Many Pakistan Flood Victims Still in Need of Aid
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JEFFREY BROWN: Now: an update on the aftermath of the floods in
Pakistan, where thousands of people remain in desperate need of aid and waters continue to rise.
Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News reports from Sindh
Province in southern Pakistan.
JONATHAN MILLER: Loaded to capacity, the helicopters of the Marine
expeditionary force struck out to the northwest, across the ocean that is Upper Sindh, a water world dotted with islands of misery, farmsteads, villages, entire towns stranded for weeks now, some entirely abandoned, from horizon to horizon, for mile after mile, a vast inland sea, accessible only by chopper.
People in these villages have been marooned for sometimes up to three
weeks, surrounded by a sea of water. This is their first airdrop. You can really understand why they’re so desperate.
Only the hurricane-force downdraft keeps the hungry at bay, as they
surge towards the huge helicopter hovering 20 feet off the ground, unable to touch down. It’s still too marshy below. These isolated villages probably ran out of supplies weeks ago. They have no idea when the next drop is going to come. This is their chance.
One of the choppers finds enough space to land. Local people are held
back at a safe distance. The rice crops are ruined, and the seed crop
destroyed. Ten million Pakistanis will be reliant on food aid for at least another year.
The pilots want to go. Suddenly, everyone bolts towards the stacked
sacks of flour and boxes of high-energy biscuits. They grab and they run. It’s the survival of the fastest. There are winners, and there are losers.
The Americans are throwing tens of thousands of Pakistanis a lifeline. They consider these mercy missions their humanitarian duty, but they know too that they’re buying much-needed goodwill in a fragile, chaotic, and volatile nation.
REAR ADM. SINCLAIR HARRIS, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group Five:
I see our mission as trying to help people who are starving. I see it as — our mission as trying to alleviate human suffering. That is our mission. If a benefit — if a side benefit of better will, of better relations with Pakistani — people of the Pakistani government, that’s fine.
JONATHAN MILLER: We have heard reports of fresh flooding a few hours’
drive to the south.
As we head down the West Bank of the River Industries, we pass villages
only recently abandoned to the water. Local police insist we take an armed escort. This is bandit country. The policemen in our two vehicles had both lost their homes. Their families now live in camps.
Suddenly, just outside Bhan Saeedabad town, we reach the end of the
road. The newly displaced arrive on dry land with what they could grab. They are stoic, but shock is already turning to depression. Eight feet of water will take months to drain and evaporate.
It’s incredible to think that, nearly two months after the floods first
struck, fresh areas are still being inundated. This whole area here was flooded out within the last couple of days or so, and it wasn’t because there was a huge amount more rain, but because army engineers decided to cut a 70-meter-long breach in a nearby lake which had grown to four times its size.
The trouble was that the protective walls of that lake then crumbled,
allowing all this water to gush out and flood 150 or more villages.
Relief workers are yet to reach this area. They have struggled to keep
pace with the water. We join a group returning to their village. Beside me, in blue, Mohammed Sardar, just back from Karachi to see what the flood had done to his family home.
The government now says 100,000 square kilometers have been flooded
nationwide, nearly 30,000 kilometers of roads submerged, nine million acres of cropland underwater, and 21 million people affected. And that was before this area went under.
Mohammed Sardar wanders around Jadani village in a state of increasingly traumatized disbelief. Some homes remain clear of the water, but half the village has been submerged.
MOHAMMED SARDAR, Pakistan (through translator): The destruction is on
such a scale, it will be impossible to return to normality. These are poor people, and their crops are destroyed. All their savings were invested in their crops, and now they can’t harvest them. They are left with nothing.
NASEEBA KHATOON, Pakistan (through translator): What will my life be
like? I am sitting here in sadness with my children. Nobody is giving me food. I have nothing. All my time is spent in shock, with my children around me. I have no medicine, no food, no water, no sanitation.
JONATHAN MILLER: As its people survey the damage, a gloom is settling
over Pakistan. Few have faith in their government to do much to help.
Politics is in a perilous state. The country is broke. Millions more
people will be condemned to poverty, their future, like that of their nation, mired in uncertainty.