Sunday, August 29, 2010

Visit to Flood relief camp at Sachal Goth, Karachi : An eye witness account

I got the chance to visit the flood victims at Sachal Goth, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi today.

The flood affectees/IDPs from the province of Sindh were living in public schools buildings there. The area was pretty safe and reached there without any problem. Families were residing in different rooms of the 3-storey school and there were about 6 of them in a row. Each school had about 600 people residing in it.

Approximate figures I collected are that from the 600 people residing 60% were children, 25% women and 15% men. The 60% children, ranging from the age group of 10 days to 15 years old comprised of 55% girls and 45% boys. The ratio of men is less because many are trapped back in homes due to water and taking care of their homes while asked their families to move to safer places. Overall too each family has a lot of kids as the trend is in rural areas. These women went from one village to another in search for a safer place but everywhere water came and in trucks, wagons and coasters somehow reached Karachi. In urge to save lives of their children and themselves, they were unable to bring any possessions along and now are penniless and support less. They have a roof over them and get food but otherwise have no support. It’s Ramadan, and fasts are kept with a pre-dawn meal i.e. sehri for which there isn’t any arrangement. Food is donated by people and brought or made at lunch or dinner time. In between, they aren’t provided with anything to eat and the children cry a lot for food and milk. They can’t sleep without milk. And the families do not have money to buy and give it to them. Tea is needed severely too and is missing from the arrangements. In Pakistan, people have tea twice or thrice a day, it’s hard to live without it.

As no one has brought any luggage with them, they have no clothes. Either the dress they wearing the only one they got or have one more. They haven’t took a shower or changed clothes for almost 20 days now due to which they now stink and don’t feel fresh enough to sleep or pray. One woman said that the dress on her the only one she got and when ever felt the urge to shower to feel clean or cool would go and put some water over her with that dress on her Feeding mothers are unable to give food to their babies too as because of the smell their babies don’t drink their milk. They don’t have washing powder, washing pots, soaps, etc to take care of their personal hygiene or wash their clothes. The washrooms aren’t clean as well. 20-35 people having to share a room with few belongings crapped in corners around the room and no cleaning apparatus available, the conditions are ripe for spread of infection and diseases. A skin disease camp and a medical camp was put up in the entrance but the medicines being given were sub standard and perhaps wrong. I met a woman who said her son had fever and had three medicines bottles in her hand, when I checked them, I haven’t seen those medicines in my life and they did not have anything written on them for fever instead said they anti inflammatory, etc. So asked her to get Panadol for her son as she complained that when she gave him those medicines his stomach would start aching and he would cry. I met a woman who had a 13 days old daughter whom she gave birth to two days after she moved in this camp. The baby girl was unable to sleep in the towel she was covered in as it irritated her and there was no other cloth the woman possessed to offer to the baby. She hadn’t brought any clothes she had made for the baby to put on her and asked for clothes for the child. Likewise, saw a baby boy in the same situation too. The babies do not have any bed like all the people in the camps and have to sleep on the floor which isn’t any where easy for their sensitive bodies. Their mothers too are unable to give them enough to satisfy their hunger as they too do not get enough food all day to give milk to the baby. In fact a woman who has given birth to a baby has to restrain from eating pulses and certain other things, but pulses and naan (round baked soft floor bread) is all that is given to them in meals. Once a week they get vegetables or chicken. Hence, when they have it and give milk to their babies, their little ones get ill and have stomach aches for which no medicine is available and/or no money to get it either.

The windows of the rooms they were residing in had no curtain or cloth or anything else covering them, which added to the discomfort in the room as there was no prevention of sunlight, wind, dust and noise. All the kids I came across were bare foot and some even without shirts. As Eid is near they are really need clothes to wear on that big day for Muslims and badly need slippers. A girl came up to my mom and requested a lot for a slipper as she said her feet hurt walking without it and stone were bruising her feet. The same request was put up i.e. of clothes and slippers by everyone I met. The children had nothing to do all day and hence get irritated and bored due to which cried and fought. Seeing us their eyes filled with hope and each one surrounded us and started walking with us hearing what we talked and some putting their requests. An old lady sitting on the floor in a room there and other women later said that we should give whatever we want to them with our own hands as they had trust over no one, even if we gave them to a family member of theirs they might not get it at all.

In this hour of trouble, women were certainly very worried thinking about the future and how they would start from the scratch and how their male family members were. Some said they had contact with them and they were trapped in their villages. Others were clueless of the identities of their loved ones and very worried about it. Mothers said that even if they go out without another dress they were okay with it but their kids should get one. It was great talking to them, asking about their trouble and giving them hope which a smile of their face showed but on the inside, in car and back home couldn’t hold the tears back. It was too hard to see them going through so many troubles. Many wanted to say prayers but did not have Quran or a Musla/Jainamaz. There was also a need of tea cups, plates, glasses and water coolers. They had only straw mats to sit and sleep on, and badly needed pillows and bed sheets to put on as a cover and suffered restless nights. We spent some time with them and the place they were living in and the facilities available. They were pretty disciplined and didn’t snatch aid coming in or food given like seen in videos as they were put under a solid roof and their stomachs taken pretty much care of. Those living in tents, on the roads or still trapped back in flood hit areas are in much worser condition.

These IDPs are being taken care of by Sindh Graduates Associations (SGA), an NGO and the management was very cooperative with us. SGA would also be adopting 200 more families from camps and shift to a school in Gadap area.

The list of the items needed by these people I visited were Pillows, Bed sheets, Milk (packet ones) Tea cups, Clothes, Slippers/foot wear, Cutlery, Sugar, Tea, Water coolers, Combs, Soaps, Washing Pots, Hair oil, Quran and Jainamaz, Washing powder/soaps, Biscuits/cups cakes/sweet, Toys/sports items, Cleaning apparatus, Towels, Dust bins,etc. In medicines, those for fever, flu, stomach ache, head ache, infections (especially skin ones) and gripe water were needed urgently.

I took advantage of the visit to talk to women at the camp and tell them the importance of hygiene and how to maintain it. Also, it was great talking to them, comforting them and giving them moral support.

May Allah Help our Dear Country bravely face this troublesome hour and come out of it soon InshaAllah!

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