SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan—As floodwaters slowly recede and the Indus River empties into the Arabian Sea, the full impact of what Pakistan's Foreign Minister on Wednesday described as the worst humanitarian crisis in the country's history is becoming clearer.
The death toll of just over 1600 is set to rise, with the sad likelihood being that more dead bodies will be found as the waters drain away. Rotting carcasses of hundreds of thousands of drowned livestock will add to the threat of disease, as the river drains into the sea and the dead animals are exposed to the blistering 40 degree heat.
According to official estimates, around 1.2 million homes have been destroyed by the floods and over 17 million Pakistanis have been affected by the disaster. The threat of an epidemic is real, as people move in the searing heat amid vast, often stagnant, floodwaters. Aid workers here have already been reacting with alarm to reports of cholera in northern Sindh Province.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘If there’s just one case of cholera, then that can lead to hundreds, if not thousands, given that this is an airborne disease and spreads quickly,’ says Dr Wasi Aslam, based at the Railway Hospital in Sukkur.
Over four weeks after the disaster began, thousands of flood survivors and evacuees can be seen on roadsides, still without any tents or shelter. The United Nations says donors have paid around 63 percent of the $459 million needed to fund flood relief over the next three months. However, to date, only a fraction of those who need aid have received it; the evidence can be seen at roadside and in fields all over Sindh. While many are in camps, with tents provided by NGOs or by the Pakistani military, others have nothing. Anger is growing here, with roadblocks and protests emerging in Sukkur and other towns as people grow increasingly disgruntled with the relief effort (or lack thereof).
Outside Garhi Khuda Baksh in Sindh Province, men, women and children lie under upturned beds which have been propped up at an angle with sticks or broken-off tree branches. Those I spoke with understand clearly what the disaster that has befallen their country means.
‘We’ve been set back 30 years,’ says Fatima, a mother of seven, and one of 12 people seeking shade under a rough-and-ready shelter made from plastic sheeting and bamboo, loosely tied-down with rope and a peg on two corners, running diagonally from top-right to bottom-left.
‘We had four hours notice to run when the warning was shouted from the mosque. We’ve had almost four weeks here in the sun since,’ she says, pointing around the camp, which sits about 20 meters from a contingency flood barrier set up to protect the massive mausoleum in the background, the final resting place of slain former Premier Benazir Bhutto.