JOURNEYS

Into the Hurt of the Floods

Leena Samuel, with Food for the Hungry, reports from Pakistan the challenges and the brokenness faced victims there

A young Pakistani boy gets ready to collect food aid from a government-run tent camp for displaced Pakinstanis in the Rahin Yar Khan District in Punjab Province. Severe flooding has caused 8 million people to be in need of urgent aid. Those that have lost homes due to the floods, have retreated to these camps for shelter and food. © Leena Samuel 2010

Leena Samuel poses with Pakistani woman inside the same government-run tent camp. Serving with Food for the Hungry to access needs inside Pakistan, she spoke with about 30 women there who shared about how hard it had been on them without suitable restroom facilities and other basic needs like soap and towels. Alongside Pakistani-based Interfaith League Against Poverty (I-LAP) and Engineering Ministries International (EMI), Leena was able to visit a number of tent camps and see up close many needs of the people. ©  2010

A man takes humanitarian aid back with him as distributed by I-LAP in the KPK Province, in the northern part of Pakistan, at the outset of the flood devastation. ©  2010

The hardest part, when you travel to a place filled with devastation, is that there is so much need. Entire communities are submerged in water, some have gone without aid, and the members of those communities look at you with such desperation. It is a heart-wrenching experience.

As Food for the Hungry’s emergency response program officer, I was sent to Pakistan to connect with our local partner (Interfaith League Against Poverty [I-LAP]), who had already begun to provide assistance to families displaced by the floods. I was there for nine days, beginning August 17, attending meetings in Islamabad, seeking funding sources for our response, and assessing affected communities up close.

A few days after my arrival, I traveled with a team from I-LAP as well as a civil engineer with FH’s partner Engineering Ministries International (EMI) to the southern part of Punjab province, a 13-14 hour drive south of the capital of Islamabad. It is estimated that about one-fifth of the country has been affected by the floods. We drove for hours outside of the flood zone, and there was very little evidence that the largest natural disaster in recent history was anywhere nearby. Then we entered into the flooded areas and came upon entire communities submerged in five to seven feet of water, with displaced families living along the flood banks or on the streets with absolutely nothing but the clothes on their backs. I talked to one woman who said she had less than one hour before her house was submerged. She escaped with only her seven children and nothing else.

A few local government-run camps were set up in the areas we visited to provide basic services of shelter (tents) and some food, but did not have latrines or bathing facilities. We visited two camps and spoke with woman about the difficulties that the limited facilities created for the displaced families. In a tent away from the men, I spoke with 30 women who said they only went to the bathroom at night in the fields when the men would not see them. It saddened me to hear the great lengths the women were taking to uphold their dignity within this disaster.

Our team also visited two hard- to- reach communities about 45 kilometers from the nearest town. The community members, made up mostly of minority Christians and Hindus, were settled along the flood banks of their submerged homes. They were surviving on the little material goods they could salvage. We were the first people to visit them as they had not received any assistance from anyone. On our drive out of the community, we were stopped by a group of men. My initial thought was, “Oh no, what are they going to do to us?” But very quickly I realized there was no danger by looking at their faces filled with fear and desperation. They cried out to us, “Please, please, come to our community. We are only a kilometer away. We haven’t received any help and no one has even inquired about us. We don’t have shelter. We don’t have food. We, we need help and; we need assistance!”

To see these men plead with us was heart wrenching, especially to realize their heavy burden of wanting to care for their families and not being able to do so. Our vehicle was a sign of hope that maybe we could help them, and they were not going to let us pass by without at least trying. It made my heart sink not to get assistance. be able to do more, but we promised that we would do our best to come back…and FH is planning to do just that.

The images of devastated communities, squalid camp conditions and the individuals I met who have been left with literally nothing will stay with me for a long time. Honestly, in my human mind, the devastating situation in Pakistan, which is likely the largest natural disaster in recent history, leaves little reason to hope. There are more than 17.2 million affected with 1,700 dead and 1.2 million houses damaged or destroyed. Those who are affected have been left with nothing besides the clothes on their back – no food, no clean water, no toilets or bathing facilities, no homes, no health facilities, no school for children – and the list of needs continues. And in the midst of such overwhelming numbers, humanitarian aid is only now trickling in and well below the numbers needed to help everyone affected. In the midst of such devastation and the lack of support to meet the needs here, I found myself questioning whether God had forsaken the Pakistani people. How could such suffering endure? And yet, I know the truth that God has certainly not forsaken them. He grieves for them and longs for their needs to be met. He also longs for His children to act on His behalf and to be His hands and feet to deliver relief in His name.

But where do we even begin? In the case of Food for the Hungry, God has provided us with the opportunity to work together with ILAP and EMI to assist 5,500 families (44,000 individuals) in Punjab Province, including the families I met with on my visit, through: • Distribution of hygiene kits (soap, washing powder, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, etc.), kitchen kits (cooking pots, saucepan, plates, cups, bowls, silverware, cooking utensils), mosquito nets, jerry cans (for collecting and storing water). • Distribution and assembly of emergency shelter materials (plastic sheeting, rope, bamboo poles, nails) and toolkits (hand saws, shovels, hammer and a steel bucket). • Addressing water and hygiene needs through: o Repairing, cleaning and disinfecting electric pumped wells and hand pumps. All of the water sources that were tested by EMI’s engineers were contaminated, many with E. coli. o Providing water bladders, constructing bladder platforms and providing tap distribution stands for storage and collection of drinking water. o Distributing Aquatabs (chlorine tablets) for household level disinfection of water. o In cases where there is no access to potable water (or in the interim while existing water sources are being repaired and disinfected), FH will truck in potable water. o Hygiene promotion through distribution of hygiene kits, as well as lessons on hand washing, cleanliness of the body, the importance of clean water consumption, proper defecating practices, etc.

We pray that additional resources will enable us to continue to provide ongoing assistance to these communities. Please become a part of our team in supporting our effort The needs are great and so overwhelming and it is certainly easier to ignore the need and do nothing. However, I believe it is God’s desire that we all act in some way – either through providing direct assistance as FH is called to do or through providing support to those who respond through prayer and/or giving. And what a privilege it is that God chooses us to be His instruments to bring relief to families who have lost everything in need. the floods. While much of the world has already forgotten the devastation facing millions of families in Pakistan, I pray you will not forget. Please pray. Please give. Please do not forget.

--

Leena Samuel is the emergency relief program officer for Food for the Hungry. For more information on FH’s response in Pakistan, go to www.fh.org. Pakistan remains devastated. Twenty million people have been affected the majority of those losing all their crops with their homes. If you would like to help Food for the Hungry’s Pakistan relief, please click this link: http://www.fh.org/learn/news/disaster/pakistan-flood-relief?promocode=EK2IAC0H5