|© UNICEF/NYHQ2010/Al Jbaili|
|UNICEF Communication Specialist Patrick McCormick at UNICEF House.|
UNICEF Communication Specialist Patrick McCormick recently toured relief camps in the flood-devastated Punjab province of Pakistan. Below is his firsthand account.
By Patrick McCormick
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, 3 September 2010 – I accompanied UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake on his recent visit to flood-affected areas of Pakistan.
Mr. Lake was in the country to listen and talk to families, and in particular children, who were displaced by flooding. One of his goals was to reassure them that UNICEF is doing its utmost to help them through this crisis and beyond.
As the floodwaters slowly receded, the devastation of crops, livestock, houses and critical infrastructure became all too clear. It will take years to repair and rebuild everything that was lost.
Makeshift relief centre
We visited a girl’s secondary school in Punjab province. The school has been turned into a relief centre for hundreds of families fleeing the flooding. Here in southern Pakistan, Punjab and Sindh provinces were hit especially hard.
|© UNICEF video|
|UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake speaks to children at a girls' school turned relief camp in Gujrat, Pakistan.|
Arriving by helicopter from Islamabad to the small town of Gujrat, I gazed out over miles and miles of flooded land, pockmarked with the tops of trees and houses. An eerie silence hung over the land: the absence of people was palpable. The waters had swallowed up the usual human activity one would expect to see on roads, in fields and in the courtyards of houses.
We entered the school, which was incredibly hot – a heavy, searing heat. There were hundreds of flies and a smell I recognized from relief centres like this all over the world. It was the musty smell of decay, of dirt, of disease.
The state of families in the camp varied: some lay listlessly on the floor, among them severely malnourished babies. Others, especially children, seemed cheerful enough and excited about UNICEF’s visit and additional supplies.
‘We are here to help’
We visited a ‘child-friendly space’ – a safe place for displaced children to learn and play – located in a former classroom. The Executive Director connected quickly with the children, sitting down with them to examine heart-breaking drawings of what had happened to them in recent weeks.
|Much of Muzaffargarh district, in Pakistan's Punjab province, remains submerged in floodwater.|
Many of the drawings showed dolls and flowers and sometimes a house – memories of lost lives. These children are so young, but they already understand so much.
The children were shy at first, but gradually warmed to Mr. Lake, who had a light and playful touch. They responded, laughing with him and listening to his words of encouragement. His message is clear: we are here to help you get through this, and we will not leave until that happens.
Hope out of despair
After visiting several more school rooms full of families, each of whom were receiving various types of care and assistance, we left. We had done as much as we could here, leaving aid workers on the ground to get on with the job.
I have visited many places like these. I remember places I saw 10 years ago – faces, images of joy and pain. Children squatting alone, sad and silent; raucous games of football with a makeshift ball, and that atmosphere of despair and optimism at the same time.
As there was in those places, there is hope in Pakistan that a better life lies ahead. I have to believe that it does.
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