In the past few days, I have experienced an intense feeling of déjà vu. Visiting several locations in South Punjab, my mind absorbed the surroundings and the words “I’ve been here before” automatically came out of my mouth.
I don’t mean this in the geographic sense, since I visited Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur districts in 2010 and 2011.
My feeling was one of acute dread – of having lived through this nightmare before: villages swept away by raging floods, tents lining every main road, long lines to collect relief items, people salvaging precious goods from rubble and throngs of sick and hungry children in every village.
As an emergency responder with Save the Children since 2010, this was my third flood response in Pakistan in as many years.
I was present in Swat when it was devastated by riverine floods in the summer of 2010 and was part of the first response team in Lower Sindh when monsoon rains flooded the province last year.
Sadly, 2012 is replaying this routine natural disaster in the country.
Lives lost and destroyed
As of early September, eight districts in South Punjab, Upper Sindh and Balochistan have been inundated due to torrential monsoon rains and hill torrents.
More than 400 people have lost their lives and more than 4.7 million others have been affected. More than 390,000 houses have been damaged and 1.7 million acres of farmlands flooded, destroying the entire season’s crops.
I met six-year-old Jamal at his village of Shamsabad in Rajanpur. All that remains of his house are broken fragments of straw, bamboo, sleeping cots, pots, pans and school books, mixed in with thick mud and dirt.
It’s a dismal sight, one that I’ve seen before in Muzaffargarh in 2010 and in Badin last year.
No school or clean water
The tone of Jamal’s voice and innocent expressions also resemble those of flood-affected children I’ve met in the past two years.
He misses his school, which was flooded and is now unsafe because of the broken furniture, mud and dirt in the classrooms.
He’s lost his notebooks. He has no safe place to play. His father worked as a farmhand but with all crops ruined he is forced to work as a casual labourer to earn pitiful daily wages.
What’s worse is that two weeks after the floods wreaked havoc in Jamal’s village, there’s no clean drinking water.
Where there are no hand pumps and pipelines present, people are forced to drink the putrid floodwater. Children are inflicted with diarrhoea and skin diseases, while precious livestock are also getting ill, many dying because of the consumption of impure water.
These deplorable conditions aren’t new and many people have started to think that they will continue to suffer such misery year after year. And who’s to say that they will not?