Update from Sukkur

August 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

Saqib sends this harrowing update on a week of relief work in Sindh (updated)

I have been trying to write about my time in Sukker but didn’t quite know how. I am here in the middle of it but it is tough to express in terms of straightforward reporting. There is misery and then there is news of things getting worse. So I am taking the easier way out and writing about my time here.

Its been a draining week. I have been in Sukkur for about 7 days now. The first few were spent in the office and the last 3 in the warehouse. Through a WFP program, SRSO is targeting to deliver 1 month ration to about 42,000+ families in 5 districts: Kashmore, Ghotki, Shikarpur, Khairpur and Sukkur. In about 5 days now since we started, hundreds of trucks have been in and out of the warehouse and food has been dispatched for close to 11,000 families.

The first few days here were hard, seeing and hearing about people being homeless, children taking shelter under little sheets of plastics, people crowded into petrol stations for want of light and bathrooms. I visited camps in Sukkur and some in Kashmore, where government provides them water from a tanker once a day but not much else. Camps need drinking water supply, latrines and food supplies – the very basics, which are somehow missed by our government. SRSO has been going around installing hand pumps for water and dry latrines. Hand pumps can apparently be set up in a couple of hours, provided there is ground water (and there is ground water these days) and dry latrines. The last camp I saw had a water pump with the water slightly brackish but drinkable. Dry latrines are a 3 or 4 feet hole in the ground with a squat toilet attached on a wooden frame that sits on top of the hole. A green sheet goes around for privacy.

The desperation and need is so strong here that after a while I did not want to see it anymore. Somehow then I ended up doing warehousing for the WFP/SRSO project. The warehouse is a world of its own, four walls, huge compound, small offices with intermittent electricity, lot of people doing labor, drivers, contractors, trucks and rations. There are characters here, H the 22 year old who suddenly found himself to be “the logistics guy”, NP the guy who is actually supposed to be in-charge of logistics but does not quite know what it means, the 2 guys doing ration counts on and off the trucks who seem to be always together and then there is the contractor, B. B is big, and he is the contractor for trucks and labor, and also president of transport for Sukkur. An admin told me that he is also a part-time kidnapper, has slapped a politician and not someone to mess with. B laughs and gets pissed off at people in about equal measure and told SRSO the first day they would not be able to mobilize 5 trucks without him. I don’t know how the contract negotiations went but there are 45 trucks at our disposal running round the clock and B is present at the warehouse 24/7, where his chelas do malish as he lolls about on the charpai at night.

Sukkur is hot but it’s the humidity that gets you. Its like a sauna room without the shade. You sweat all the time and in the sun you sweat profusely. I noticed for 2 days running now that I don’t use the bathroom all day although I try to drink a fair amount of water. Its all sweated out which I think explains the constant headache that is immune to Ponstons. In this heat the labor works all day and night, loading and unloading trucks. Over five days they have handled over 1000 tons of ration. My estimate is that about 30 to 40 people are rotating so that’s about 5 to 7 tons per person per day of lifting, moving, loading. Then the drivers, who drive non-stop, all the way to places like Kashmore, normally 2 hours from Sukkur but now about 6 to 8 because the shorter routes are cut off by water. Poor in Pakistan work very hard for very little – the poorer you are the harder you work for a pittance.  The office staff at the warehouse is working on next to no sleep because trucks are leaving at bizarre times. I came back at 11pm and 10 loaded trucks were getting ready to leave while another 5 were being loaded and will leave sometime in the very early morning. The staff got a break last night and got about 6 hours of sleep in the small office of the warehouse after going almost 48 hours without any. The generator in the warehouse is attached to the godowns but not to the office so we are usually sweating away even when inside.

The roads are getting worse all the time. As you near Kashmore there is now apparently a patch (long one by all accounts) which is overrun by water. The police allow only one truck to pass at a time because weight and water supposedly make roads sink. This creates a bottleneck which can be as long as 40 to 50 trucks all lined up for hours. Food delivery is getting more precarious in places like Kashmore and Shikarpur because trucks get attacked by people who have not eaten for days. A government truck got looted on the Guddu barrage and they got some rations from one of our trucks which were right behind. Last night, we lost 6 bags of flour and 1 cooking-oil can at the Sukkur toll plaza traffic jam. We have figured out that not only transportation but the actual delivery at camps is safer in the dead of night or very early morning when people are sleeping or sleepy and the roads empty. Yesterday there were 3 to 4 women at the warehouse gate with about 8 to 9 young children around them begging for a bag for flour and it felt horrible not to give them one. They pleaded with the guard for over 1.5 hour.

Dr. Sono, the SRSO CEO, came back from Jacobabad today and I went to pick him up from Panu Aqil Cantonment where he returning in a helicopter because Jacobabad city is water locked. Fortunately for most of the people there, the town was evacuated before the floods hit but unfortunately not everyone got out. The DCO and the air force with a small number of police are the only government left in the city. According to the DCO there are about 10,000 families still stuck there with no food, no shops, nothing. Dr. Sono said thousands of people were lined up on the roads and were attacking every car (he had the air force/police escort) and about 200 showed up at the building where he was meeting the DCO. They were demanding that the people inside give them the food that they believed was being hidden in the building. These people have not eaten for at least 4 days and when the DCO tried to distribute the little food that was brought on the helicopter, he was mobbed and his clothes torn. 10,000 families (x 7 people) locked in a town, hungry and nowhere to go.  Government has been trying to run airlifts but how do you get so many people out? How do you figure out who goes first? Dr. Sono thinks food needs to get in before you can even think about organizing anything sane because people there are going crazy from hunger quite literally. Someone needs to figure out some kind of land access if this many people are to come out but I don’t really know what the water situation is like and if its even possible.

In other news the bridge between Moro and Dadu got damaged by water and the towns are cut off from each other. I also heard of more breaches in bunds but I forget where. This situation will take a long time to fix unless massive amounts of aid, with proper organization and political will come into play. Considering its Pakistan we are likely to be 0 on all three counts and will go through this time without epidurals. Where this all ends up is anybody’s guess but I don’t think this country is going to be the same ever again. This is a major turning point and its for the worse.

I fly back tomorrow morning and I will sleep for a few days after this. Next week if things align I will be back in Sukkur.


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