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In Pakistan, Years of Future Hardship in Water’s Wake

August 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Floodwaters are moving south in Pakistan but trouble is possibly brewing in the unstable north as well. Special correspondent Saima Mohsin reports on the ongoing humanitarian crisis.

GWEN IFILL: Now the Pakistan floods. The waters continue to spread south, while the damage left in the waters’ wake to the north create new challenges for an area still coping with fallout from the fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani government.

Special correspondent Saima Mohsin reports from the town of Nowshera.

SAIMA MOHSIN: These scenes speak volumes about people’s desperation, and it’s one we saw again and again. Women and children don’t stand a chance.

These young eyes have seen too much, fleeing from the Taliban, witnessing public beheadings, living through a military operation, and yet again ending up displaced in a camp.

WOMAN (through translator): We all ran. We lost all our belongings. We haven’t been given tents. Some people have brought canvasses and hung it up. Everyone here is very poor. I don’t have a tent or any dishes, no bedding. The kids are so uncomfortable. The scorching heat is getting to us. We sometimes get water from the local administration, but nothing else.

SAIMA MOHSIN: The families here are stuck in a no man’s land. Nowshera was once their safe haven from the Taliban in Swat. They’ve been staying here ever since. But they’re not being given official aid because their ID cards say that they’re Swati (ph) and not from this area. So they have set up camps in the shadows of the train tracks.

The only tents you see here have been saved from the last IDP crisis.

MAN (through translator): If you had seen what happened to my house, you would cry. So what aid do we get? We sometimes get water. Sometimes people come and give us chapatis, but it’s often old and stale. We spent several days up in the mountain fleeing from the water and didn’t even get one biscuit to eat. Not one biscuit.

WOMAN (through translator): We have to go and buy food from the shops ourselves. We haven’t been given a thing to eat. But we are very, very poor. Nobody is working. I have three young daughters and one son. My son is studying, but I had to sell his books. What else must I sell? We’re homeless. What else can we do? How can we survive? We can only pray to God. The government hasn’t given us anything. It’s every man for himself here.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Collapsed houses, schools and shops. The water’s wrath knew no bounds. Flash floods tore through this region at a punishing pace.

When the river burst its banks the water came crashing through this entire area and through the town of Noshera that way. Local people say it was as high as those rocks behind me and where I’m standing right now.

MAN (Through Translator): We didn’t even manage to save our bedding. We spent three days living out in the open on this hill. We didn’t even get a sip of water. We ended up drinking flood water.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Now they live in tents amongst the rubble of their homes. Here at least they’ve been provided with shelter and water. But people say it’s not enough.

BOY (Through Translator): Sometimes we get water and sometimes we simply don’t. Then we have to head out to get water from far away. Sometimes all the way to Resulfur.

MAN (Through Translator): Sometimes water is delivered after two days. Sometimes after three.

MAN (Through Translator): We have huge issues with not getting water. We are really suffering.

MAN (Through Translator): All of the children are ill and have rashes. Nothing is clean. Nobody comes to ask if we’re OK. If someone does come, everyone gathers hoping they’ve brought relief supplies. You and your crew have come to ask us how we’re doing. Haven’t you? But nobody else asks if we’re OK.

SAIMA MOHSIN: It’s easy to see how disease is now threatening an even bigger humanitarian crisis. Eye infections, diarrhea and cholera are spreading. Food stalls and clean drinking water have been set up above open gutters. Raw sewage coated the street but people walk to buy the bare essentials.

In one official camp we visited a field hospital. There were no doctors or medicines here. No sterilized tool. A rusty roll that cuts an old man bandage. Hundreds of babies have been born into a very different life from the ones that parents had planned for them.

MAN (Through Translator): We were fleeing the floods. And then she went into labor. We stopped there and the babies were born.

SAIMA MOHSIN: They were born in the street?

MAN (Through Translator): Yes. In the middle of the night. Then a stranger cut their cord for us. We arrived here in the morning.

WOMAN (Through translator): I have had twins. There is no food here or milk for them. I wish I could get something to eat so they won’t die. I don’t have any clothes to put them in. I’ve only got the clothes that I’m wearing. If I was eating properly I could breastfeed them.

SAIMA MOHSIN: $800 million has now been pledged to Pakistan. But turning that into cash and aid on the ground is proving slow as it is to convince the world how huge this disaster really is.

Well, international aid is coming in we’re told repeatedly but we found little in the way of official aid donations to people when we visited these camps. All of them had already been set up. When private donors turn up it’s a scene of complete desperation for any kind of food.

Aid agencies are concerned about the lack of coordination and organization, warning the situation may worsen if this doesn’t happen fast.Three weeks since the floods hit Pakistan they continue to batter the south and leave years of hardship in their wake. The water has left its mark on the people and this land.