Disasters seemingly have become so commonplace lately that many of us have become desensitized to them. Watching disaster unfold has become like hearing a cacophony of voices on a busy street but not really listening or paying attention to your surroundings. Take a second, and think of the millions that are in need and suffering, and imagine if you were in their shoes, another person’s suffering becoming a part of your own.
In Pakistan, about a month ago a natural catastrophe took place, a disaster so massive that a fifth of the country was inundated with water affecting 20 million people, a sizeable death toll, and with long lasting implications. I joined on a volunteer mission with Dr. Ahmad Nakshabendi, who had much experience with aiding victims of the 2005 earthquake, and embarked on a mission to assist based on our expertise.
We assembled a team of five medical students and five physicians, one truck full of medical supplies and another of donated flour and water along with a team of 7 assistants in helping us dispensing medication and delivering supplies to the affected people. Our goal was to attend to five different camps in Thatta, Badin, Dadu, and Sukkur tending to at least 2500 people.
Our destinations were six hours away from Karachi. On the way, we saw countless homes under the flood, children drinking contaminated water, downed power lines, and people sleeping on any available patch of dry land. As they saw our vehicles and supplies, their faces gleamed with light. Our hearts broke and we looked down as the camps were still 3 hours away, where the situation was even more severe. Further along the way, we saw people starving with no food or clean water to drink in sight, just flood water everywhere. It reminded me of a limerick we heard in my youth, "water water everywhere but not a drop to drink".
Upon arrival, we treated as many urgent cases as we could; an epidemic of Scabies, Malaria, Diarrhea, and other infectious disease. We diagnosed and prescribed medication, and dispensed vitamins and bottled water. The other volunteers distributed flour for bread, milk and other necessitates for survival. We departed at dusk back to Karachi, not feeling satisfied as we knew the food we gave was only going to last a few days and we were only able to treat a small fraction of the affected population, not much more than postponing dire hardships for a short period of time.
As soon as we returned to Karachi, we began planning for the next trip and will embark on another aid trip next week. There’s such a considerable need for support especially for undernourished children as well as for shelter and access to medical care.
A return to normalcy may be a long and difficult journey but I know it will be possible with the resiliency of the people and support that each of us are able give to the best of our abilities.