Local people are working around the clock to rescue families cut off by rising flood waters. Using wooden fishing boats, a navy of local fishermen known as “Malah” and volunteers are working with local groups, Oxfam, and the Pakistani authorities to evacuate more than 50,000 people.
Fifty volunteers working in an area of Punjab, mobilized with the help of Oxfam, had their boats ready when the monsoon struck a week ago. With lists of “drivers” prepared, they responded immediately to help stranded families reach dry land. In just the last few days, this one group has evacuated 6,000 people, and their efforts continue.
Javed Iqbal works for the local organization supported by Oxfam. He said:
“We are still working to evacuate families who are cut off because they live in between difficult streams unknown to people around here. ‘Malah’ are local boat men who know the zigzag of the streams and can help us navigate to remote areas in need of help. We should have reached everyone in this community by the end of tomorrow.”
In another area of Punjab, rescuers are working fast to rescue 3,000 people from an area of land which is fast being consumed by floods. Another local group supported by Oxfam has organized local volunteers and boats to reach the worst-hit areas.
Iqbal estimates that 50 percent of the houses in the area have been destroyed by flood waters. He said:
“Those we have rescued today are facing health problems and their animals have died. People are suffering from diarrhea and have rashes on their skin. We are helping get them to camps and providing clean water and cooked food. But many are also sleeping out in the open in desperate need of shelter.”
Some boats, only 16 feet long, are rescuing 30 people at a time from small islands between streams and cut off by rivers.
Oxfam’s Country Director in Pakistan, Neva Khan, said:
“Pretty much everyone in these areas of the country has been affected by the catastrophic floods, yet local communities are relentlessly working with Oxfam’s support to reach people stranded and in need of help. So far, the boats have evacuated 54,000 people to safety.”
Oxfam is appealing for $US6 million to help people get through the immediate days and weeks and to boost recovery over the long-term. The agency has already reached 100,000 people with clean water in four of the worst affected areas of the Khyber Paktankhwa (formally NWFP) and Punjab Province by repairing damaged water systems and trucking drinking water to those stranded or displaced from their homes.