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Devastation in Pakistan

Aired August 28, 2010 - 07:30   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. Welcome to a very special edition of SGMD, reporting to you from Thatta, Pakistan. This is a makeshift refugee camp.

Thatta is at the southern part of Pakistan. Pakistan bordered on one side by Afghanistan and on the other side as you can see there, by India.

We're covering the floods but I couldn't help but think about the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

I've covered a lot of natural disasters. And floods are somehow different. All of that water, no question. But there's also the question of how people are taking care of after the flood. I saw that in New Orleans. And we're seeing it again now.

When you think about all this water in Pakistan, 20 percent of the country literally underwater -- look at this map. It's as if the entire state of Florida would be underwater -- communities, schools, roads, no way to get around. Well, that's what's happening here as well.

And like in New Orleans, how people are taken care of in here in Pakistan, that's what's going to make a difference. And that's where we're going to start the show.

Let's get started.


GUPTA: A month of flooding now. A lot of people are talking about this. But a lot of tension has not been paid to what's happening here in Pakistan from around the world.

You ask people here, they'll give you lots of different reasons. They'll say, look, it wasn't a single event that caused this, like an earthquake or like a tsunami. But rather a slow burn the way the United Nation characterized this.

Also, getting around Pakistan even in the best of times is difficult. If you put a fifth of the country underwater, it's even harder. Then there are these rumors, these concerns about Taliban attacks on foreign aid workers. But you know what? None of that matters to the people here on the ground. They are the ones who are living through this right now. They are the ones who are literally bracing for another flood.

The situation that we've been describing is still ongoing. We took a look inside one town that is preparing. Take a look.


GUPTA: Here's how it works. You see police vehicles like this actually coming through the streets telling people to leave. They say that this particular area, this town of Bala will be under water in the next several hours, certainly by tomorrow.

People are listening. This town would normally be bustling. Thousands of people milling around, shops open. None of this is happening now.

Most people actually are leaving like this, by foot in the hot sun walking for kilometers with no real idea of exactly where they're going or what they're going to find there.

It is easy to see why they are leaving. We are literally surrounded by water and they are worried that that water is just going to get higher and higher. So, they're fleeing the floods with the thing, the priority they value the most, their livestock and just starting to walk.

This is where so many of them ended up. They were just walking for kilometers and kilometers down that hot road looking for high land -- anything that could protect them from the flood waters.

And look at what their lives are like now. I mean, thousands of people literally, they have this little barrier here. It is so hot outside, anything to try to keep themselves cool. But this is the new normal life for lots of folks over here.

This family, for example --


GUPTA: He says about 15 miles, 15 kilometers. And look, small children. They walked here, again, in this very hot weather. Very, very difficult. He's telling me they really haven't received any kind of help at all.


GUPTA: They are saying they really have no food at all. All they have is this bag of sugar here which they use to make tea.

This is how it is. This is what's happening here in the middle of this evacuation. There's also been no water here they tell me for three days. In fact, a woman died in this area from dehydration just last night. There's no question that relief is slow coming here. Even as we're filming today at the camp, this Pakistani army helicopter comes over and drops parcels of food.

But this is just one camp. There are thousands of camps like this. There are more than 20 million people displaced, a fifth of this country is underwater.


GUPTA: You know, some of the roadways you just saw there are, in fact, expected to be flooded by tomorrow. That's how quickly this flood moves. These dams, these areas breached and the water just comes pouring in.

We talked to the Pakistani military today. Those roads that people very evacuating on today are expected to be flooded by tomorrow. This is an ongoing situation.

You know, the people living in that camp, we had a chance to sit down and talk to them. What you may not realize is that many of them may be there for one to two years. That's how long they expect it to be before they can go back to their homes. Many of them are farmers. Their farmland destroyed. They may never be able to go back.

For women, you saw what it's like in these camps. So, there's complete lack of privacy. Simple things like even going to the bathroom, getting any kind of medical care just proves nearly impossible. But that is their lives now. It's going to be very difficult one at that.

Aid is starting to trickle in as you saw there, but it is moving way too slowly. You can just ask any of the people there on the ground.

Pakistan is a young country. There are a lot of people who are kids in this country. It's those kids who have been dramatically affected by this flood. In fact, the hospitals are way overcrowded. Two to three kids per bed. In the midst of all that -- families, couples, parents trying to give their kids a chance.


GUPTA: Welcome back to SGMD. We're reporting to you from Thatta, Pakistan.

I want you to take a look over here for a second if you can. I don't know if you can tell, but homes are literally submerged underwater over here. They're really sort of huts out there.

And that what looks to be a lake or even an ocean in the background, now, what may be startling for you to hear, none of that should be here. That's all flooded water, that is area where people used to live, where farm life lies, where livestock, where people raised their kids. It's hard to imagine. That's what's happening here in Pakistan. This next story I want to tell you is about parents who are simply trying to give their kids a fighting chance. They had survived the floods. They had escaped the floods. But as they learned, that was just the beginning of their troubles.

I can tell you when you talking about 20 million displaced in this country, only just numbers. There are real stories behind those numbers and you're about to hear one of them.

I can tell you, as a parent, this is going to be a tough one for you to hear, but it might just be the kind of story that makes a difference, makes an impact. Take a look.


GUPTA (voice-over): A fighting chance here in Pakistan. It is all they can hope for. Ramachacha (ph), a farmer, didn't get any warning when the floods came.


GUPTA: "We just ran," he says. He grabbed his wife, he grabbed his kids, he ran. And they took all they could.

You're looking at it here. You see, they are staggeringly poor, but they wanted a fighting chance. And escaping the flood, they thought they made it.

"She started to get a fever. She couldn't keep anything down. She had lots of belly pain."

She's talking about her 3-month-old daughter Benazir. The three days later she described the exact same thing happening to her son, 2- year-old Wazira (ph).

(on camera): They brought both Benazir and Wazira here, to civil hospital. And doctors right away knew that these children were sick. But with such limited resources, there is only so much they can do. Let's take a look.

You have two to three patients per bed in this hospital. Do you have enough beds? Do you have enough resources?

DR. G.R. BOUK, PAKISTAN CIVIL HOSPITAL: No. Because of this, there is no resources, because of the huge (INAUDIBLE) population and there is some population from (INAUDIBLE).

GUPTA (voice-over): The problem -- bad water, everywhere. With not enough good, clean water to go around, well, many -- too many -- have started to drink this, millions. Diarrheal illness, cholera, dysentery, typhoid.

(on camera): And some of the children around here look very sick. And you have two, at least two children per bed, some on the floor. Are you going to run out of space eventually? I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there. BOUK: Yes.

GUPTA: What happens to them?

BOUK: At the moment, we can't do anything.

GUPTA: What are the chances this child is going to survive?

BOUK: I think 50 percent chance to be able to survive.

GUPTA: Fifty-fifty?

BOUK: Fifty.

GUPTA (voice-over): Wazira and Benazir wouldn't get that fighting chance. This is their obituary. They didn't even make it to the hospital. Both children died on the way there. The 2-year-old Wazira weighed just eight pounds. And the 3-month-old Benazir just two pounds.


GUPTA (on camera): I don't want her to cry. Here, sit here. Sit here. It's OK. See, her belly is very distended. That's the problem and it's hard. It doesn't really push in.

We've given her some formula so she can keep some calories down and they give us medicine as well, mainly for nausea. But really, no antibiotics -- which is just concerning, because that's one of the biggest problems here, people getting infections.

(voice-over): Ola and Ramat (ph) are just two of the millions affected by these floods. This is their new normal: living among dozens of strangers on mats. Incredible, unimaginable loss: two children dead in just one week.

But now their mission: to not lose another child, to save this child, Godi (ph). She is already sick. And she wants to give Godi a fighting chance.


GUPTA: I tell you what? I can't Ramat and Ola, the parents, out of my mind. I mean, I just -- I still -- I just can't believe two children they lost within one week. And again, you know, they escaped the flood. They did the right things. They were being good parents, but this is the reality.

Now, to be fair, so many children living in Pakistan, especially in some of these impoverished areas were already living on the edge. They already had poor access to food and to water. But then something like this happens and it just pushes all these children, an entire generation of them, just over that edge.

And it's just heartbreaking to see. But they are starting to get some aid into that particular relief camp now. So, hopefully, Ramat and Ola and their daughter, Godi, will have better luck and better access over the next several weeks.

You know, when the floods came in, especially out of the northwest, so many bridges were destroyed. And as a result, it was just tough getting access to people. They were stranded in the middle of all this.

They had to repair these bridges. They use some pretty dangerous tactics to do, tire tubes, bamboo sticks, gaffer tape just to bring some relief. That's next.


GUPTA: Welcome back to the program, reporting to you from Thatta, Pakistan.

I can tell you, some of the flooding cause some, you know, serious damage to Pakistan's infrastructure and that has been a real problem, trying to get people access to some sort of relief.

My colleague, Reza Sayah, he's literally been here since day one. He's our CNN correspondent in Islamabad. And he saw some really remarkable techniques going on to try and repair some of the bridges, some dangerous techniques, frankly. He's also been traveling with the U.N. to bet a better understanding of how to tackles this.

And I can tell you, Reza, that -- you know, I traveled around the country now a bit. And I don't want to use the word "hopeless" here because, obviously, there have been some glimmers of hope. But this is an incredibly difficult situation.

You spent a lot of time in Pakistan. What is the U.N. doing to try and address the situation? How seriously are they taking it?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're taking it seriously, Sanjay.

I think next to the Pakistan military, the U.N. is an organization, has been doing the most work when it comes to helping these flood victims. They won't tell us exactly how many people they have on the ground because of what they call security concerns.

But if you take the nine U.N. agencies that are on the ground, the staff that they had here before the floods, the staff that came after the floods, I would say they have thousands of people working on the ground right now. Add to that the roughly 38 groups that are here in Pakistan, working in conjunction with the U.N., and I think you have tens of thousands of aid workers here working to help these flood victims.

The different U.N. agencies, each are specialized in different areas. The World Food Program, for example, their mission is to get food and clean water to the flood victims. The World Health Organization, they're out there on health issues. The U.N.'s refugee agency, they're focusing on getting people help who are displaced and homeless. But as you mentioned, one of the biggest challenges is access, especially in northwest Pakistan where so many of the bridges have been destroyed. There's no way to get help to these people.

But one thing about Pakistanis, they're very resourceful. We actually met some Pakistani aid workers. You're looking at their pictures right now, who actually built their own rafts using tire tubes, gaffer tape and bamboo.

Remember, these are people waiting for motorized boats and choppers to get there. They didn't come, so that's what they're using right now to get to these victims -- Sanjay.

GUPTA: Those resources really help out a lot. I mean, and you need that ingenuity.

You know, one of the staff I heard, Reza, I think you heard this as well, is that in terms of destruction, the Pakistan floods are equal to the -- what's happened in the Haiti earthquake, the tsunami in South Asia, and the earthquake in Pakistan five years ago. All three of those things are combined.

Have you heard that? How did they come to that conclusion at the U.N.?

SAYAH: Well, I think that surprises some people because the death toll has been relatively low. But I think two things make people say this. One is the vastness of this flood zone. This is a flood zone that extends from northwest Pakistan to southern Pakistan. It's the size of Florida. And then you have 20 million people affected.

I don't care how effective and efficient your relief operations are. You're not going to get to everyone. And that's the toughest fact to swallow, Sanjay, that there are some people who haven't been getting help.

GUPTA: Reza, just incredible work out here. We'll continue to be here as well with you. So, this is a huge calamity. So many people effected with this. We'll keep checking in with you -- Reza Sayah.

You know, so many victims now simply trying to get home, trying to go back to the homes Reza was just describing. And what they find there is shocking, I think, frankly, for so many people.

Also, what can you do at home? You're watching this. You're paying attention now. We're going to give you some ideas on how you can help and give you a lot more of what's happening here on the ground. Stay with us.


GUPTA: And we are back with SGMD.

You know, people are starting to return to their homes in some parts of this country, if you can call it that. It is not really a return home as much as it is a heartbreaking discovery of what little is left of their lives and their homes. They go there by foot, they go there by bicycle, they go there by tractor, and it's a difficult journey with some really shocking results.

Kyung Lah who is in Karampur, Pakistan, has this report.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They come back in slow waves -- by tractor, by bicycle, and sometimes bare feet, like goes Tachur and his family.

(on camera): Everything's gone. Everything.


LAH (voice-over): That's a question they can't answer. And what they're trying to find out: what happened for the home in town they fled when Pakistan's historic floods hit three weeks ago. Carrying what they can, they wade through the receding floodwater -- until a tractor empty enough to carry them passes by.

On the tractor, we meet Sumri Binlani (ph) and her 4-year-old daughter. This is tough on them, she explains, but she wants to go home. "We have no choice. What can we do?"

It is a dangerous trek with contaminated floodwaters and uncertain ground that claimed this tractor and a precious cage of chickens. Everywhere along this journey: water. Though it has partially receded, it still laps at door steps.

The water now too deep for the tractor. So goes Tachur and his Nassebon (ph) board a boat for the final leg home.

"I need to see this," says Tachur. "I need to see what's left of my house."

(on camera): You can see how hard it is for these families just to try to return home to see what's happening to their houses. But this is one of those communities that got flooded 16 days ago. They have yet to see any aid. Though some of the locals here say that they did see some food air dropped right into their community but it missed and it landed in the water.

Nassebon's face tells us we've arrived at her house. The house and their town unspared. A pair of scissors and drawers salvaged. The rest lost. Despair descends. A question about his home answered. Now, what to do next.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Karampur, Pakistan.


GUPTA: And what Kyung is describing is heartbreaking for sure. But take a look behind me. Literally actively this is happening right here. These houses are submerged.

I don't know how well you can see this, but a man is literally swimming in the water there. There's his boat. They're going back to their home as well. They're to trying to salvage what is left. And again, that's been under water for some time.

It's just heartbreaking. I don't know what they're going to find. I don't know how they can go back to living like this.

We've been in Pakistan for several days. We have no intention of leaving any time soon. I'm going to have a reporter's notebook for you on some things that I've seen and some things that you can do to help as well.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: A slow burn. That's how the United Nations has characterized what has happened here in Pakistan. I can tell you, it's a constant burn as well.

This burn isn't going away. I mean, the area that we're standing in right now, we have heard from the Pakistani navy, is expected to be flooded over the next several hours, at least by tomorrow morning. This area, it's still happening.

I mean, this Indus River, just so you get an idea, is supposed to flow south through the country of Pakistan and into the Arabian Sea.

What is happening in the Arabian Sea? The tide is high, and that water simply can't make its way out, in fact, it's forcing the water back into the country and the problem just persists. It's literally -- that's what we're seeing here on the ground.

There is bad water in this country and there is good water but there's too much bad water. You can see it over here behind me. And as a result, people are starting to drink this water, millions of them. It's contaminated. It's making them sick.

The key -- the goal here is to try to make that bad water good water. So many great, great charities around the world are focused on this. Dean Kamen has developed a purification machine. And Matt Damon has charity that focuses on this. Scott Henderson has a charity.

If you're listening out there, guys, this is a place where you can focus a lot of your attention. This is a place that needs your help. Whether it's a light straw that can help decontaminate water and take out antibiotic -- use antibiotic to try and get rid of some of the bugs and the organisms in the water, or purification tablets which are readily available, they can use them here.

Getting bottled water here just proves too cumbersome. You can't get to this place very easily.

Purification tablets, purification systems, something to cut down on the disease. People can really help here.

We're not going anywhere. We're going to be here for a while and continue to bring you a lot of these stories.

If you missed any part of today's show, you can be sure to check out our podcast as well at

I'm going to take your questions. We're going to have a conversation with you about this. I'm going to continue to twitter as well at SanjayGuptaCNN, all the observations here on the ground.

Stay with us. We'll have a lot more. But for now, more news on CNN.