Thousands travel far to seek safety in Quetta after flood warnings

News Stories, 23 August 2010

© UNHCR/D.A.Khan
A child walks in front of one of the many UNHCR tents set up in the suburbs of Quetta for displaced people from Sindh.

QUETTA, Pakistan. August 23 (UNHCR) Tens of thousands of people have sought shelter in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta after fleeing from their distant homes in neighbouring Sindh province following flood warnings.

"I heard the evacuation announcement on the radio. We were asked to leave the town within three hours," Hazar Khan, a resident of Jacobabad in Sindh, told UNHCR late last week at a relief camp set up by the provincial government in the suburbs of Quetta.

Like many others questioned in Quetta, he had never strayed so far from his home area, some 300 kilometres away. The displaced civilians have been coming from neighbouring districts in Balochistan and Sindh provinces.

"We had no time to think of anything but our safety. I took my children, hired a vehicle, which cost us five times more than usual, and left home without any luggage, food or extra clothing," Khan said.

Following the evacuation orders, floodwaters swept through parts of Sindh, including Jacobabad, and neighbouring Balochistan, where the towns of Nasirabad and Jaffarabad were particularly hard hit. Flooding in the north of the country had earlier this month swallowed hundreds of villages and displaced millions of people in Khyber Pakhtonkhuwa and Punjab provinces.

People have had to make their own way to safer areas such as Quetta, but the price of public and private transportation has skyrocketed due to demand and soaring fuel prices. Some people said they had spent their life savings to pay for a lift, while others came by tractor and trailer.

It now costs 80,000 rupees (almost US$1,000) to rent a truck to take two or three families and their belongings from Jacobabad to Quetta. This is more than three times the normal price.

Mir Muhammad, who came to Quetta from Shikarpur in Sindh, said he had sold a cow for 35,000 rupees so that he could pay a truck driver to bring his family to safety. In normal times, a healthy cow can sell for more than 100,000 rupees.

The government estimates that around 700,000 people have fled their homes in Sindh and sought shelter in Balochistan, while another 3.6 million people in Sindh are homeless. A further 400,000 have been displaced in Balochistan because of the floods.

The camp in Quetta, capital of Balochistan, can accommodate barely 3,000 people. But many more exhausted, thirsty and hungry civilians, including lots of children, are arriving in the city in need of shelter. They can be seen in the streets, in schools, at the railway station and anywhere they can put up a small shelter. These later arrivals are facing difficulties getting aid and accommodation.

"We and our children eat rice given to us twice a day by some charity organization," said one woman from Jacobabad in a crowd of displaced people at the relief camp. "My two-year-old girl has not had any milk since we left home days ago," she added.

Meanwhile, those living in the worst hit areas, such as Nasirabad, Jaffarabad and Jacobabad, are unlikely to be able to go home soon because it will take months for the stagnant waters to recede. They need food, clean drinking water, health and hygiene facilities and a roof over their head.

In Balochistan, UNHCR is working with its NGO partners and provincial authorities to distribute aid, including tents, plastic sheeting for shelter, blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and mosquito nets. The refugee agency plans to assist some 140,000 people (20,000 families) in the weeks to come.

By Duniya Aslam Khan in Quetta, Pakistan




Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

Photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award among other commendations, is on the ground in Pakistan.

Photo Essay: Documenting the floods in Pakistan

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Torrential rains and flash floods have affected around a million people in parts of southwest and northwestern Pakistan. More than one thousand people lost their lives when water inundated their homes in the past week. Though monsoon rains are nothing new for Pakistanis, it rained more than expected, washing away homes, roads and other basic infrastructure, creating the worst flood disaster in the country's history. UNHCR launched a relief response to support the authorities to help people affected by the flood. The local relief authorities in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces have started distribution of UNHCR-provided tents and other relief items. More relief items are on the way.

2010 Pakistan flood emergency

Pakistan: Tide of DestructionPlay video

Pakistan: Tide of Destruction

In two refugee villages near Peshawar, floods destroy family homes and damage a UNHCR warehouse.
Pakistan's DevastationPlay video

Pakistan's Devastation

Survivors assess the destruction left behind by the floods in Pakistan.
Pakistan: FloodsPlay video

Pakistan: Floods

Millions are displaced by the worst floods and landslides northwest Pakistan has seen in decades.

UNHCR country pages

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

With winter fast approaching and well over a million people reported homeless in quake-stricken Pakistan, UNHCR and its partners are speeding up the delivery and distribution of hundreds of tonnes of tents, blankets and other relief supplies from around the world.

In all, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which began on 19 October, will deliver a total of 860 tonnes of supplies from our stockpiles in Iskenderun, Turkey. Separately, by 25 October, UNHCR-chartered aircraft had so far delivered 14 planeloads of supplies to Pakistan from the agency's stocks in Copenhagen, Dubai and Jordan.

On the ground, UNHCR is continuing to distribute aid supplies in the affected areas to help meet some of the massive needs of an estimated 3 million people.

Pakistan Earthquake: A Race Against the Weather

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

The UN refugee agency is providing hundreds of tonnes of urgently needed relief supplies for victims in northern Pakistan. UNHCR is sending family tents, hospital tents, plastic sheeting, mattresses, kitchen sets, blankets and other items from its global stockpiles. Within a few days of the earthquake, just as its substantial local stocks were all but exhausted, UNHCR began a series of major airlifts from its warehouses around the world, including those in Denmark, Dubai, Jordan and Turkey.

UNHCR does not normally respond to natural disasters, but it quickly joined the UN humanitarian effort because of the sheer scale of the destruction, because the quake affected thousands of Afghan refugees, and because the agency has been operational in Pakistan for more than two decades. North West Frontier Province (NWFP), one of the regions most severely affected by the quake, hosts 887,000 Afghan refugees in camps.

While refugees remain the main focus of UNHCR's concern, the agency is integrated into the coordinated UN emergency response to help quake victims.

Pakistan Earthquake: The Initial Response

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

With the snow line dropping daily, the race to get relief supplies into remote mountain areas of Pakistani-administered Kashmir intensifies. In a major push to bring aid to the people in the Leepa Valley, heavy-lift Chinook helicopters from the British Royal Air force airlifted in 240 tonnes of UNHCR emergency supplies, including tents, plastic sheeting, stoves, and kitchen sets.

At lower elevations, UNHCR and its partners have dispatched emergency teams to camps to train members of the Pakistani military in site planning, camp management, winterization and the importance of water and sanitation – all crucial to containing disease during the long winter ahead.

By mid-November, UNHCR had provided a total of 19,356 tents, 152,325 blankets, 71,395 plastic sheets and tens of thousands of jerry cans, kitchen sets and other supplies. More of the agency's supplies are continuing to arrive in Pakistan on various airlifts, including a 103-flight joint NATO/UNHCR airlift from Turkey. Other UNHCR airlifts have brought in supplies from the agency's warehouses in Jordan, Dubai and Denmark.

Pakistan Earthquake: Major push to Bring in Aid before Winter

Pakistan: Returning HomePlay video

Pakistan: Returning Home

Since the beginning of November, UNHCR has been offering an enhanced package to every registered refugee in Pakistan choosing to go home to Afghanistan.
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Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan's Balochistan province have access to schools and basic services, but the cost is not easy to bear.
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