps.
We start with a report from special correspondent Saima Mohsin in Pakistan.
SAIMA MOHSIN: This is a disaster of an unimaginable scale. Mile after mile, all you can see is water and the devastation it has caused, so powerful that it took people, livestock, roads, bridges and entire villages with it.
One million cusecs of water, about 28 million liters per second, is making its unforgiving way to the southern parts of Pakistan, threatening more destruction to an already devastated landscape. The River Indus, one of the world’s most important rivers, now one of the world’s most dangerous. With its banks bursting, homes and lives around it don’t stand a chance. A nationwide operation is under way led by the military. The last time an operation of this scale was conducted was the South Asia quake. But officials say that was nothing compared to the destruction the flooding has caused. And with so much water cutting off access and leaving people stranded, boats and helicopter missions are the most important right now.
CAPTAIN SHAHAB, Pakistan Navy: Pakistan naval focus are being bringing the aid from Karachi to Sukkur. And, thereafter, our helicopters boarded all these load. And about three to four sorties are planned every day by each aircraft to give relief to the persons who are in disaster right now. We are rescuing the person in the nation. We are providing the relief.
SAIMA MOHSIN: We joined the navy-led aid mission on board a Sea King helicopter to some of the most devastated towns and villages.
These aid bags contain essential items for people’s survival: bread, milk, biscuits, and bottles of water. But the problem is, this will only last them a few days. Every effort is being made to get help to those people who desperately need it.
Dropping the aid is a delicate task. Getting too close risks blowing away their makeshift homes, but not getting close enough could risk wasting precious food and medicine. We flew over (INAUDIBLE) and Jacobabad. The entire area has been evacuated. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes as the water moved in.
But many have chosen to stay, too scared to leave their belongings or their livestock to move elsewhere and rebuild their lives. They have spent their lives building these homes and livelihoods. This is all they have left. Those that have escaped the wrath of the water have found yet more misery in makeshift camps, with the intense heat equally unforgiving and little food to eat.
WOMAN (through translator): I was cooking dinner when the water came rushing in. I got each person out one by one, grabbing each of them. Then the roof came down. My husband, who is an old man, fell in the water. And I saved him, too. We didn’t manage to salvage anything but our lives. Nobody here has anything left.
WOMAN (through translator): We don’t get meals. We haven’t been given anything. We got some food, but a gang of men beat us up and took it from us. Everyone here fights over food.
SAIMA MOHSIN (through translator): How many children do you have and what are you feeding them?
WOMAN (through translator): I have four children. I don’t even have trousers to put on my little girl. We don’t have any clothes at all. We didn’t manage to bring anything with us. Everything drowned in the water. Our house collapsed, too. We have got nothing, and we can’t do anything about it.
MAN (through translator): A little girl about eight or 10 years old ran across the road when some people came to hand out food. She was hit by a car and died this morning.
SAIMA MOHSIN: Two weeks into this disaster, it’s feared a second wave of water is about to destroy what little there is left. Experts say water from the flooded eastern rivers (INAUDIBLE) may well combine with the fresh floodwaters in the Indus.
Further downstream, past the Sukkur barrage, villagers take it upon themselves to keep watch at manmade dams. At (INAUDIBLE) we discovered several villages that have been lost to the floodwaters.
Well, the villagers have invited me to take a look at what’s left of their homes. We should be walking there, but we’re actually having to take a boat, because, as far as the eye can see, all there is, is water. Every single home here — and we’re talking about a group of villages, up to 200 homes — they’re all underwater.
(through translator): What exactly happened here?
JAMIL JATOI, villager (through translator): Everything has been damaged, everything. We don’t have any links with the local administration and haven’t received any help. The entire village has collapsed into the water.
SAIMA MOHSIN (through translator): Why don’t you leave and move elsewhere?
JAMIL JATOI (through translator): How can we go? We don’t have anywhere to go.
SHAHID ABRO, villager (through translator): People here tilled their land and grew dates, mangoes, strawberries, rice, cotton, wheat, and crops to feed their livestock. But everything has been drowned by the floodwater. And they have lost it all.
SAIMA MOHSIN: The men are now trying to salvage what is left of their crops.
The U.N. says floodwaters are likely to have destroyed crops in Pakistan worth around $1 billion. In a country where agriculture is one of the largest contributors to the economy, there’s concern about the impact on livelihoods and the economy in years to come. But, for now, saving lives and getting aid to those who need it is the primary concern.
Relief activities won’t be over until November, at least. That’s four months of painstaking work, with the risk of more death and disease. Others fear it may take longer for the water to subside and reveal the true extent of the damage. It’s only then that the rehabilitation of thousands of people will begin in earnest.
Camerman Javed Iqbal Khan and editor Suleman Hameed contributed to this report.