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Sink or Swim? Pakistan Struggles to Keep its Head Above High Water

In August 2010, torrential monsoon rainfall inundated a fifth of Pakistan’s land mass and displaced an estimated 20 million people. The flood was also responsible for partially collapsing the country’s bridges, eroding its canals, submerging its railways, and disrupting its crop cycle. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

In wake of the flood, four million Pakistanis required food aid. In some parts of country, the floods caused petrol prices to double and food prices to triple. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

The majority of Pakistanis who fled the flooded areas — mainly the country’s rural poor — remain housed in makeshift tents that are staffed either by international organizations, private philanthropists, or military personnel. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

The U.N. estimates that 3.5 million children are at risk of contracting water-borne illnesses in the wake of the epic floods. Pakistan's government estimates 500,000 pregnant women are also at risk of falling ill due to flood-related diseases. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

In Gharo, halfway between Karachi and Thatta, the Aitemaad Pakistan Trust set up a tent-city brimming with people displaced from the torrential monsoon rains. Aziz Tufail, 15-years-old, is one of the many refugees in the camp who is receiving treatment for water-born skin diseases such as scabies. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

In the relief camps, a few of the luckier refugees have caught fish from the nearby rivers and grilled them on their makeshift stoves—an iron hook horizontally impaled in a dirt hole surrounded by kindled wood chips. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

Doctors deployed by the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (S.I.U.T.) say the most common post-diluvia ailments include scabies (a highly contagious parasitic skin disease that flourishes in cramped, moist quarters), gastroenteritis (a painful inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes vomiting and dysentery), and conjunctivitis (more commonly known as pink-eye). Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

Dr. Rehan Mohsin meets with Sarmad, a clerk from the flooded area of Sujawal, and tells him that his son contracted malaria. Mohsin says that malaria is now on the upswing since stagnant pools of water attract mosquitoes. Mohsin routinely visits relief camps to distribute free medicines — anti-malaria pills, anti-fungal creams, and anti-diarrhea medicine — collected through donations. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

The floods submerged 17 million acres of Pakistan's most fertile agricultural land and washed away unquantifiable amounts of grain. The crops worst affected by the floods were cotton, sugarcane, rice, pulses, tobacco and animal fodder. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

Yousuf Bashir Qureshi, a fashion designer, is one of the many Pakistanis who grew so frustrated with his government’s inept response to the floods that he took relief efforts into his own hands. Shortly after the floods, Qureshi launched the nonprofit “United Pakistan” with the tagline, “Rescue, Relief, Rehab, and Rebuild.” (www.UnitedPakistan.org) Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

Ground zero of the floods, Sukkur is the third largest city in the Sindh province and situated on the west bank of the Indus River. Dotted with an estimated 200 camps for internally displaced people, Sukkur is a veritable refugee city. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

Farida Kharapour, a 7-year-old girl living in a refugee camp started by the organization “V Need U” in Sukkur, said she was scared when the floods came to her village. “I did not know how to swim,” said Kharapour. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

The lucky few who could save their livestock brought them to refugee camps. The Pakistani government estimates that the monsoon rains inundated 8.9 million acres (3.6 million hectares) of agricultural land and 7.2 million farm animals. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

Indus Hospital runs a cholera clinic in Sukkur that treats 12 patients. We are very worried we will have more cholera cases if the water situation does not improve,” said Raheel Ahmed, a field worker. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates there are 400,000 pregnant women among the 20 million flood-affected people in Pakistan. The U.N. humanitarian office says that UNFPA has assisted in delivering an estimated 5,600 babies since the floods began, but the relief camps remain in dire need of gynecologists and pediatricians to help displaced mothers and their newborns. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

The floods damaged more than 10,000 schools, affecting several million pupils, and requiring massive investment in the education sector, according to the United Nations. Since the municipality requisitioned the few undamaged schools for IDP camps, thousands of children remain out of classes, their education interrupted indefinitely. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

While working in the IDP camps, relief workers say they began to realize that Pakistan’s child malnutrition rate was dismal long before the monsoon rains arrived. According to the UN Development Program’s 2009 Human Development Index, over a third of Pakistanis live in poverty, a situation comparable to Rwanda. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

In Pakistan’s northern regions, the floodwaters raged through mountain ravines with the ferocity of a runaway train. Economists estimate that the structural damage to Pakistan exceeds an estimated 4 billion USD. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

Local NGOs such as the Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation (OAKDF) is collaborating with local communities to restore their access to the outside world by rebuilding roads, pathways, and bridges. After the floodwaters demolished a bridge between Shangla and Battagram, OAKDF helped install a cable car so villagers could cross the Indus River. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

In wake of the flood, the U.S. military is trying to show its softer side by donating an estimated $216.5 million in flood relief. Many Pakistanis say the U.S. cannot win their "hearts and minds" through a schizophrenic policy of distributing food with one hand, and arming drones with the other. Image by Deena Guzder, Pakistan, 2010.

As floodwaters in Pakistan slowly recede, the crisis is far from over. An estimated 1.4 million internally displaced people remain in refugee camps and informal settlements. The UN World Health Organization reports that acute respiratory infections are on the upswing in northern Pakistan, while concerns persist over malaria and cholera near the Indus Valley. Relief workers are working tirelessly to provide food, medicine, and potable water but funds are drying up quickly. The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) recently called for a generous and swift international response to the $2 billion appeal for aid for Pakistan flood victims, which was just 34 percent funded. Besides tending to the immediate needs of displaced people, Pakistan is also struggling to rebuild its infrastructure. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank recently announced that the floods caused an estimated $9.7 billion in damage to homes, roads, farms and other parts of the southwestern Asian country. In the northern Kyber Pakhtunkhwa province, local nonprofits are raising money to rebuild roads, bridges, and pathways before winter descends and leaves mountain dwellers stranded in the formidable hinterlands.