Editor's note: Katey Grusovin is an employee for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The following is her account of flood-damaged southwest Pakistan.
KUCH VALARI, Baluchistan, Pakistan (CNN) -- July 21, 2007: The newspaper headlines here have been preoccupied with the aftershocks of the Lal Masjid siege crisis in Islamabad, including a series of lethal suicide attacks. Yet a largely forgotten emergency continues to unfold almost a month after Cyclone Yemyin roared its way into northern Baluchistan, dumping untold quantities of water onto its parched interior and causing mass devastation on a scale unseen since the 1935 Quetta earthquake.
A woman holds a child at a medical camp in the cyclone-hit town of Turbat, Pakistan, in early July.
By the time we arrived in Quetta, we were already running behind schedule. Our mission to see the situation in a flood-affected village was delayed two days when our flight from Islamabad was canceled by a dust storm that had just blown in from Iran. Visibility in parts of Baluchistan had been reduced to almost zero. But Baluchistan is nothing if not a land of extremes.
The worst-affected districts are still submerged under 5 to 7 feet of contaminated, muddy water. Short on time, we made the three-hour drive to Sibi District, which remained unscathed except for two villages overwhelmed by the overflowing floodwaters of the Nari River.
Kuch Valari is home to about 100 poor tenant farmers and their families, a fraction of the hundreds of thousands left displaced and homeless by the floods. But it offers a revealing look at the impact of destroyed roads, washed-away fields, damaged houses and schools now being used for shelter.
Our journey took us up through the Bolan Pass, the fabled old caravan route into the Indian subcontinent, past tortured mountains, bucolic scenes of wandering shepherds tendering flocks of sheep, and road trains of psychedelically painted trucks laboring up and down the highway. The wild, Martian-like beauty of this ancient land hardly prepared us for what lay ahead.
An entire segment of a concrete bridge spanning the Bolan River had collapsed when flood waters peaked at a height of more than 60 feet. Now, it resembles a dried up river bed.
Accompanied by an immunizations officer, driver and photographer, we met the voluble, no-nonsense District Officer for Health, Dr. Massood Ahmed Baloch, and several other local officials in Kuch Valari. A group of unkempt children darted towards us over the wreckage of what had been their village.
Sibi is renowned as one of the hottest locales in Asia. Although the temperature was relatively mild today, hovering somewhere in the mid-40s Celsius (more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit), it still felt like a convection oven. Life is tough here in the best of times, Baloch told us. Poor health and hygiene are part of the furniture. Looking around, life had suddenly got a whole lot worse for these people.
The children led us over matted vegetation and churned earth to a small group of villagers sitting on string day beds -- or charpoys, as they are known in South Asia -- snatching some shelter under a canopy from the blazing mid-afternoon sun. Within microseconds, most of the village's residents had gathered around, to hear and to be heard.
An elderly woman, Mrs. Satoo, surrounded by various grandchildren, took center stage.
"When we left our home we spent 10 days and nights in a vacant hotel building. The landlord was kind enough to feed us. After 10 days we returned. We lost everything. Everything. The children have nothing to do except play in the mud. They have no clothing and their school books have all gone. We have received wheat, sugar, rice and oil and special biscuits, and we are getting medicines -- but it is not enough."
Mehrab Khan, a wizened elder sporting a pair of careworn police sunglasses, piped in that he was a young man when "the Britishers" left in 1947, and he'd certainly never seen anything like it.
As the waters recede, villagers face the long and grueling prospect of rebuilding their lives. Many of their mud-brick dwellings and grain stores simply melted away in the flooding. Others are cracked and unstable and will need to be rebuilt. Their fields of ripening melons -- all lost.
"At least the power has been reconnected," said one villager, pointing to a tree branch holding a power board and electricity cords. They're just not sure if they can afford to pay the next bill.
Surveying the mess around him, Nazar Mohammed Marghazani, a wiry, soft spoken man in a white cap spoke: "It will take about ten years for us to rebuild. These houses were built by our fathers and forefathers. Now we have to plough our lands again and at the same time we have to take care of the bread and butter. If we get any assistance from any sources it might take less time. Perhaps five years."
Fortunately, local mobile medical teams from Sibi immediately swung into action, treating injuries and infections, vaccinating children against measles and distributing several tons of high-energy food supplied by UNICEF. No outbreaks of disease have occurred, but in the worse-off areas, diarrhea and skin diseases, especially among children, are on the rise due to the lack of safe drinking water and as a result of poor hygiene and nutrition.
And the monsoon season is not over yet.
Before we leave, we pass a mud-brick home where a cluster of women dressed in a kaleidoscope of iridescent color are huddled with their children. Zuhar, a toothless, muscular woman cradling her 10-year-old niece Salma, gestures to us to come over and talk. She tells us they are afraid that this house could fall down because it is so badly warped and cracked from the floodwaters -- but they have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do except sit and wile away the hours.
"Life was good before this," she says as we move towards the car. "It was nothing special but it was as usual." E-mail to a friend
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