Pakistan

Pakistan floods: the forgotten catastrophe

 Three months after the start of Pakistan's catastrophic floods, 21million people are still homeless and water levels in some areas have barely decreased. One of our French Observers went there for a month to help the affected populations. He returned with the feeling that his countrymen back home had already moved on to something else.  

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In the Sindh Valley, September 2010.

 

Three months after the start of Pakistan's catastrophic floods, 21million people are still homeless and water levels in some areas have barely decreased. One of our French Observers went there for a month to help the affected populations. He returned with the feeling that his countrymen back home had already moved on to something else.

 

The floods in Pakistan constitute ‘the worst natural catastrophe that the United Nations has dealt with since its creation 65 years ago,’ stated the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, prior to a crisis meeting in September. According to the most recent estimates, the floods have caused 9.7 million euros of damage. And the risk that the desperate inhabitants will turn to al Qaeda for help has alarmed specialists.

 

Although the water has receded in the north and centre of the country in the past few weeks, humanitarian agencies are especially worried about the persisting floods in the southern province of Sindh, in the Lower Indus Valley. Our Observer has just returned from the region.

Article written in collaboration with Paul Larrouturou, journalist.

 

"Once it's no longer a major event, the French forget, even though it is still going on"

 

François Colson is an engineer specialising in water treatment. He left as a volunteer to help set up drinking water stations in the Pakistani regions affected by the floods.

 

In France, it is incredible how little people even consider the 21million flood victims left homeless in Pakistan. As soon as it is no longer a 'major event', the French forget, even though it is still going on. The latest news is that the floods are slowly receding from the valley in Sindh, but it has been flooded for three months. The people have lost their homes, their harvest and their seeds. The food situation is going to be disastrous as the Sindh Valley is also a grain shed for the whole continent.

I was on holiday in the south of France when they called me to ask if I could fly out to Pakistan a week later. I left with three tonnes of goods in a French plane flying under the auspices of NATO. I had travelled several times to India, but I was a little scared about going to Pakistan. It has a reputation as a country at war that holds nuclear weapons and harbours Taliban fighters. But once you snap into action, you soon forget all about that -- what's important is to help people on the ground.

 

We were permanently escorted by 5 police officers and we were never threatened. At one point, in Baluchistan, we felt that the men protecting us were very tense as we passed through a conflict zone between the Taliban and NATO. But it has to be pointed out that on our trip, 10 westerners were kidnapped and executed at point blank range.

 

 

In the Sindh Valley, September 2010.

  

 

I stayed for a month, during which myself and two young colleagues installed three drinking water stations. I was obviously affected by the sight of the devastated countryside. There was not a cloud in the sky, but water stretching as far as the eye could see. All that water and none of it safe to drink. We were dumbstruck because we were almost the only ones to arrive bringing aid to them. There were tents and some food for the affected. That's all.

 

The Pakistani people are stuck in a difficult position

 

The Pakistanis are very peaceful and gentle people. They know that their government cannot be relied upon and that the Taliban do not care about their best interests either. They are stuck in a difficult position. It is a country with huge potential and a rich culture, but the floods have shown what is eroding all that: the rife corruption. For example, the infrastructure has taken a direct hit as the dykes broke due to a lack of maintenance."

 

One of the three drinking water stations installed by our Observer

  

 

 

 

 

Photos taken by and published with the kind permission of François Colson.