Pakistan: Misery amidst the mud in Karachi's slums

By Mubashir Fida, of the International Federation in Karachi, Pakistan

The men, women and children of the Gadaab slum area in Karachi have been left standing knee-deep in water, their shanty homes destroyed, and with no food or electricity following last weekend's deadly storm.

As cyclone Yemyin heads north-west, dumping torrential rain on the Baluchistan coast and forcing thousands to flee, Karachi is cleaning up from a violent storm which claimed over 200 lives.

In Gadaab "town", 24 people died and 270 were injured while 1,000 families either had their homes badly damaged or destroyed.

Whilst the storm was severe, it was the lack of adequately designed housing, which caused so many people to be affected. Many families live in houses with walls made of mud and loosely-fitted corrugated galvanized iron roofs. When the winds and rain came, the walls simply collapsed into piles of sludge, while the iron sheeting was flipped off like playing cards.

Pakistan Red Crescent Society Medical Officer, Dr. Ali Warsi, is working in the area with a mobile medical team and says the situation is grim.

"The first thing we saw was that people were desperately in need of clean dinking water," he explains. "At the moment, the water sanitation facilities of this area have been completely destroyed.

"People do not have sufficient clothes and the children are in vests. Many of the houses collapsed, so people are living in temporary shelters and many of them are still under open sky," Dr. Wasi adds.

Red Crescent relief

Most of the inhabitants are day laborers, doubling their misery since the flooding and wreckage across Karachi means no work, and that means no food.

The Pakistan Red Crescent Sindh branch is organizing the distribution of 500 family food parcels, which consist of a 10kg bag of rice, bags of lentils and sugar, and some matches and candles.

In addition to Gadaab, the Pakistan Red Crescent has medical teams working in two other poor areas of Karachi - Landhi and Manora. Two other teams are working in the rural districts of Thatta and Badin.

In a matter of just a few hours, the medical team in Gadaab treated 279 patients, and Dr. Wasi says most of them are children.

"Due to stagnant water, there are many patients with gastrointestinal infections, respiratory tract infections, skin diseases and influenza," he said.

Government relief camps have sprung up around the city, while authorities desperately try to reconnect water and power supplies to enable people to return to some semblance of normality.

Meanwhile, to the north of Karachi in the district of Dadu, areas have been cut off due to flooding and a state of emergency has been declared.

Approximately 14 villages have been affected by irrigation canals bursting their banks. The Pakistan Red Crescent has already dispatched relief items for 50 families in that area.

Deluge hits Baluchistan

As Karachi mops up, the neighboring province of Baluchistan to the west is getting drenched as a result of cyclone Yemyin passing by.

The roads to Turbat and the port town of Gwadar were cut off on 27 June due to surface flooding. Around 8,000 people had been forced out of their homes in Turbat and there have been 14 reported deaths in coastal areas of Baluchistan.

The Pakistan Red Crescent has an emergency assessment team arriving in Turbat from the provincial headquarters in Quetta, along with family packs for 200 families made up of tents, tarpaulins, jerry cans and hurricane lamps. Another 200 sets of relief items have been dispatched to another coastal area.

The International Federation's delegation disaster management manager, Asar ul Haq, says coastal communities are vulnerable to any form of flooding.

"They are generally poor and not used to heavy rain, since this is a predominantly dry area. People tend to have mud houses in or near dry river beds... a deluge like this will hit them hard," he says.

Ul Haq says the immediate challenge now is gaining access to affected areas, since portions of the coastal highway and bridges have been washed away.