Pakistan flood victims sell possessions and beg

09/18/2011 08:02 am ET | Updated Nov 18, 2011

By Rebecca Conway

PANGRIO, Pakistan (Reuters) - The family of 12 were relieved when a Pakistani army boat rescued them from flood waters a week ago. But the hardships have only piled up at a makeshift camp.

The few family possessions saved from the roaring waters have been sold to buy food. The children have picked up potentially fatal diseases but can't afford to rest. And Pakistan's government is nowhere to be found.

"The children have been begging in the market to get food, and from the passing cars," said Ahmed Junejo, one of almost 2 million people displaced by floods which have ravaged Sindh province in the south.

Like many flood victims, the Junejo family are resigned to the fact they will have to fend for themselves.

"I just need two things -- food and a tent to protect my children from the sun and the rain. That's what we need here," said Ahmed, 50.

"Nobody has come to even look at us so we don't know where the relief camps are, and nobody had told us about any aid being delivered anywhere. We are still waiting for someone to come."

It could be a while.

Pakistan's cash-strapped government has been slow to respond to the floods, which have killed over 300 people and damaged or destroyed about 1.2 million houses since monsoon rains triggered the crisis in late August.

It's a repeat performance of last year, when authorities failed to ease the suffering of millions hit by epic floods in July and August, prompting the military to take charge.

Some 800,000 families hit by that calamity remain homeless.

The army is active again, traveling across kilometers of flooded farmland in boats to rescue people who have just the clothes on their backs.

But that hasn't eased the anxiety of families like the Junejos, who are stuck on barren land beside a petrol station.

They lost about 20 goats, which were used for milk or food and were their only assets.


The father had to sell his mobile phone for the equivalent of $3. That merely bought some flour and biscuits which may only last a few days.

Like many flood victims, Ahmed believes help can only come with connections to the political elite in Pakistan, where the poor have few rights.

"I want to look after my family and feed them but I cannot. I feel sick from watching my kids like this. Nothing can be done about it. We don't know anyone high up so we just have to wait," he said.

President Asif Ali Zardari was widely criticized for trips to Britain and France last year when Pakistan was battling floods that killed about 2,000 people and made 11 million homeless.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who has been visiting flood victims, said the government could not ease the latest crisis on its own.

"The floods from the rains are beyond anyone's expectations. People's livelihoods, their livestock, crops, and businesses are destroyed," he told Reuters in the town of Nawabshah after touring flood-hit areas on Sunday.

"I appeal to all people, chambers of commerce, the business community and the international community to come forward."

Sindh, Pakistan's second biggest province, was already suffering long before the floods of 2010 or this year hit.

It had levels of malnutrition almost as critical as Chad and Niger, with hundreds of thousands of children at risk, according to the U.N. Children's Fund.

"This catastrophe, at the moment, considering the already poor health and nutrition status, is really extremely seriously for the people. I want to emphasize urgency of getting assistance to them," Timo Pakkala, United Nations Resident Humanitarian Coordinator, told a news conference in Islamabad.

He launched an appeal for $356 million for a rapid response plan for three months. Aid groups have warned of a growing risk of fatal diseases.

Ahmed's youngest child, two-year-old Mansoor Ali, has had diarrhea and fever for over a week. Medicine from a nearby state hospital didn't help. The private clinic was too expensive.

"We don't have anything else to sell," said Ahmed.

(Additional reporting by Asim Tanveer in Nawabshah and Zeeshan Haider in Islamabad; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)


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