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‘Scale of Devastation Is Extreme’: Women & Children’s Survival at Stake in Pakistan’s Jacobabad

Women flood victims in Jacobabad district, Sindh, Pakistan

Aneela RashidJacobabad is famous for having one of the world’s oldest camel racing competitions, held every February. But this year, devastating floods and extreme heat have made the area one of the least happy places in the country — and probably in the South Asia region.Jacobabad is the world’s hottest city, located in Pakistan’s Sindh province, where temperatures in summer reach up to 52 degrees centigrade (125.6 degrees Fahrenheit), making it not very suitable for the fainthearted.This year, tragically, the Jacobabad district, with a total population of around one million people, was flooded to such an extent that some parts still remain underwater, with more than 40,000 people reportedly living in temporary shelters, waiting for rescue.Within the main city, commuters have to travel through water-filled streets and many houses have been completely destroyed. Remote towns near Jacobabad are in a much worse situation — livestock and homes have been completely destroyed, forcing locals to live on the roads.Sputnik got in touch with businessman and relief work volunteer Momin Zahur, who together with his wife and family traveled to Jacobabad from Lahore. They have been working hard for the past few months, aiding the flood victims.The areas they visited are very underdeveloped, as some are situated along the Sindh and Balochistan border. Their visit to these remote areas would not have been possible without the local support of Khalid Jakhrani, who according to Zahur has worked day and night to make sure that food and shelter is given to the flood victims.

"We have been going to Sindh and south Punjab for the past two months for relief work. Before that we were sending trucks with relief goods. My brother went to Jacobabad and made a relief effort there on the ground. Then we all went together to Jacobabad, my wife and brother were with me. Last weekend I was in Rojhan (south Punjab) for distribution of ration and tents," Momin Zahur told Sputnik in an exclusive interview.

“The scale of devastation is extreme,” he added.”The victims were attacking us and attacking each other, because they are desperate and have nothing at all. We had a fleet of cars and guards with us, but still we couldn’t control them. The situation is very bad and heartbreaking to see. Each time we go, we try our best to give them what they need,” the volunteer explained.

Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

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Flood victims and team of relief workers in Jacobabad district in Southern Sindh, Pakistan

Another issue that he witnessed while on the ground was that the main areas that are easily approachable receive repeated help and the victims are hoarding relief goods, whereas remote districts and villages which are further off are not receiving anything.

"You can't even go to those areas without local support. You can't just walk to those remote places, you will be attacked because people are so desperate. A few NGOs tried going in and were fired at and some were even beaten up. We have a local friend, Khalid Jakhrani, who has supported us a lot. He himself has been working really hard to help the people in that area. In Interior Sindh and Balochistan, you can't go in without the local support. You can't even think about helping them," elaborated Zahur.

Gov’t Efforts Insufficient, Volunteer Says

Talking about the flood victims in Rojhan (southern Punjab) and Jacobabad, the volunteer shared that some of the victims sitting in tents by the road had their cars parked next to them, which showed that they weren’t totally poor and led a comfortable life before the devastation hit them. Now, however, their lands and homes are all gone, and they are just waiting for rescue.

"Everyone needs to go there and help them. We need the media on our side and we need charity, because the government isn't doing much. The government officials just care about getting their pictures taken. They have set up these tent villages where chief ministers come for a photoshoot, but not to help. In remote areas of Sindh and Balochistan there is not enough help being provided. In Punjab province there is still some relief work happening," the volunteer explained.

Zahur said that at first, he and his brother were reluctant to ask for charity from their extended family and friends, but then, “We thought that we are not asking for ourselves, we are actually asking for the poor people. We have provided a lot from our side as well, but our friends generously gave a lot too. We are in the process of setting up our own NGO as well, we are currently in the process of registering it officially.”Zahur’s narrative and reports from local NGOs all point to the fact that some Pakistanis are traveling to the remote regions worst hit by the floods and are helping with what they can, meanwhile, political and government officials in Sind and Balochistan should do more. Trucks full of relief goods for the flood victims in Jacobabad district, Southern Pakistan.Trucks full of relief goods for the flood victims in Jacobabad district, Southern Pakistan.

Women and Children’s Survival at Stake

“There [is] a lot of malnutrition [among] women and children. At this point, their survival is at stake, I am not sure if these children will even make it, as they are so weak and malnourished,” Zahur shared.He further elaborated that crops in the area have been totally destroyed and harvest season this year will not be possible. “My brother saw two small kids, whose parents had died, sitting in a tent surrounded by a swarm of mosquitoes. An old woman, maybe their grandmother, was fanning them in order to get the mosquitoes away from them. It was just heartbreaking and there are so many such painful sights over there at the moment,” Zahur shared.Regarding women’s safety, the volunteer said that most of the women he saw were with their families, so they seemed fine, but were weak and ill-looking. In some remote areas, there were no toilets, so there are a lot of issues for women that need to be addressed by NGOs and relief workers as soon as possible.© SputnikFlood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.1/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.© SputnikFlood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.2/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.© SputnikFlood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.3/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.© SputnikFlood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.4/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.© SputnikFlood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.5/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.1/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.2/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.3/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.4/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.5/5Flood victims in Jacobabad district, in Southern Sindh struggling to cope with the aftermath of the devastating floods. They are living on the road and waiting for relief goods and rescue.

Current Situation is Extremely Tough, But Worse May Be Yet to Come

Reminiscing of old times, the volunteer shared that his friends who live in the Jacobabad area told him that before the floods, some of these flood victim families would invite his friends to their homes for get-togethers and lavish dinners. Now these families had nothing left and were climbing on top of Zahur’s friend’s trucks to grab relief goods.”Just imagining how a person’s life can change overnight is so disturbing,” Zahur said thoughtfully.Now that the water level is going down, diseases are coming up. Malaria is rampant in the areas the volunteer visited.

"I saw people weak with malaria, high fever just sitting in the medical camps that we helped set up. My point is that these diseases are just starting out and they will cause a lot of devastation. Crime rate is also going to rise," he pointed out.

He concluded by saying that the next couple of years will be very tough for the flood victims.The current situation in the Jacobabad district and other areas in Sindh and Balochistan is very alarming. It is important that Pakistanis, the government, and NGOs continue to distribute life-saving assistance to communities in need. Those who can give charity should contact reliable NGOs operating across the country right away and donate whatever they can.Winter is only a few months away, hence additional challenges for millions who have lost their homes and livelihoods need to be addressed. First and foremost, there is need for a constant supply of clean drinking water, food, shelter, and medicine.There needs to be a large-scale humanitarian response to support the victims’ recovery from this disaster, keeping in mind the risks of future crises fueled by climate change in the country.

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