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Pakistan ‘Can’t Cope Alone’ With Massive Flooding

August 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Three weeks since the flooding began in Pakistan, tens of thousands of villages remain underwater. More flooding could be on the way, adding to a disaster which now stretches almost the length of the country, from often inaccessible parts of the Swat Valley in the north, through Punjab, and on into Sindh Province in the south, an area the size of the state of Florida.

Twelve percent of the population has been displaced, as many as 20 million people, and the death toll stands at more than 1,500.

Special correspondent Saima Mohsin is on the ground in Karachi. I spoke with her earlier today.

Saima, welcome back to the program.

You have been out and about covering these floods. Any time that the waters are receding?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Not at all, Gwen. That’s the — the sad news that we have to give you, that that water is not receding. In fact, it’s absolutely rising.

There was fresh rainfall over the last few days. And, as we said on Monday, there was a fear that some of the rivers and some of the banks that have broken would actually merge together. And those waters are now starting to rise. Once again, we’re seeing people moving out of those areas. There is a mass exodus right now across Pakistan, day and night, as people try and get away from those floodwaters, get to higher grounds, and get to some kind of safety.

GWEN IFILL: How about aid? Is any of the international aid we keep hearing about, or even domestic aid, is it arriving?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, apparently, it is, and we do see that there are aid fleets arriving at various airports across Pakistan.

But, Gwen, the fact simply is, there isn’t enough of it to go around. I can’t emphasize that enough. We keep on saying that. We have been out across Sindh, as you saw in that special report, and traveling around Karachi at all the camps that I have seen. We’re simply not seeing enough food, drinking water, anything of that sort, and not anything on the kind of level we saw during the South Asia quake, for example, or even the Haiti quake or the tsunami recently, where you saw the road teeming with aid agencies trying to give deliveries to people who are desperate for it.

And they really are, Gwen. Let me just show you this bottle of water. I saw an aid delivery on the road in Sukkur a couple of days ago. People were fighting over this one bottle of water. There were whole families that were sharing it. It was absolutely shocking to see.

GWEN IFILL: In fact, your reporting was quite remarkable, your special report that we saw earlier this week.

Have you seen — in addition to the fights over just getting supplies, have you seen any evidence of violence, of other kinds of violence, not only because of lack of supplies, but just lack of everything?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Yes. I mean, desperation is the only word that can really explain what people are going through right now, and you can’t really blame them. They have had to suffer terrible losses in their homes. Some of them have lost loved ones. I met a man last night who had lost his wife and daughter to the floodwaters. He had arrived at a camp. There was absolutely nothing there for him to eat or drink.

And — and it really is desperation. We have seen pockets of violence across Pakistan in various parts, in Peshawar, Islamabad, and here as well, in Sindh Province as well, where people have simply come out on to the streets. They have tried to block traffic, not because they want to riot or create any kind of trouble, but because they want to raise awareness for their plight. They want to say, please help us. Local people are doing the best they can, but, as we said, that international aid really needs to come in now.

GWEN IFILL: Now, whenever we cover these kinds of disasters, one of the first questions we always ask is what the government response has been, whether it was Katrina here in the United States or in Haiti, and now in Pakistan. Is there evidence of government action, or inaction, in responding to this disaster?

SAIMA MOHSIN: Well, the Pakistani government has set up the national disaster management authority. It’s a very comprehensive one. It’s spread out right across Pakistan in every province.

But Pakistan is not wealthy in terms of infrastructure or financially right now, which means that they simply don’t have enough boots on the ground to actually get across the country to get to everyone. We saw the navy helicopters over the weekend. I have seen military trying to deliver and get to those hard-to-reach areas. But there simply aren’t enough people to get around to the 20 million or so affectees. As we keep saying, this is a worse disaster than Haiti, tsunami and the South Asian quake put together.

And just to read a few facts and figures for you that I came across today, Gwen, in the first week of Pakistan’s appeal for the flooding, $7.5 million dollars of aid was — was — was pledged. Compare that with $100 million for the tsunami, $38 million for Haiti, and $15 million for the South Asian quake.

The Pakistani government simply cannot cope with this alone. It needs international help. And that isn’t coming through thick and fast enough.

GWEN IFILL: OK. Saima Mohsin reporting for us in Karachi, Pakistan tonight, thank you so much.

SAIMA MOHSIN: Thank you.