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Pakistan floods have caused ‘humanitarian disaster of epic proportions’

31 August 2022


People use boats to cross flood waters in Sukkur, Pakistan, on Monday

People use boats to cross flood waters in Sukkur, Pakistan, on Monday

HUMANITARIAN aid agencies are scrambling to reach the 33 million people affected by deadly flooding in Pakistan, which has reportedly submerged one third of the country under water, devasting infrastructure and livelihoods.

Since the monsoon season began in June, more than 1100 people have been killed and 364,000 people displaced by dramatically rising water levels which have washed away countless homes, swaths of crops, and several thousand kilometres of road. More of the country could be submerged by the end of the season as more rivers burst their banks. The flooding is said to have been exacerbated by melting glaciers after a severe heatwave.

The Pakistani government has declared a national emergency. Its Minister for Climate Change, Senator Sherry Rehman, this week described the situation as a “climate-induced humanitarian disaster of epic proportions”. She said that the West therefore had a responsibility to support the country and prevent future events.

This was echoed by the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in the country, Julien Harneis, who called for “burden-sharing and solidarity” internationally. The UN World Food Programme plans to deliver food assistance to the worst-hit provinces of Balochistan and Sindh, but distributions are still on hold owing to access issues.

More than 100 bridges and 3000 kilometres of roads have been damaged or destroyed, the UN reports. About 800,000 farm animals have perished, and two million acres of crops and orchards have been devastated.

Since early July, the Roman Catholic aid agency Caritas Pakistan has been responding to the situation in Karachi and Balochistan, which was badly affected. Since then, floods have wreaked havoc on 116 out of 160 districts of the country.

The executive director of Caritas Pakistan, Amjad Gulzar, told Vatican News this week that he had visited two dioceses in Balochistan and the south Punjab district of Rajanpur. “More than 20 kilometres . . . was under the water, and many villages there have disappeared,” he said. “Our team members provided immediate shelter or tents, and cooked food for the victims. The misery and the vulnerability were evident.” The level of response from the government in those areas was not enough, he said.

The Barnabas Fund has launched an appeal to support flood victims. One of its project partners in Sindh said that farmers were “in a state of deep shock and despair” at the losses suffered. Both crops and livestock have been lost, leaving thousands in immediate debt.

Unable to hold back the water, one farmer had to abandon his cotton field and five goats to flee to the city with his family for their own safety, the charity reports. The goats perished when their shelter collapsed. Like other struggling Pakistani farmers, the farmer had borrowed money to buy the fertiliser and seeds, to be paid back after harvest-time from the profits.

The Barnabas Fund said in its appeal notice: “As so often, official government relief does not seem to reach Christians, who turn instead to their churches for help. And the churches have turned to Barnabas Aid, asking for money to purchase desperately needed food, hygiene items, and medicines to deal with diarrhoea, malaria, and dengue fever. Funds to repair their ruined homes will be needed when the flood waters recede.”

The British Asian Christian Association reported on its website this week that it has been able to provide food supplies to 30 Muslim and 30 Hindu families. It has also been “able to respond to the needs of a small Christian enclave in Sindh”, to which it has sent “money for food via a local money transfer scheme called Jazz, and the local Pastor has coordinated a first food distribution”.

Silence. A cleric in Rochester diocese has complained that the C of E appears not to have comprehended the scale of the disaster in Pakistan.

The Vicar of St Andrew’s, Bostall Heath, the Revd Sulaiman Shahzad, told the Church Times on Wednesday: “I am deeply disappointed that so far I have not received a single email or a single phone call from anyone in the diocese or deanery for moral support, or to ask how my family is coping in Pakistan or how I am.”

Mr Shahzad, who is the only cleric of Pakistani origin in the Rochester diocese, said: “I even looked at the diocesan digest circulated to the parishes yesterday, a weekly news bulletin, including monthly intercessions for various things. After seeing this heart-wrenching impact on thousands upon thousands of families in the news, it is not even mentioned in passing on our diocesan intercessions list.”

He contrasts this with the love and support from neighbours, including a cab driver who “left a message hoping that my family is safe and sound and if he can be of any help to me”.

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