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Relief workers risk lives in Pakistan flood chaos

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–Relief workers are risking their lives to help an estimated 8 million people in urgent need of assistance in Pakistan’s flood crisis, Southern Baptist humanitarian workers report.

Several ministry partners have been beaten and three have died in rain-swollen rivers. Chaos often is erupting when limited food supplies are delivered to multitudes of hungry people.

“Since it’s an evolving situation, things are unfolding. Our estimate has gone up and now eight million are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance,” U.N. spokesman Maurizio Giuliano told reporters Aug. 19. “Roughly 4.6 million people are still without shelter,” including hundreds of thousands of people who are still looking for refuge from the ongoing monsoon rains, he said.

Flood survivors mobbed relief trucks carrying food and authorities warn famine could sweep the northwest region unless farmers get immediate help planting new crops, news reports said. The country has been flooding for three weeks but conditions do not seem to be improving for most of the 20 million people — one in nine Pakistanis — who have lost homes, possessions, crops, livestock and loved ones.

Southern Baptists have responded with $225,000 in relief and hunger funds and are working with national ministry partners to deliver supplies to people in need, said Francis Horton, who with his wife, Angie, directs work in South Asia for Baptist Global Response, an international relief and development organization.

“We are meeting with several partners, trying to get an assessment of needs that have been met and needs that we can meet,” Horton said in an Aug. 17 e-mail from Pakistan. “Our national partners are doing a great job in helping people. The task is huge. The disaster grows. Housing is a huge need.

“Three national partners have died and one is in critical condition after falling into the river,” Horton added. “There has been some unrest in some places. I have seen reports of partners being beaten and one team leader told me chaos has broken out at a couple of places as people reached with their bare hands into the serving pots to get food.

“The UN has said that this disaster has affected more people than the past few earthquakes and tsunami combined,” Horton continued. “Much like Katrina, there has been a limited but tragic number of people killed. Millions more became homeless and helpless. Caring for millions of survivors is incredibly difficult.”

One national ministry partner wrote Horton to explain what conditions are like for relief workers on the front lines of the disaster:

“The situation is getting bad day by day. Flood-affected people lost all their things. Many people, especially children, lost their lives. Thousands of people going towards death because of after-flood shortage of clean and drinking water, food, and medicines,” the partner wrote.

As the flood swept into villages, people ran for their lives, leaving possessions and even other family members behind, the partner reported. When survivors returned to see who was left in need of rescue, they saw many people trapped in their houses and on trees, crying “Save us! Save us!”

“Unfortunately, we could not save them because we were helpless,” the partner wrote. “Slowly, slowly, many people washed away in the flood in front of our eyes…. People were drowning in the water and some of their houses were collapsed on them. After two days, some people arranged boats, then we start to rescue the people who were alive in the water.”

The ministry partner reported seeing “hundreds and hundreds” of dead bodies in the water.

“It seems to us very dreadful, then we saved around 600 men and 425 women with their children,” the partner said. “Our team leaders decided to find one local village leader to discuss how to find a better way to help the people. The workers found the local village leader and introduced themselves. They told him about their idea how to help with his people.”

When the village leader agreed with their plan, the workers asked him to provide some people from the village to help. A total of 460 men responded, and they were immediately given training in the rudiments of disaster relief.

Food and shelter are huge needs right now, with tents in short supply, Horton said. Southern Baptist relief workers are exploring other options for shelter, such as providing materials for construction of temporary shelters. They also are exploring ways to help people restore their crops and livestock.

One team reported distributing packets of relief supplies and water to flood survivors at a hospital and feeding prepared food to 300 families, Horton noted. A soldier accompanying the team told them, “You guys are the only ones around here who are doing distribution properly.”

While reports indicated the flow rate of flooded rivers has slowed, the flood crest is expected to hit lower Sindh province about Aug. 21, Horton said.

Horton noted several ways relief workers have suggested people can pray for the effort:

— That the Lord would “bless our five loaves and two fishes to feed the multitude” and “make our receipts balance to our requests.”

— That tensions between the government and militants in flooded areas would not inhibit relief work.

— That national partners would have the energy they need and get needed rest.

— That workers will be able to effectively get help to many who need it.

— That relief teams would have continued good relations with authorities.

— That Southern Baptist relief workers would have safe travel and make good decisions about what to do to help the most.
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. Baptist Global Response is located on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

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