Thousands travel far to seek safety in Quetta after flood warnings

Tens of thousands of people have sought shelter in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta after fleeing from neighbouring Sindh province to escape floodwaters.

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

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

  • A boy makes his way through thick mud and debris carrying belongings he managed to salvage from his family's home, Pir Pai.
    A boy makes his way through thick mud and debris carrying belongings he managed to salvage from his family's home, Pir Pai.  © A. Fazzina for UNHCR/Noor
  • A young goat herder collects driftwood on the muddy shoreline of the Swat River near Chakdara.
    A young goat herder collects driftwood on the muddy shoreline of the Swat River near Chakdara. © A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • An Afghan family transports their recovered belongings back to their temporary shelter via donkey cart, Pir Pai.
    An Afghan family transports their recovered belongings back to their temporary shelter via donkey cart, Pir Pai.  © A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • Afghan refugees salvage their belongings from the mud.
    Afghan refugees salvage their belongings from the mud.  © A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • A man surrounded by salvaged goods rests in an impromptu camp on a median strip of the Grand Trunk Road, near Nowshera.
    A man surrounded by salvaged goods rests in an impromptu camp on a median strip of the Grand Trunk Road, near Nowshera. © A. Fazzina for UNHCR/Noor
  • A woman washes her young daughter in muddy water as traffic rolls by.
    A woman washes her young daughter in muddy water as traffic rolls by. © A. Fazzina for UNHCR/Noor
  • A makeshift camp along the trunk road. People without any means to rent accommodation have been forced onto this patch of high ground.
    A makeshift camp along the trunk road. People without any means to rent accommodation have been forced onto this patch of high ground. ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • Ten year-old Naida prays in the water-damaged sitting room of her family's home in Nishath Mill Village. Until two days ago, the house was submerged in one meter of flood water   and Naida and her six brothers and sisters were forced to sleep on the roof .
    Ten year-old Naida prays in the water-damaged sitting room of her family's home in Nishath Mill Village. Until two days ago, the house was submerged in one meter of flood water and Naida and her six brothers and sisters were forced to sleep on the roof .  ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • A fight breaks out over a bag of cooked rice. With more than three million people affected by flooding,  food supplies are running dangerously short.
    A fight breaks out over a bag of cooked rice. With more than three million people affected by flooding, food supplies are running dangerously short. ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor
  • A young Afghan refugee, covered in mud and dirt, stands in her family's water-damaged home in the village of Nishath Mill. Surrounded by dark brown water, her family has no clean water to drink or food to eat. Their remote village has yet to receive any assistance.
    A young Afghan refugee, covered in mud and dirt, stands in her family's water-damaged home in the village of Nishath Mill. Surrounded by dark brown water, her family has no clean water to drink or food to eat. Their remote village has yet to receive any assistance. ©  A. Fazzina for UNHCR /Noor

  • An aerial view of the flooded village of Tali in the Sibi district, in Balochistan, western Pakistan.
    An aerial view of the flooded village of Tali in the Sibi district, in Balochistan, western Pakistan. © UNHCR/N.James
  • Residents walk on a flood-ravaged road outside Tali village in Balochistan.
    Residents walk on a flood-ravaged road outside Tali village in Balochistan. © UNHCR/N.James
  • A man in Balochistan digs through the rubble in search of personal belongings to salvage.
    A man in Balochistan digs through the rubble in search of personal belongings to salvage.  © UNHCR/N.James
  • A young boy feels his way through flood waters using a walking stick.
    A young boy feels his way through flood waters using a walking stick.  © UNHCR/N.James
  • The ruins of homes destroyed in the worst flooding Pakistan has seen in decades, Tali village, Balochistan.
    The ruins of homes destroyed in the worst flooding Pakistan has seen in decades, Tali village, Balochistan.  © UNHCR/N.James
  • At the UNHCR warehouse in Quetta, trucks are loaded with tents, jerry cans, buckets, kitchen sets and plastic sheets for distribution to survivors of the floods.
    At the UNHCR warehouse in Quetta, trucks are loaded with tents, jerry cans, buckets, kitchen sets and plastic sheets for distribution to survivors of the floods.  © UNHCR/D.A Khan
  • A convoy of UNHCR trucks loaded with relief items for flood survivors in Charsada district in north-west Pakistan.
    A convoy of UNHCR trucks loaded with relief items for flood survivors in Charsada district in north-west Pakistan.  © UNHCR/Z. Jamal
  • Transporting relief items to the affected areas is extremely difficult as flood waters have washed away many roads and bridges.
    Transporting relief items to the affected areas is extremely difficult as flood waters have washed away many roads and bridges.  © UNHCR/D.A Khan
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