The power of pictures

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It has been six months since the floods in Pakistan caused huge devastation, left more than 1,000 people dead, killed around 500,000 animals, destroyed more than 2.2 million hectares of crops and affected almost 18 million people. I happened to be here when the water started to spread across the country and it was shocking to see how the disaster unfolded over many weeks, with the swollen Indus River continuing to flood the southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh causing more havoc.

Waiting for their turn: many of these women have never seen a doctor before the floods (Wendy Marijnissen)

Last week I went to the province of Sindh, which hosts Pakistan’s biggest city Karachi, and I could see some of the destruction myself. People were still living in makeshift camps at the banks of the river and during our drive I saw farmers sitting in the middle of their fields, looking desperate and probably thinking: “Where on earth shall I start to rehabilitate my fields again?”

After having worked for UNHCR for six months last year, I came back to Pakistan two weeks ago to join the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) again. I guess I came back at the right time, as my colleague Stacey was in the middle of organising an amazing photographic exhibition to commemorate the floods and hail the remarkable strength and courage of the Pakistani people, whose lives were destroyed by the raging waters.

Forty-two images, showing everything from devastation to hope, are now displayed at the National Gallery in Islamabad, where we had the grand opening yesterday. “The pictures made me realise how big this crisis was, or rather is, and it has inspired me to work even harder to make sure that if this happens again, we will be better prepared,” said my friend Ros, who also works for OCHA.

Despite the hardship, it is good to see that children have not lost their urge to play (Marta Ramoneda)

Around 100 people from UN Agencies, non-governmental organisations, the media and many friends joined us on Saturday afternoon and everyone was very impressed by the photos on display. “The great thing about this exhibition is that it is not just gloomy – you see hope and joy in the people’s eyes, especially the children,” said a visitor.

For me having helped put together this exhibition was great fun but I only joined in the very last minute. My colleague Stacey did an amazing job by pulling it off and I think it will have a great impact on the people, who go and see it. It is a great selection of images depicting what the floods have done to this country. We are hoping to take the photos to Geneva and then to Karachi and Lahore – and it would be great if it could travel all around the world! And if you want to see the more of these amazing images, click here!

My stint with the United Nations is for another three months and afterwards I shall pack my bags and go back to Nepal. The plan is to return to my work with Miss Hawley for a while and then join Russell and his Lhotse expedition and attempt to climb the fourth highest mountain in the world – In Shallah, as they say here.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. yousaf

    my name Muhammad yousaf from Pakistan Mohmand agency. I am in a trouble. I need the help.I have four kids and wife. plzzzzzzzzzz.

  2. Steffi

    Hallo Billi, ich hoffe es geht Dir gut. Ganz liebe Grüße!!

  3. Viviii

    I was going to ring you until I found out it was the middle of the night for you…so, instead, just know I am thinking of you with fond love xx

  4. bethan

    Billli, let me know if it does come to Geneva….or if you might make it here some day! xx

  5. BibekS

    You write nice, and your website is nice too. I love the pictures of manasalu. I am from Nepal and love going on hike, but the closest I’ve ever been to a real mountain was Ghandruk and Ghalegaon 🙂

    I’m glad that you’re doing a great job in helping these people out. Even in Nepal, when one steps outside of the valley, you can see farmers, poor people trying to make their ends meet by working day in day out.

    I live in Kathmandu and day in day out, life is more about going to office and coming back home, have fun and not really caring about those poor people. But at the same time its nice to read about people like you who take it by heart to help other people.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. markus

    lieben Dank für das update und herzliche Grüße

  7. Lizzy Hawker

    In Shallah indeed …. the utmost respect and admiration for what you are doing in Pakistan – and for the people there ……

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