"Everything is broken and lost"

Flood survivors jostle for food distribution at a camp in Charsadda, near Peshawar, in northwest of Pakistan AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad

Broken infrastructure, dirty water, disease: the scale of the Pakistan flood disaster has overwhelmed the government and resentment is growing.

This content was published on August 5, 2010 - 23:50

Sher Zaman, a Pakistani who works for the Basel-based fair trade label, Step, has travelled through the region and spoke to about the need for international help.

The Swiss foreign ministry said on Thursday it was considering increasing aid to the ravaged nation where 1,500 people have died. Thousands are homeless; tens of thousands are being evacuated. Hundreds of thousands need food.

In all, estimates say more than 3.2 million people have been affected by the floods.

The threat of epidemics and famine loom as the oppressive heat makes matters worse. You live in Peshawar, capital of the province severely affected by the floods. You were travelling through it recently. How does it look?

Sher Zaman: The infrastructure is destroyed. In Charsadda and Nowshera, about 30km from Peshawar, 25 bridges are flooded and damaged, roads are buried, communication is cut off, rail traffic is at a standstill because the tracks are under water.

There was no electricity and no fuel here recently. Most people have lost their homes. In many places, water flows into homes. Refrigerators, televisions, clothes - everything is broken and lost. What about the health of the people? Aid groups fear diseases like cholera could spread.

SZ: Not only cholera. There is a threat of other diseases, too. Many people suffer from intestinal diseases and diarrhoea, because the water is utterly polluted. Flood water mixes with drinking water.

In many places the water supply has collapsed. In some places, workers are dropping off bottled water, but it is not enough. Are there shelters for the victims?

SZ: Yes, in some places, there are tents and facilities maintained by the army and volunteers. [The Swiss foreign ministry has, among other items, delivered 4,000 plastic sheets to help shelter 1,000 families.] People from the affected villages and areas are being evacuated.

In the district, Charsadda, I saw a state-run school, where 6,000 people are being accommodated. Do people have enough to eat?

SZ: The government and army are trying to feed the population, but they are entirely overwhelmed by this immense disaster.

The United States sent six helicopters to help. But the population is so big that there simply is not enough for all. Embassies of various countries are sending in support as well but it seems impossible to reach everyone, especially in remote regions. People are talking about three million people being affected by the floods. Is that number right?

SZ: The Pakistani government has spoken about a million people being affected, while non-governmental organisations on site in the disaster areas are working on the basis of at least three million people. And the number is expected to rise in the coming days. How is the Pakistani government coping with the disaster?

SZ: It is our misfortune that the Pakistani government has little know-how and is ill-prepared in such a situation. The government alone cannot get a grip on it. It’s true they have ministers, politicians, military personnel and various institutions involved, but the problem is immense.

Many areas are not accessible without a helicopter. In addition, the government does not have enough helicopters to reach every region, every village, every house and every needy family.

As a result, people are increasingly frustrated and express their resentment towards the government. I can understand that. So Pakistan is therefore in urgent need of international aid?

SZ: Yes, but the strange thing is that I have heard little so far from large groups or organisations like the European Union, which are active in the region. Small foreign aid organisations provide some help. In the area where I was, I have not seen any foreign organisations. How are you finding out what’s happening in the country right now?

SZ: I get information over my mobile phone. And television stations in Lahore and Islamabad are flying over the disaster area, have reporters on the spot and are reporting on the situation there. Depending on where one stays, one has access to television. The same is true for the Internet. Pakistan is repeatedly plagued by natural disasters. Is the current one a 100-year flood, so to speak?

SZ: According to the Pakistani Federal Flood Commission, it is the worst flooding in 50 years. Since the severe earthquake of 2005 and the tens of thousands of deaths, this is the worst natural disaster that I have experienced.

Gaby Ochsenbein, (Adapted from German by Tim Neville)

Sher Zaman

Sher Zaman is a Pashtun living in Peshawar, Pakistan.

The 42-year-old studied human rights and political science in Bangkok, Thailand.

He then worked for various non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Since 2003 he has been active with the fair trade label, Step, which is based in Basel. He checks working conditions of carpet hand weavers in Pakistan and Afghanistan and assesses working hours, child labour, and women's rights.

He also volunteers for SESWA, a social worker-union organisation and is taking part in relief efforts in the disaster areas.

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Help from abroad

Foreign countries, aid groups and the United Nations have promised or are delivering aid.

The UN pledged $10 million to help Pakistan deal with the disaster and have provided
relief supplies.

The World Food Programme said it had delivered food to 40,000 people and is aiming to reach 250,000 people by the end of the week.

The US is providing $10 million in emergency aid. It has also provided military helicopters, rescue boats, water-filtration units, prefabricated steel bridges and thousands of packaged meals.

The European Union will donate €30 million.

China will donate 10 million yuan.

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Swiss Solidarity postal account 10-15000-6 marked "Asia Floods".

UNICEF Postal account 80-7211-9 (Note: Emergency Pakistan)

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