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Floods in Pakistan: “This is What the Climate Crisis Looks Like”

Mai in a temporary shelter in the Tehsil Salehpat district of Sukkur, a city in the Sindh region of Pakistan. All photos by CARE Pakistan.

Mai in a temporary shelter in the Tehsil Salehpat district of Sukkur, a city in the Sindh region of Pakistan. All photos by CARE Pakistan.

In the middle of the night, Mai’s home in began to fill with water. She and her husband gathered the possessions they could, and they prepared their elders to flee what would become one of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. While they worked, their three-year-old son tipped himself off the bed, into the rising water.

Mai found him there only a few minutes later, drowned.

“I don’t know how I will ever forgive myself,” she says. “My son lost his life.”

Since unprecedented monsoon rains have submerged wide swaths of the country over the past months, thousands of Pakistani families like Mai’s have been forced to flee, and more than 1,500 people have died.

The situation for communities in flood-affected areas is getting worse by the day, particularly for women and girls. CARE officials are concerned the continuing damage will spur an outbreak of waterborne diseases like diarrhea and cholera, which would make the already dire situation even worse.

Mai’s family fears that, even as the waters recede and they grieve for their child, there could be more tragedy to come.

“My four-month old is a premature baby. She is sick.”

Woman, man, and child.
Mai with her husband and their four-month old baby.

The Pakistani government has declared 81 of the country’s 160 districts “calamity hit,” which translates into over 33 million people affected by the floods.

The UN’s reproductive health agency estimates there are almost 650,000 pregnant women in these areas, with up to 73,000 of these women expected to give birth in the next month.

“Nowhere to give birth safely”

Zarbano and Himat had been traveling from shelter to shelter ever since the disaster struck. The floods had washed away their home, destroyed their crops, and killed the animals they relied on for food and income.

Zarbano went into labor at 2 a.m.

Himat tried to find a motorcycle so he could take her to get medical care, but he didn’t have much time. The nearest health facility was an hour and a half away.

When Himat finally found a working bike, it didn’t have enough fuel for the journey. Despite the risk, he realized Zarbano would need to have the baby in the tent.

Women from the nearby shelters came to offer the help they could, and later that morning, Zarbano gave birth to her seventh child.

Woman and man
Zarbano, Himat, and their baby in a temporary shelter in Jacobabad.

“With entire villages washed away, families broken up, and many people sleeping under the sky,” Adil Sheraz, CARE Pakistan’s country director says. “The usual social structures that keep people safe have fallen away, and this can be very dangerous for women and girls. Pregnant women have nowhere to give birth safely, because the floods have washed away homes and health facilities. Their lives and the lives of their babies will be at risk if they can’t access proper maternal health care.”

A child in front of a temporary shelter
In August, CARE distributed tents, tarpaulins, non-food item kits, emergency latrine kits, and hygiene kits to temporary shelters like this one in the Balochistan region.

For the past few days since the baby was born, Zarbano has had trouble walking, especially when she has had to go into the fields to use the bathroom. Her newborn has had no medication or vaccinations, which she says puts him at great risk.

Since the crisis began, CARE has been providing shelter kits with everyday essentials like toothbrushes, underwear, towels, soap, water purification tablets, jerry cans, and mosquito nets, along with tarpaulins, rope, and emergency latrine kits.

But the needs of the country continue to grow, even as the immediate crisis has stabilized. Zarbano’s situation, like Mai’s, is widespread for women and families struggling in the flood’s aftermath.

There is a real fear that the climate crisis could mean emergencies like these will become the new normal.

“These floods are some of the worst Pakistan has ever seen,” Sheraz says, “This is what the climate crisis looks like.”

“Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be another country.”

The Pakistan Meteorological Department estimates that the country has already experienced more than twice the amount of rainfall expected annually, even though it’s only September. And this disaster comes only a few months after a record-breaking heat wave roiled the country in May and June.

The series of disasters adds to a global picture of widespread climate disruptions, where countries like Pakistan, which has contributed less than 1% of the cumulative global carbon emissions since 1750, suffer some of the most devastating effects of the crisis in 2022.

Following the initial disaster response, CARE plans to support the recovery of flood-affected communities by rehabilitating or constructing permanent shelters, water systems, and household latrines. As part of the long-term recovery, CARE also plans to work restoring incomes and livelihoods by providing agricultural resources such as seeds, tools, and poultry kits, as well as cash assistance where delivery of relief materials isn’t possible.

“CARE has already started supporting communities, but the need is enormous,” Sheraz went on. “We appeal to the international community for urgently-need funds so we can scale-up our efforts to provide immediate emergency relief and longer-term recovery assistance. The people of Pakistan have a long and difficult road ahead and need our collective support now.”

To learn more about how CARE is helping flood victims in Pakistan, please visit the emergency relief page here.

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