Hours after returning to Canada from Pakistan, a Calgary businessman said he learned that floodwaters were hitting the same area where he helped disabled people get away from the impending deluge.
Mohammad Farhan runs several 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 say they had just seen a nearby hotel flooded.
“A lot of people were just flying in water,” he said.
“They were trying to cross the current and some were saved. Some young children… [they] could not save them. They just drowned.
“It’s scary. There is no water. There is no food. There are people living in stores. The children have no clothes.”
Pakistani officials say the floods caused by an unprecedented monsoon season and fueled by climate change are unlike anything they have seen before.
About 33 million people in villages and towns were caught off guard by the speed and power of the floods. Hundreds died.
The UN children’s agency said this week that more than three million children are in need of humanitarian assistance and are at increased risk of disease, drowning and malnutrition.
More than 90,000 cases of diarrhea in one day have been reported this week in one of the most affected southern provinces, Sindh. The northern regions of the country also lack drinking water. Skin diseases and eye infections are rampant.
Pakistan and the UN have appealed for emergency funding of US$160 million.
Millions of people are affected by the devastating floods in Pakistan. The world must support them. Today, I am committing $5 million in seed funding to our trusted partners to scale up the humanitarian response and provide critical assistance to those in urgent need. pic.twitter.com/5EDhUPiSzK
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the floods in Pakistan are a signal to the world.
“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet through climate change,” he said in a video message at a ceremony in Islamabad to launch the appeal.
Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif thanked the UAE on Twitter for delivering the first relief tranche worth US$50 million. He also thanked the United States for announcing aid of US$30 million.
Canada offered C$5 million.
Memories of the 2013 floods in Calgary
Farhan said he had to return to Canada to take care of his security, limo and construction businesses, but he was constantly on the phone with his team as he watched videos of children living on their roofs, in the streets and pulling each other under the collapsed buildings.
He said his team was going door to door, getting families and pets out of their homes and taking them to higher ground. He and his team were also able to bring three truckloads of food, clothing and aid to the area – but locals need a lot more.
“We had two cranes the other day and we are cleaning bigger buildings, mosques and houses that have dirt. [and mud] up to five or six feet,” he said.
Farhan said that in some parts of the country entire buildings are under water, and in other parts the water is up to people’s stomachs and knees.
He said he was reminded of the “chaos” of the Calgary floods in 2013.
“Everyone was afraid to drive downtown, to drive on the highway because it was full of water. [In Pakistan], some parts have no roads. They have nothing.”
“Pakistan was already suffering”
Farhan said many of the more than 200,000 Canadians of Pakistani ancestry worry about their families back home.
Saif Pannu is one of them.
After watching COVID-19 devastate Pakistan, Pannu said it was hard to see news reports showing more pain and suffering in his country of birth.
“It’s a disaster. It’s really sad,” said the Vancouver businessman.
“We have just come out of [the] pandemic and all of a sudden this is happening,” said Pannu, who is also president of the Pakistan Canada Association.
“Pakistan was already suffering from many other problems. Now villages and towns are under water. I am suffering from that.”
Pannu said Pakistanis living in the north have been helping the army bring food and aid to people living in the southern parts of the country most affected by the floods.
He encourages Canadians to donate money to charities on the ground.
“Best is to just send them some money and locally they can organize the supplies,” he said.
“Sending supplies from Vancouver or Calgary is not easy. Neighboring countries are helping with supplies. Pakistan is getting tents from China.”
Initial government estimates put the damage to the Pakistani economy at $10 billion.
“Some families may never [recover]but we can bring some people back to the houses,” Pannu said.
“Whole cities, beautiful one-of-a-kind cities are under water.”