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‘Beautiful, one-of-a-kind cities are under water:’ Floods in Pakistan worry Canadians

About 33 million people in villages, towns and cities were caught off guard by the floods
Pakistani women wade through floodwaters as they take refuge in Shikarpur district of Sindh province of Pakistan on Sep. 2, 2022. Pakistani health officials on Thursday reported an outbreak of waterborne diseases in areas hit by recent record-breaking flooding, as authorities stepped up efforts to ensure the provision of clean drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes in the disaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Fareed Khan

Hours after returning to Canada from Pakistan, a Calgary businessman said he got word floodwaters hit the same area where he had been helping people with disabilities move out of the way of the impending deluge.

Mohammad Farhan operates multiple charities and orphanages across Pakistan through his organization, House of Dreams. He said his team on the ground in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa called to tell him they had just watched a nearby hotel get inundated.

“A lot of people were just flying into the water,” he said.

“They were trying to work through the current and some got saved. Some young kids …(they) couldn’t save them. They just drowned.

“It’s scary. There’s no water. There’s no food. There are people living in stores. Kids have no clothes.”

Pakistani officials say flooding caused by an unprecedented monsoon season, and fuelled by climate change, is like nothing they have seen before.

About 33 million people in villages, towns and cities were caught off guard by the swiftness and power of the floods. Hundreds have died.

The United Nations children’s agency said this week that more than three million children are in need of humanitarian assistance and are at heightened risk of diseases, drowning and malnutrition.

More than 90,000 diarrhea cases in one day were reported from one of the worst-hit southern provinces, Sindh, this week. Northern parts of the country are also running out of drinking water. Skin diseases and eye infections have been rampant.

Pakistan and the UN have appealed for $160 million in emergency funding.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Pakistan’s flooding is a signal to the world.

“Let’s stop sleepwalking toward the destruction of our planet by climate change,” he said in a video message to an Islamabad ceremony to launch the appeal.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif thanked the United Arab Emirates on Twitter for delivering the first tranche of relief goods worth $50 million. He also thanked the United States for announcing $30 million in aid.

Canada has offered $5 million.

Farhan said he had to return to Canada to take care of his security, limousine and construction companies, but he has been on the phone with his team constantly as he watches videos of children living on their roofs, on the streets and pulling one another out from under collapsed buildings.

He said his team has been going door-to-door, bringing out families and pets from their homes and taking them to higher ground. He and his team were also able to bring three trucks of food, clothing and aid to the area — but locals need a lot more.

“We got two cranes the other day and are cleaning up bigger buildings, mosques and houses that have dirt (and mud) up to five to six feet,” he said.

Farhan said in some parts of the country, entire buildings are under water, and in other parts, water is up to peoples’ stomachs and knees.

He said he has been reminded of the “chaos” of the Calgary floods of 2013.

“Everybody was scared to drive downtown, drive on the highway because it was full of water. (In Pakistan), some parts have no roads. They have nothing.”

Farhan said many of the more than 200,000 Canadians with Pakistani ancestry are worried about their families back home.

Saif Pannu is one of them.

After watching COVID-19 devastate Pakistan, Pannu said it’s been difficult to see news reports showing more pain and suffering in the country of his birth.

“It’s a disaster. It’s really sad,” said the Vancouver businessman.

“We were just coming out of (the) pandemic and all of a sudden this happens,” said Pannu, who is also president of the Pakistan Canada Association.

“Pakistan was already suffering with a lot of other issues. Now villages and cities are under water. I have pain for that.”

Pannu said Pakistanis living in the north helped the military bring food and aid to people living in the southern parts of the country most affected by the flood.

He encourages Canadians to donate money to charities on the ground.

“The best thing is to just send them money and locally, they can arrange the supplies,” he said.

“Sending supplies from Vancouver or Calgary is not easy. Nearby countries are helping with supplies. Pakistan is getting tents from China.”

Initial government estimates peg the damage to Pakistan’s economy at $10 billion.

“Some families may never (recover), but some people we can bring them back into houses,” Pannu said.

“Whole cities, beautiful, one-of-a-kind cities are under water.”

—Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

With files from the Associated Press