8 October 2010
British Red Cross logistics specialists are helping over 90,000 people a week receive relief items and food in southern Pakistan, and they’re continuing to find ways to get life-saving items to families more quickly.
Logistics officer Claire Durham, who recently returned from Pakistan after training local people to help with the operation, said: “The British Red Cross logistics team is managing two warehouses – one in Sindh Province and one in Punjab Province.
“Goods arrive in the warehouses and we work very closely with our Red Cross colleagues from the Benelux, who are managing the relief distributions in those areas. On a daily basis we’re sending out food and other items, like blankets, tarpaulins and water containers, to around 4,200 people. Last week we sent relief out to around 44,000 people in Sindh, and around 50,000 people in Punjab.
“We’re trying to reach families more quickly so we’re continuing to increase our capacity to deliver more.”
Claire continued: “Twenty million people have been affected by the floods – that’s the equivalent to nearly a third of the UK’s population. With a disaster on that scale, it’s hard to even know where to begin.
“I flew into Islamabad a few weeks ago and even though the city hasn’t been affected by the floods, I was woken up by a small earthquake the first night I was there. It was a reminder that Pakistan has a lot of disasters. It was about 33 degrees in Islamabad, and 38 in the south, and that was considerably cooler than it had been in the summer, when it can get above 50 degrees.”
The floods started in the north this summer and then the waters headed south, bringing destruction with them. Claire described how people reacted: “It was a slow movement of water, so people were able to grab some of their possessions and move them to their roofs, but if you imagine you’re on your roof and there’s three feet of water covering the ground for several kilometres around you, where do you go?”
The flat terrain means the water is receding very slowly, and the Red Cross is deeply concerned about the health risks that can cause.
Claire explained: “The land is so flat and the water table is so high that there’s nowhere for the water to recede to. It’s filthy, filled with sewage and dead animals. I’ve been told that people don’t usually tether their animals in Sindh, so when they tried to tether them to move them to safer ground, the cows panicked and bolted. A lot of animals died, and their carcasses are now in the water.
“There are small informal camps along the water. The British Red Cross has hygiene promotion specialists educating people about how to stay healthy in such precarious circumstances. When people’s normal methods of being able to wash have been disrupted, they need instruction on how to boil water and use water purification tablets to help them stay healthy and slow the spread of disease.”
Since a lot of farm land is still under water, people can’t plant their crops, so the Red Cross won’t be able to distribute seeds and tools until spring. Claire said: “Harvest won’t be ready until next August, which means we’ll have to continue food distributions until people can start to be more self-sufficient again.
“People are incredibly resilient, though, and they’re not sitting around waiting for us to help them. They’re doing everything they can to recover as quickly as possible.
“I’m a Red Cross staff member, but I’m also a donor, and I was fortunate enough to be able to see my donation at work. I could see the food being loaded onto trucks. If you’re wondering where your tenner goes, here it is – thousands of boxes of life-saving relief items being loaded onto trucks every day and distributed to people who have lost almost everything.”
More about the Pakistan floods