Footprints: Little or nothing to make do with

Published September 24, 2022
Displaced people queue up for food in Lal Bagh, Sehwan.—Umair Ali
Displaced people queue up for food in Lal Bagh, Sehwan.—Umair Ali

“The women in flood-stricken villages were elated to have a listening ear among them,” said Shabnam Baloch about American actress and humanitarian aid worker Angelina Jolie’s Sept 20 visit to Jamshoro’s Sehwan and Dadu’s Johi taluka. “She was received with warmth. Older women spoke of their sickness, while young mothers were worried about their newborns.”

Ms Baloch, the country director for the Inter­national Rescue Comm­ittee (IRC) Pakistan, elaborated how Jolie showed compassion towards the survivors. “She was in no rush; it felt like she came to listen to their woes.”

The Oscar-winning actress, who bore her travel expenses, was “truly invested in knowing about the genuine needs of the communities, as I translated into English the ordeals shared with her in Sindhi”, Baloch told Dawn.

“After arriving in Sehwan, she visited a relief camp randomly on Bajara road, travelled on a boat to the inundated Bagh Yusuf village where people were stranded atop roofs or perched on higher grounds surrounded by at least four-foot-deep water.”

The entire strip of the road in Bajara, the remotest part of Sehwan, in Jamshoro was dotted with improvised tents: men, women and children sat on the road or charpoys desperately looking at every approaching car for some succour.

At the Dang Wah irrigation channel near the Ismail Mallah village, a sloppy stretch of road was heavily submerged. Some people waded through waist-deep water while others who could afford, commuted on improvised wooden boats along with their motorbikes.

Among these internally displaced persons (IDPs), some were lucky to be provided with tents by the Sindh Provincial Disaster Management Authority, while the rest had to make do with whatever they could lay their hands on to prepare makeshift shelters.

“After crossing this sloppy submerged patch I need to board another boat with my motorbike for Rs50 to reach Bandani village in Union Council Bajara,” said Hanif Rind with a cannula inserted into his left hand. Visibly pale, Rind was returning from a dispensary of the People’s Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI) after getting himself examined for high fever.

People have been marooned and displaced ever since floodwaters from Manchhar Lake, Balochistan and upper Sindh devastated their villages. Gushing waters from two consecutive ‘relief cuts’ in Manchhar’s embankment on Sept 4 and 5 proved disastrous. Thousands of inhabitants from villages like Ismail Mallah and others have ended up on roads. Many lost their mud houses, but one of them, Gul Muhammad Mallah, faces a double jeopardy.

“I had to leave my job [in a spinning mill of Nooriabad] to rescue my family back home after the devastating rains,” Mallah said. “My 18-year-old son, Abdul Majeed, is physically challenged. Should I take care of him or other family members facing another kind of misery?” he quipped.

Mallah doesn’t even have money to get Majeed treated and feed his family.

“We’ve been hit by such a large-scale disaster and I don’t know how to make both ends meet. We are dependent on handouts mostly,” he lamented.

The area where the Mallah family and others were staying was a piece of agricultural land, but its cultivation seemed impossible this year as far as wheat was concerned, as it is submerged under stagnant water. Besides the neighbouring Dadu, 10 union councils of Sehwan, the constituency of the Sindh chief minister, were also inundated due to floodwaters and runoff from the catastrophic rains, cutting it off from upper Sindh.

People from lower Sindh, Karachi and those travelling on the national highway could reach Sehwan comfortably through the Aamri-Qazi Ahmed bridge.

“We are providing mineral water and water through bowsers as well as sweet dishes in the evening on their demand. Charities are helping us and PPHI’s mobile units are in the field for the sick,” Sehwan Assistant Commissioner Iqbal Hussain claimed.

Around 2pm, the IDPs people made a beeline carrying empty utensils or plastic bags, as several cauldrons of potato rice — for both breakfast and lunch — arrived at a location near Laal Bagh. “Around 30 cauldrons of 16kg cooked rice are provided twice a day. Sometimes it is biryani,” a municipal committee employee of Sehwan told Dawn.

Men and women fetched water for drinking and domestic uses from the nearby Aral Wah canal that carried freshwater these days due to the floods. Dozens of locals also bathed in the canal.

Communities ravaged by floods in Mehar, Khairpur Nathan Shah, Dadu and Larkana also reached Sehwan with their little belongings and were staying around Laal Bagh. They had set up makeshift lavatories — using bamboo and pieces of cloth — in shallow waters. They can’t be bothered about hygiene in such circumstances.

Manchhar currently had plenty of freshwater flows from floodwaters, otherwise it received toxic water through the Right Bank Outfall Drain-I/Main Nara Valley Drain. Aral Wah normally carried the effluent to the Indus. On Friday morning, the lake stood at 119.75RL, a substantial decline. It showed fast depletion after the Sept 4 and 5 relief cuts.

“Devastation in Sindh has been shocking; in my entire life I have never seen anything like this before. Families are sleeping under open skies and have lost everything in these floods,” the IRC quoted Angelina Jolie in a press release. “Climate change is not only real and it is not only coming — it is very much here.”

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2022

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