Major Raelton Gibbs, a member of The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services Team based at International Headquarters in London, recounts a recent trip to Pakistan following floods which devastated much of the country.
THREE hours drive from Karachi in the Sindh Province, southern Pakistan, is the city of Hyderabad. Hyerabad is the sixth largest city in Pakistan and is situated on the banks of the Indus River.
Around the city are some of the worst-affected flood areas, particularly where the river broke its banks and destroyed homes and crops. People have been left with nothing and many have made their way to this major city from the outlying districts in the hope that they will receive some assistance.
Near the city is Khuda Ki Basti, the location of what has become known as The Salvation Army Tent City. On the edge of what can only be described as a desert, away from the floods, this camp of more than 3,600 people has established itself.
The Salvation Army has already distributed 600 tents financed by the Hong Kong Government, and we were at the camp to observe the latest distribution of bedding and non-food items to 100 families by Major Khuram Shahzada (Divisional Commander, Hyderabad) and his team.
Families are getting rations and water delivered by the local government. “But is it enough for the family?” I asked a district official. It seems that it is just sufficient; this is confirmed during the visit in conversations with families.
I went with a representative from NCHD, another non-governmental organization (NGO) working in the camp, to see what they are doing to try and keep children in school. Two small tents provide schooling for 400 children. “We do our best,” the worker tells me. “We have teachers that come in and we try to keep things as normal as we can.” But it is clear that normality is impossible.
Medical help is provided by the local government, with one tent for people with diarrhoea and another for other problems.
Talking to families I heard the same story time and time again – they have nothing left and worry what the future will hold. Wali, a farmer who travelled with his family for more than three hours to get to the camp, says he is overwhelmed. He has never experienced anything like this. He explains that only his son can work to try and gain an income.
I sympathized with Wali, but there was little practical help I could offer. I told him that the people working in the camp are trying to increase the support they can offer.
Major Shahzada had a little experience in a previous disaster in Pakistan, but this is the largest response he has been part of. I wondered, “did he feel he had been thrown in the deep end?”
“I don’t feel overwhelmed,” he reassured me. “I have a good team here and we have had support from both territorial headquarters and International Emergency Services who have helped us with the processes needed to do the best we can.” This certainly showed in the distribution I observed. It was well organized, records were kept well, and the relationship between the local leaders, officials, and NGOs was good.
The field trip, conducted in temperatures in excess of 100 degrees fahrenheit, was exhausting. I took time out for interviews with the local press to give an insight into what The Salvation Army is trying to achieve in this community, which is more than 90 per cent Muslim.
This was not my first emergency response, but nothing had prepared me for the scale of this disaster. This feeling was emphasized when we moved on to another camp some miles away where around 16,000 people had gathered. This was where Major Shahzada planned to begin distributions next.
We passed people on the side of the road who were also victims of the flood but who do not seem to have accessed any support. We are still in the emergency phase, but this will pass into recovery which will increase the complexity of the situation as people return home and try to rebuild their lives.
There is always something more you can do, more people you can help.