I don’t think I have to say any more about the floods in Pakistan as I am sure you are all seeing daily pictures of these devastating waters that have submerged one fifth of Pakistan’s land – and it does not seem to be over yet.
While I am writing this, sitting in my dry flat in Islamabad, it is pouring down with rain and I am thinking about the millions of people who are somewhere out in the open, with not much left to live on, and the few belongings they were able to save might be getting washed away in this very moment.
For once, I am witnessing myself that television pictures do not lie. The situation is as bad as it is being portrayed by the media, and I think everyone here in Pakistan is overwhelmed by the scale of this catastrophe. People are working around the clock and everyone seems stressed and tired, however, everyone is hopeful that we can at least help a little bit – even though everything we do seems like a drop in the ocean.
I don’t know how the Pakistani people can retain their faith considering what they have been through in the last few years. In 2009, millions of people had to flee the military operations in the north of the country, and when we hear the word ‘Swat’ most of us will probably remember the heavy fighting in the region.
In the last six months the situation in Swat had become a lot better and the internally displaced people, or ‘IDPs’ as we call them, were able to go back home. They returned being hopeful to build up their lives again. They had just started reconstructing their houses, cultivating their lands, the children had started going to school again – and then came the floods.
Difficult life in Swat
Swat is one of the most affected areas, where dozens of bridges have been washed away and some of the area is still inaccessible due to flooding, landslides or simply complete destruction of the road. Humanitarian workers are trying to get to the people in need and they use everything from trucks, rafts to donkey carts but whatever aid is being delivered just is not enough.
The United Nations says more than 14 million people are affected all over the country (the Pakistani government puts this figure to 20 million) and six million people are directly affected, meaning they have lost their houses, their cattle or their complete livelihoods. This emergency simply cannot be compared with an earthquake or the Tsunami as it spreads from all the way in the North in Gilgit-Baltistan to the south in Sindh and Punjab.
The situation in the southern province of Sindh, which hosts Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi, is still precarious as the swollen Indus river just does not want to stop submerging villages and towns in its raging waters. Last night, another 150,000 people were forced to move to higher grounds to save themselves – but it is very unlikely that they were able to save their houses or much of their belongings.
Leaving the sinking ship
I feel helpless, even though I am here in Islamabad, and as I said earlier – I am sitting in my dry flat listening to the rain pounding on my roof and looking at the bags I have just packed to go back to Nepal to climb Manaslu.
I feel bad for leaving the sinking ship and I have considered staying here to carry on my work. It was a hard decision but I have opted for going on my expedition – even though I feel guilty for leaving my colleagues, especially the wonderful Humaira, who I have worked with for the last six weeks. Humaira is a young Pakistani woman and I absolutely admire her for her determination, intelligence and her passion for the work she is doing. She has been great at helping me out whenever I was not able to add up the zillions of figures we have to deal with every day, or quickly telling me that I had to go to this or that meeting, which I would have forgotten otherwise. And she gives me a huge smile when I arrive at work, completely sweaty from my bikeride or soaked from the pouring rain, and it is good to see that she is happy that I have just showed up! To put it in a nutshell – it is great to work with her and she has helped me a lot to organise my my sometimes somewhat chaotic life.
Apart from the stress, the work I have been doing since the floods started has been very interesting and I had the chance to do a lot of media work, especially with the German media. I have done many interviews with German radio and television stations and newspapers, which has been a great opportunity to get the word out and maybe tell the people a little bit about my own experience. But despite of all this, I have decided to leave on Tuesday to go on my expedition but I am sure that they will still be lots of work for me to do when I come back in early October.
But until then I shall be leading a very different life – a life in the mountains, in dry air and cold weather, and in a way I am looking forward to it. I will be writing Himex’s newsletter again and it will be different from writing about the floods. We are all very tired here in Islamabad, and I am taking this time out to maybe recharge my batteries and come back with a fresh mind. But in the meantime I hope that Pakistan will recover at least a little bit from the devastating floods that have been inundating the country since the end of July.
Here are a few links to interviews I have given about the floods in Pakistan:
Daily Times Pakistan 21 August 2010