The Crisis of Too Much Water
David Burton, with Food for the Hungry, in Pakistan, reflects on the floods and the emergency aid being distributed
- David Burton // October 14, 2010
Driving to the village of Malik Ibrahim, I felt uncertain what to expect. This was the worst flooding Pakistan had seen in decades. I spent weeks in the Pakistani capital working on logistics, but now I was about to enter a village in the Pakistan flood zone.
The village lies miles from the banks of the River Indus, but such has been the extent of the disaster in Pakistan that I knew it had been overrun by flood water. Stepping from the car, I was surprised to find cracked earth beneath my feet; isn't this a flood zone?
What I was seeing was the difficult truth of flood disasters. It's not just that there's too much water; it's that there's too much water in the wrong place. Once the water has left its course, there's no controlling where it will go or what it will do. The sight of flooding is shocking, because it’s the sight of a country bleeding internally.
Infrastructure is ruined by such a vast volume of water; floods do damage that remain long after the waters subside. As we drove toward the village, irrigation trenches on one side of the road had been filled to overflowing. On the other side, they were empty and dry. This is a chaos that will ruin farming fields for many months to come.
Malik Ibrahim is watered by canals, which make this otherwise-arid land farmable. Situated a few miles from the intersection of two channels, the village was dealt a cruel blow in July. When the flood waters swept down from the mountains to the plains of Malik Ibrahim, they overwhelmed the 10-foot deep canals, breaching them in a total of 11 places. A flood that would have reached a few miles from the banks of the Indus was given far greater reach, and the lives of thousands were ruined.
FH arrived in Malik Ibrahim in mid-September, and I was there to see distribution of our supplies to those most in need. The first step is to help people get a roof over their heads, then a meal, then a household – but the dispatch of these supplies is the culmination of several weeks of hard work.
Houses have been destroyed. Often these homes were made out of simple mud bricks and have literally dissolved in the flood water. To combat this problem, we were giving out basic shelter kits. A few lengths of bamboo and some tarpaulin, some nails and some tools, so people can either put up entirely new houses or repair and add to the remains of their existing homes.
This is crucial to good recovery. Homes are more than shelter – people need places they can rest. When their homes are destroyed, people lose everything that gives them a sense of belonging and stability. They cannot control their environment, ensure the security of their children, or cook for themselves, so we were also distributing hygiene and kitchen kits.
It was fascinating – and humbling – to see the supplies being handed over. Before reaching Malik Ibrahim, I had been working nearly 1,000 km away in the capital Islamabad. I had trawled warehouses and spent many hours negotiating prices to ensure that we could reach the largest possible number of people with the quality of aid they needed.
Over the course of several frustrating delays – including public holidays in which no trucks could be found for distributing emergency aid - I had thought about these supplies until they lined up in my mind like numbers. 5,500 kits for 5,500 families, to reach a total of 44,000 people – yet in Malik Ibrahim, I was reminded with a bump that each one of those people was unique and desperately in need – yet also dignified and worthy of themselves, a child of God.
As always when working with beneficiaries of relief or development, I was humbled and silenced by the awareness that these people are not looking for hand-outs or money. All they need is a helping hand to get them back on their feet after the most devastating event of their lives.
These supplies have helped with many people's short-term insecurity. But sadly, the ground around Malik Ibrahim is saturated and the water will be standing for many months. Crops will not be planted. Next year, when the attention of the world has turned away, millions of people in Pakistan will run out of food reserves. They will need our help still as they continue to struggle and bring themselves out of this affliction.
This is not the end of the story for Malik Ibrahim. There are many challenges ahead. We pray that with their new homes, the people here will find the beginnings of stability and recovery. We pray that we will be able to be here to help those most in need, as new challenges present themselves, and to help people to be part of their own recovery.