Urgent Response Needed for Flood Victims

August 18, 2010 1:43 pm
Eight million people have been reported homeless and the fate of millions more hangs in the balance as the flooded Indus River, 3,200 kilometre long, rages uncontrollably into Pakistan’s southern economic heartland.
So far the vast wave of water has swept all before it, flooding over 700,000 hectares of land and ruining millions of tonnes of newly harvested crops. Tens of thousands of homes have been flooded, with the only escape for the occupants to sit on rooftops hoping for rescue. Meanwhile the monsoonal rains show no sign of abatement.
The deluge is expected to bring fresh flooding along vast stretches of the Indus basin, even as army engineers race to shore up river levies protecting the land. One critical bank of levies is situated just 8 kilometres outside low-lying areas of the city of Hyderabad in the Sindh province. Hyderabad, which is home to 2 million people, is expected to be inundated by the unstoppable floodwaters within the next 24 hours.
Catholic Mission Director for Pakistan, Father Mario Rodrigues, has just returned from the worst hit area in the north of the country. “At present there are over 2,000 who have died and eight million who are homeless,” he said.
“There is no drinking water available as all the reservoirs have been contaminated. The people drink the water around them to keep themselves alive and as a result end up suffering from diarrhoea and other stomach infections.
“They are expecting another flood to hit during the weekend. I am at present collecting relief goods to help anyone in need, especially the Christians who are not welcomed in the relief camps set up by the Government.”
Australian-born Columban Missionary Father Robert McCulloch, due to return to mission in Hyrabad early next week told Catholic Mission today, “Pakistan has never seen a disaster on this scale.”
“The loss of life and housing is the immediate concern of disaster relief, but the greater tragedy for Pakistan is the loss of a bumper harvest of wheat which has been utterly destroyed by the flooding,” said Fr. Robert. Unlike Australia, where grain is stored in silos, the newly harvested grain is left covered in the fields before transportation. “All of this is underwater now,’ said Fr. Robert. He said he anticipated that famine will follow the flood. “The long term consequences for the people will be devastating.”
Father Robert is Chairman of the Administrative Council of St Elizabeth’s Hospital, the Catholic hospital run by the Diocese of Latifabad in Hyderabad. At the time of writing, he had just finished a phone call with the hospital’s administrator, James Francis, who briefed him on the emergency measures being taken in preparation for the flood.
“He told me they have moved everyone to upper floors of the hospital, but the anticipation is that the essential equipment on the ground floor, including our power generator, operating theatres and x-ray clinic, will all be submerged,” said Fr Robert.
“Larger health issues will emerge almost immediately due to the water-borne pollution. The Indus River is the source of drinking water for millions of people. The monsoon rains are still falling. We have just suffered an epidemic of hepatitis and now the humid weather will bring swarms of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.”
Father Robert said the housing of ordinary people will not withstand the flood waters. “The only place for families to take refuge is on the rooftops in the rain. I also pray for the welfare of the Haris (tenant farmers) who work lands along the river. They have nowhere to go and are entirely exposed to the open air. Their only hope of evacuation is if their landlords organise it.”
Despite the devastation in Pakistan, Father Robert said he would be returning to Hydrabad as soon as possible. “We Columbans are not fair weather priests; our place is to be with the people no matter what. We ask that you pray for the people of Pakistan in this terrible time and pray that the generosity of world aid that will come into the country should conform to principles of equity and justice. The ordinary people have so very little, and the fear is that donations will not go to where the need is greatest.”
SUPPORT BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER THE DISASTER: for more information phone 1800 257 296 or visit www.catholicmission.org.au