Our Holiday Would Have to Wait


Theo Alexopoulos,
Deputy Safety and Security Manager,
CARE Pakistan

September 20, 2011

"If you want something important done, don't do it on Christmas Day – everyone will be away," I remember my buddy joking, while we were bouncing around inside a Series 3 Land Rover on a security training exercise in New Zealand some time ago. Flash forward to Pakistan in August 2011: I am driving with our CARE team leader, Karuna, in a Toyota 4x4 on a field assessment in central Sindh. It is Eid, a major holiday, the end of the Ramadan. All our staff, including the drivers, have gone to their home villages to be with their families, and the country is on standstill observing national celebrations after a month of fasting for Ramadan. The heavy monsoon rainfall and rising waters have us a little on edge. We have no idea that our response will be one of the first by an NGO - right at the heart of another emergency.

As the rain continued non-stop for almost 2 full days, Karuna would suggest areas he was interested in visiting, and we would dart around the region, hoping for access and a return route on roads that were at risk of closing. We monitored the river and swelling canals, inspecting for damage and trouble spots. I was liaising frantically back with our country office via Blackberry, snapping shots between wiper blade strokes and potholes, and taking notes in my little note-book. From time to time we would stop to stretch our legs and reflect on the disaster unfolding before our eyes.

The roads around Dadu were eerily quiet, with no sign of the infamous chaotic traffic, only the drumming of persistent rain pelting the roads. By parking next to the door of our staff house in town, we could climb into the car to avoid wading through over a foot of water mixed with garbage and stinking sewage. In rural areas, we saw mud houses melting away like chocolate ice-cream.

When the rain stopped, we knew that a new deluge of work was coming our way. CARE staff and our local partners were headed back to the field office. They would need an immediate and accurate account of the situation. Media paints one story, helicopter rides another – but "eyes on the ground" can't be beat. We were there on the ground. Within days, after only a small break in the weather, Southern Sindh was hit much harder. Roadsides and school grounds became crowded with families who had lost their homes. Our nearby warehouse was packed with emergency stocks ready for distribution: tarpaulins for temporary shelter, mats, shawls, cooking utensils, hygiene sets with antibacterial soap, tanks for safe water storage. Our holiday would have to wait.

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Sindh province, southern Pakistan. Just one year after an unprecedented flood affected 20 million people, new flooding is threatening lives and livelihoods in Pakistan. Sindh, a province in the south of the country, is the worst affected. Nearly one million houses have been damaged, thousands of livestock have been lost and more than five million people are struggling to rescue their livelihoods.