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A doctor in Punjab province describes relief efforts for Pakistan's floods


We have an eyewitness account this morning of flooding in Pakistan. We've told you in recent days of eight weeks of heavy rains, a monsoon season far beyond what is considered normal. At least 1,000 people are estimated to have died. But this is a glimpse of those still alive. Pakistan has a tradition of volunteer help. People rush to the scenes of disasters. And that is the case with Imran Lodhi. He led a group of college students to deliver what aid they could. We reached Mr. Lodhi beside a river in a district called Dera Ghazi Khan.

IMRAN LODHI: I see hundreds and thousands of people, helpless people. I see a complete blackout in this area. There is no electricity here, and there is no internet connectivity. People are trying to call for help. The water level has gone down a bit. But the problem is it has already submerged hundreds of villages in this area. And people are out of their homes. They have refuged on some island or some paved road or any place where they could save themselves from water.

INSKEEP: You said people have taken refuge on roads and islands, any high ground that they can find. What kind of high ground are you on right now?

LODHI: It's kind of a structure built for saving the villages from water. So the areas of this high ground which are intact, people are having refuge here at least to get safe from water. But they have not carried all the stuff. They are only having their kids and their families. They are only thinking about the next meal. The only priority for them is the next meal and the safety of their kids, which are vulnerable to diseases.

INSKEEP: When you say a structure that was built to protect against the water, in the United States, I think we would call it a levee, an earthen wall along a river. And when the levee fails, it may be the only high ground with water on both sides. Is that where you are?

LODHI: Yeah. Yeah. It's the kind of wall of mud and soil. It's not a concrete structure. It's just soil and nothing else. Where I stand, there is - on one side, there's flowing water, very fast-paced flowing water. And on the other side, there are submerged areas. So there is no other ground where people can get safety. The flooded area is stretched around 250 kilometers.

INSKEEP: Two-hundred fifty kilometers.

LODHI: Yeah. Many populations, many of the villages in this area - they have been affected from the flood.

INSKEEP: What is your job there? What is your task?

LODHI: I'm a university teacher, and I also organize a volunteer group of young people. Basically, I'm a climate activist, so it was - like, my primary job is to create awareness on climate change and other issues. But in this emergency, I engage my volunteer group for this purpose.

INSKEEP: What have you been able to do?

LODHI: So far, we have been the earliest group to respond to people, to providing them food and ration - I mean, dry food - and then their tents. Government has also tried, but it's very limited. It seems like the crisis is beyond their capacity. And now at least we have been able to mobilize people in communities who are trying to reach these areas to help these people.

INSKEEP: Among the people who have made it to the levee where you are, who are crowded on that levee, are conditions such that you fear that some could die?

LODHI: Can you just hold a minute?


LODHI: There are people. I have to talk to them.

INSKEEP: Of course. Please go ahead.

LODHI: (Non-English language spoken).

INSKEEP: Dr. Lodhi had been talking with us from inside a car. He'd found some way to get his car out onto that levee. And he got out of the vehicle to talk to whoever it was, and we waited until he came back to the phone.

LODHI: (Non-English language spoken).

I can hear you now.

INSKEEP: Oh, OK. Who was that you were just talking with?

LODHI: Yeah, there was a situation here. People thought we have a lot of aid, so they were trying to break into our car. This is a common situation I have faced many times.

INSKEEP: They were trying to break into your car because they thought you had food, and they needed food?

LODHI: They think we have some supplies.

INSKEEP: And that has been happening a number of times over the last several days?

LODHI: Yeah, it has happened for several times in different areas, but I have come to know how to deal with that situation.

INSKEEP: When you think about the many people on the levee with you there, are their lives at risk?

LODHI: Yeah, there are two situations in which their lives were at risk and their lives which are at risk right now also. There was one stage when the flood was, like, a flash flood. It was a fast-flowing flood, and it actually washed away all their homes and everything. In that case, there were immediate loss of lives. And now, now there are thousands of people which have lost their everything, and they're looking for food and support, for basic support. And that thing is alarming because if some relief effort at large scale doesn't happen, this can transform into a humanitarian crisis.

INSKEEP: Well, Dr. Lodhi, thank you very much for your insights. I appreciate you taking the time.

LODHI: Thank you. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.