Millions in Pakistan still depend on handouts

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Pakistan still struggles to cope with its worst natural disaster in living memory. A month-and-a-half after monsoons caused devastating floods throughout the country, submerging an area the size of England, at least eight million people remain dependent on handouts for their survival, which many say are too slow coming. Madiha Tahir gives us an update from Sukkur, Pakistan.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Pakistan faces two threats. Either one would be enough to threaten the stability of Pakistan's fragile government. Combined, they are serious enough to cause anxiety, not only in Islamabad but in Washington. In a moment, we'll hear about the latest suicide attack in Pakistan. The third in a week. But first, we return to the devastating floods that have left millions homeless. Aid has been slow to arrive to those in need. And even the camps that have been set up are not taking care of everyone. Madiha Tahir begins her report at a camp in Sukkur.

MADIHA TAHIR: Abdul Razzaq has been at this refugee camp for ten days with his wife and children. He says he's hungry and hot.


ABDUL RAZZAQ: They still haven't arranged for any food. They told us last night they would send us ten dishes of food, but we still haven't gotten them. And there are no arrangements for water. No water truck so people can have drinking water.

TAHIR: Razzaq's camp is being run by a small local NGO, one of several that are administering camps in the southern province of Sindh. Hundreds of low-lying villages here effectively sank after flood waters smashed through embankment walls. Some of those who fled walked for days with their families to get to a campsite hoping for food, medication and a clean place to stay. But, with little government oversight, they haven't always found it.


RAZZAQ: Every time a car comes, people follow it to see who's coming. And these tents are so hot, you have no idea.

TAHIR: International and local NGOs as well as the government have been struggling to cope with the onslaught of refugees, but logistical problems are multiplying and camp space is running out leaving many of the displaced to fend for themselves. Gulzar, who goes by one name, has been living under a bridge by the side of a dusty intersection with his wife and seven kids for the last ten days. Cars, trucks and rickshaws roll past blaring their horns and spitting smoke in the air. Gulzar says basic hygiene has become a problem.


GULZAR: My kids sleep on the ground. They sleep in the dust. Young kids are sick and cholera is spreading.

TAHIR: The family's belongings, a pedestal fan, a bundle of clothes, and pots and pans, are piled by the railing on the side of the road, exposed to the weather and thieves. But for Gulzar going to a camp-located right across the street isn't an option. That's because he doesn't have his national ID card that he would need to register as a refugee.


GULZAR: It fell in the water, so what am I supposed to do about that. It wasn't like I could go along with the water and figure out where it was.

TAHIR: Rejected from camps, these refugees have been resourceful jerry-rigging makeshift tents and even straw shacks along the side of the road. This group has its ID cards, but they say they've been denied entry for other reasons.


SHANTI BIBI: We're Hindu and so they say we have no religion. But God can see we're all in trouble. But, no one listens to us here. We get pushed around no matter where we go.

TAHIR: Shanti's makeshift shack, like others who live next to her, overlooks a private campsite organized by wealthy individuals. Shanti and others follow me down to the camp when I speak with an aid worker there. He's clear about why those on the hilltop haven't received help.


MALE SPEAKER: These people are Hindus.

TAHIR: An argument quickly breaks out between aid workers and the refugees who've been denied service.


BIBI: So what if we're Hindu? So the poor can die and that's ok?


MALE SPEAKER: The non-Muslims will get tents. They will get tents. They're coming.


BIBI: No, no don't lie!

TAHIR: When I speak with one of the camp organizers, Afzaal Ahmad Shaikh, he says, the problem is that there is simply no space. But he also blames the refugees for their religious and ethnic divisions.

AFZAAL AHMAD SHAIKH: These people have problems with each other, like these Baloch tribes don't want to stay with the Hindus. The Hindus don't want to stay with Baloch. 25% of my camps are for non-Muslims.

TAHIR: Why have a quota system even? Why can't you help first come first served?

SHAIKH: Because we don't have an issue. These people have an issue with other Baloch tribes and other tribes. We don't have any problem if it's 75%, 80%. We don't have any problems. For we are working for humanity, not for any religion.

TAHIR: Whether it's the fault of those fleeing the floods or those organizing camps for them, the lack of government oversight as campsites proliferate means that religious and ethnic divisions are reflected in the relief efforts. That's likely to compound the incredible logistical problems. And for these refugees, it may mean the difference between shelter and the open sky. For The World, I'm Madiha Tahir, Sukkur, Pakistan.