Described by Pakistan’s government as the worst disaster in the nation’s history, the floods that have wracked the country since late July have claimed at least 1,600 lives and left millions more homeless. In this exclusive photo essay from Sindh Province by photographer Komail Naqvi, The Diplomat presents a timeline of events as they unfolded.
A Tale of Devastation
In late July, flash flooding caused by seasonal monsoon rains hits north-western Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir, claiming hundreds of lives in just a few days. Hundreds of thousands of villagers are left stranded as under-equipped emergency services struggle to reach them. By July 31 the death toll hits 800 as thousands of villages are washed away.
On August 6, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani calls for faster delivery of aid to victims. But despite repeated calls to action since, the government is criticized for failing to provide food, water and sanitation to the victims.
On August 7, the government issues a flooding red alert as floods sweep south into Sindh Province and half a million people are forced to evacuate their homes in what is already the worst flooding in the country in 80 years. President Asif Ali Zardari, meanwhile, rejects criticism that he should return from an extended trip overseas, claiming he is being kept fully abreast of the situation.
On August 10, the United Nations says six million people will require humanitarian aid to survive. The following day it appeals for $460 million in emergency aid, comparing the devastation wrought by the floods to that of the 2004 tsunami and the earthquake the following year in Kashmir.
On August 12, Prime Minister Gilani appeals for more international assistance, saying ‘All I say is that we need more help from our international friends…We need more such helicopters because of the magnitude of the destruction. I also urge my own countrymen and women to help their brothers and sisters.’
Two days later, Gilani announces that at least 20 million have been left homeless by the flooding, while at least 700,000 hectares of farmland have been wiped out, destroying billions of dollars worth of crops and food.
In mid-August, aid groups warn of more deaths to come due to diseases such as cholera, which can spread quickly and with devastating consequences. By September 1, contributions to the UN’s Pakistan emergency response plan reach $291 million; 63.4 per cent of the amount the organization says is needed to meet initial needs. The IMF estimates reconstruction costs will run into the billions.
A month after the disaster began to unfold, the UN warns that tens of thousands of children are at risk of death from malnutrition. Pakistani health officials say that hundreds of thousands of infants will be born in affected areas of the country over the next six months and will immediately face the risk of malnourishment because of the limited food supply.
Estimates in early September suggest the disaster has claimed at least 1,600 lives, while the UN reports that 17 million Pakistanis have been affected in some way by the disaster.
The flood waters are beginning to recede as the water flows downstream, but towns in Sindh Province are still under threat due to high tides in the Arabian Sea. Almost five million people remain without shelter.
Lack of clean water and high temperatures are causing illnesses to spread quickly through relief camps, where women and children are most at risk. Children under the age of five and suffering from severe dehydration, skin and eye infections and shock reportedly comprise the majority of patients at temporary clinics.
A top United Nations climate change official says on September 2 that ‘The world cannot afford escalating disasters of the kind recently witnessed in Pakistan and Russia,’ and a need for world governments ‘to construct a set of better, bigger ways and means for countries to work together to take global action at the frontline.’