Pakistan floods: Voices from Kot Mithan
Pakistan is facing the worst floods of the century. Many have lost their loved ones, houses, crops and belongings. Oxfam's Tariq Malik spoke with some of the flood-hit people from Kot Mithan, in Punjab Province, during the second week after the floods hit.
Situated along the west of River Indus, flooding is not unusual for the residents of Kot Mithan in Pakistan.
"The unusual thing about the flood this time is that it has made its way into the town... We have seen many floods come and pass by the dikes around the town but this time it was altogether different. It is something we were not expecting," says Dr Najamudin Malik, a resident who runs a private hospital.
"Do you know why this happened?" he continues, "There are two reasons. Firstly, over the embankment in the south-east of town flows a canal which we call Farid Minor. The town was flooded because the canal water made its way from under the ground. Secondly, the chief engineer of the Irrigation Department had no idea of the water pressure, nor had the Department any means to ascertain the pressure level," he reasoned. Dr Malik quotes the chief engineer: "‘If past experience is something to go by, I think the flood is likely to flow by the dikes and will not enter the town.'"
Reluctant to leave everything behind
A few yards away from the green belt, where some people from the villages have taken refuge under the cloudy sky, two ambulances rush to the filling station. The siren alerts everyone around, including children who, somehow, have fallen asleep. I think I should ask the rescue team a few questions before they leave.
"Five days ago we asked people to vacate the town but they did not," says shift manager Haq Nawaz. "We asked them to shift their belongings to a safer place. Only a few of them did so, only a few. Most of them said that ‘we know the river, it can't be so cruel, it won't affect us.'"
Asked why villagers refused to vacate their homes and farms, Dr Malik explains: "Firstly, they were not expecting it, just as the chief engineer was not expecting it. In addition to that, the cotton crop is almost ripened. It would have taken a month or so had there been a normal situation. For a cultivator it is difficult to leave the land he has tilled with his sweat and blood."
Earlier in the day, I had visited the relief camps set up in Kot Mithan by a local organization with the support of an international donor agency. Departments from district governments had also set up their stalls: a medical stall set up by the District Health Department, and another by the District Department of Livestock and Dairy Development.
A school has become a crowded camp
The camps, mainly in government buildings, were good but not good enough: a camp established in a school presented a grim picture: the school courtyard had become a pond as there was no drainage, and the school building had four rooms, a veranda and a small courtyard, yet was housing around 300 people.
"We have been here for two days," says Khuda Bakhash, whose village in Wasti Hayderabad had been flooded. "We had to pay 100 Rupees ($1.17) to a private boat owner for each person. Most of our relatives are still [in our village]. The day we moved we had nothing to eat and you know well that children can't sleep if they do not eat well. For two days we've been provided with meals twice a day by Oxfam."
Health issues growing
Dr. Shaheen Sadiq from the District Health Department, who is in charge of a medical stall, says that many children have fever, skin infections and rashes all over. "There are many diarrhea patients and a couple of gynecology related cases." She explains that there are also some people with jaundice and malaria, and that some are suffering from chest infections. Most of the people, she says, have been vaccinated for snake- and dog-bites.
Another stall has been set up by the District Government to cater for the health and food needs of animals. "We have been distributing bundles of fodder to all families for their animals," says Shehzad Hussian, a veterinary assistant who was posted in Kot Mithan on what he called "flood duty". "We have also vaccinated many cows, buffalos and goats." While talking to District Livestock Officer Dr Muhammad Anwar on the phone about the shortage of fodder bundles for the animals, our call is disconnected.
Commandant of the Border Military Police and acting District Deputy Officer Revenue Hameed Rehmani says they are busy helping people leave their homes and reach safer places. Rehmani claims to have set up 40 camps, but they are nowhere to be seen as most of the people have taken refuge along the Kot Mithan road and have no tents or safety against the weather.
Tonight, hours after the flood submerged the villages surrounding Kot Mithan, a number of people from these villages came to the relief camps established in Kot Mithan. An hour after their arrival they (along with those who had already been at the camps for the last couple of days) were asked to leave as it was feared that flood water could enter the town of Kot Mithan too.