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In Rural Pakistan, Flood Victims Feeling Abandoned by Government

August 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Pakistan is struggling to recover from its worst flooding in 80 years. Monsoon season has already killed 1,500 people and left millions more in need of help. Today, the floodwaters pushed into the heart of the country and threatened to surge south.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. is already helping with money, aid workers and rescue assistance.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I want to convey the condolences of the American people to the Pakistani people on behalf of everything they are confronting.

I have been to Pakistan, as you know, a number of times, and I have seen firsthand the strength and resilience of the people of Pakistan. They have the capacity to come through this challenge and swiftly rebuild. And, as they do, they can look to the United States for our support.

GWEN IFILL: For more on the situation on the ground in Pakistan, Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News traveled west from Islamabad to a remote village devastated by the floods.

JONATHAN MILLER: The first thing you notice when you enter the garrison town of Nowshera is that the army is nowhere to be seen, that and the densely populated central reservation, roughly rigged tarpaulins and ramshackle tents these people’s only protection now as they emerge from the violent monsoon.

One hundred yards off the road, a dead village, completely leveled by the raging torrents of the nearby Kabul River, everything destroyed, the dazed, mud-blasted survivors devastated by what they have been through.

They had no help, it seemed, no outside assistance, no medicine, no food, no drinking water. It turns out these people are all Afghan refugees. Now they’re homeless again.

So, no one has been here at all, we ask, after nearly a week?

“Absolutely no one,” they all insist. “You’re the first outsiders we have seen.”

There is disbelief and indignation that they have been completely overlooked. They say 300 people died here, but many more are missing.

HAJI HABIB JAN, Pakistan (through translator): Why shouldn’t we be angry? We have been destroyed. The water came early in the morning. We are left only in the clothes we stand up in. All we could do was rescue the women and children. We lost everything. No one is concerned about our plight.

JONATHAN MILLER: Saddam Khan told me they are stuck in this wasteland because the police have refused to let them move. The local men showed me around the place they once called Aza Khel.

This is the market area?

MAN: Yes, market.

JONATHAN MILLER: Amin Khan also showed me what was once the local school, and this, he said, had been his home.

This man has just salvaged what he could of his past life from the little the flood had left behind. It all fitted into one sack. Government helicopters occasionally fly overhead, but none has landed here.

You can see, walking around here on this rather grim tour I have had, why the U.N. says there is such a high risk of disease. Everything is — all the water is contaminated, raw sewage swilling round, the putrefying carcasses of cattle polluting the water. There is a very high risk of epidemic now. That’s the big concern.

Until last week, this was the main pharmacy and clinic at Aza Khel.

DR. IZATULLAH QUHIR, Pakistan: Many diseases like diarrhea, vomiting, and many different kinds of (INAUDIBLE) wounds (INAUDIBLE) and many are suffering from these diseases.

JONATHAN MILLER: Because of the contaminated water?

DR. IZATULLAH QUHIR: Contaminated water, yes — contaminated water and the food and other, et cetera.

JONATHAN MILLER: Out on the ground trunk road again, we found a roadside medic treating passersby. These people were all Pakistani volunteers.

The Pakistani army has failed to step into the breach, the government deemed by everyone we met incompetent and impotent.

More than three million people affected, a third of them children, a million reckoned to be in need of emergency assistance, and only a fraction of those will have received help by the end of this week.

The floodwater is now surging south, drowning more villages, inundating the rich farmlands of the Punjab, the breadbasket of Pakistan, a humanitarian disaster turning into a food crisis which will last for many months.