Surveying the Flood Damage in Pakistan
ABOARD A C130 CARGO PLANE OVER PAKISTAN | We’re flying back to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, after a day-long trip, care of the U.S. State Department, to survey flood damage in the south and see some of the relief efforts. At the front of the plane, Dr. Rajiv Shah, the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, huddles with aides and writes in a notebook, presumably discussing the U.S. role in the massive relief and reconstruction effort that will be needed in Pakistan. After we land, Shah has a meeting scheduled with the country’s president.
It has been a whirlwind of rushed activity bookended by the two-hour long plane trips for the dozen or so journalists ferried down to Sukkur to watch Shah as he moved quickly through two camps housing people displaced by floods. During his 20 minute-long visits to each, he talked with some of the homeless as well as with aid workers. Shah announced that the U.S. would add another $50 million to the $150 million already committed to disaster relief (the $50 million will come out of a previously-approved $7.5 development grant for Pakistan).
My journalist’s skepticism aside, it is impossible not to feel touched by the utter devastation I’ve witnessed during my brief time here, and to see the need for humanitarian assistance. I looked out of the windows of this plane and saw floodwaters off into the horizon, islands of structures and trees poking up here and there. I’ve spoken to a mother whose child nearly died as a result of drinking water contaminated by the floods, and to a farmer whose house, crops and livelihood have been destroyed. He and his family now live in a tent and have no idea what to do next.
In the stories that I, along with producer Jay LaMonica and cameraman Fayyaz Adrees file for the NewsHour, we will do our best to convey some of the human and economic dimensions of this disaster. But trying to show the extent and scope of it is a huge challenge. This still-unfolding disaster is likely to fade from the headlines as the floodwaters recede, but as an experienced relief worker told me, this disaster needs to be seen as the equivalent of a slow-moving tsunami on land.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story said the U.S. had already committed $250 million to the Pakistan aid effort. That figure was incorrect. This version has been corrected.