For the second consecutive year in Pakistan, monsoon rains have wreaked havoc. One-fifth of the entire country found itself submerged last year and 2011 is proving another tough year, mainly in the Sindh and Punjab provinces.
Twenty-two out of 23 districts in Sindh Province have been affected in 2011 so far, as have parts of Punjab Province. Five million people have been impacted in some way. World Vision’s Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Manager Ian McInnes is leading the aid organisation’s response in Pakistan and sent this story from the field…
Rahemma’s house burnt to the ground just days before the flooding began, sparked by an accidental cooking fire. When the waters started rising, her husband, 67-year-old father-in-law, four children and three other relatives had no option but to flee to the only dry ground remaining; two classrooms at a school already occupied by 15 other families. The rooms are linked by a dangerous stretch of wooden planks bridging a stagnant, mosquito infested pond, left behind by the receding flood waters.
Rahemma is pregnant for the ninth time at just 35 years of age. She has already lost four children at birth, and of the four remaining, one has a severe mental disability. In one sense the timing of this pregnancy couldn’t be worse, she has lost all her possessions and food is scarce; the family relies on the generosity of poor families living adjacent to the school.
To make matters worse, her father-in-law Sohrab tells us the authorities have asked them to vacate the premises in three days’ time. They have no idea where they will go or how they will survive. Sohrab’s job as a cotton picker, which used to earn him a meagre 90 rupees a day (exactly $US1), no longer exists as the cotton fields have been washed away.
However in another sense, the timing couldn’t be better. Suffering from abdominal pain, Sohrab brought Rahemma to a newly established medical centre run by World Vision’s partner Muslim Aid. World Vision’s Dr. Rasheed Ahmed was on site that particular day and agreed to see her.
“Rahemma is not unlike many women in rural Pakistan,” he explains. “She suffers oedema; most likely caused by a lack of protein in her diet. She is poorly nourished in general and routinely sick from un-hygienic living conditions”.
Clearly her overworked and undernourished immune system simply can’t get on top of these ailments and other niggling problems like persistent skin disease. Rahemma would normally go untreated, either because she was unable to afford the necessary care, or the simple fact she is beyond the reach of Pakistan’s scant public health system.
We passed the remnants of many former rural health clinics on our way to the Muslim Aid facility, long since closed for want of staff and funds. We explored one, finding an x-ray machine, dental chair, blood pressure cuffs and a dispensary. Displaced and desperate families had moved into the building but ironically, despite the fact they were surrounded by an assortment of medical equipment - there was no-one there able to make use of them, or offer them any help at all. World Vision and Muslim Aid have now seized this opportunity and will reopen the clinic.
This sort of lack of basic health-care has undoubtedly contributed to Rahemma’s past pregnancies failing as often as they have succeeded. This time, with the help of World Vision and Muslim Aid, she stands a better chance.