After the worst floods in Pakistan’s history, Islamic Relief Canada’s Mashaal Saeed shares what he witnessed
After a summer filled with the worst flooding Pakistan has ever seen, displacing more than 33 million people and killing at least 1,678, countless volunteers and aid workers visited the country to help with relief efforts. One of them was Mashaal Saeed, a Pakistani-Canadian who traveled to her home country with Islamic Relief Canada. She was devastated by the destruction she witnessed and remains determined to help in any way she can. This is her story.
“For the last three years I have worked for Islamic Relief Canada. As a child growing up in Canada, I regularly visited the homes of friends and family in Pakistan and was always greeted with warmth and hospitality. During my most recent trip, I witnessed unimaginable destruction as a result of this summer’s historic flooding, but the people I met were as warm, hospitable, and hopeful as I remembered. It was both devastating and inspiring.
I had planned to visit Pakistan with Islamic Relief Canada for several months to check out some of our organization’s long-term initiatives there. But the situation changed dramatically after massive flooding, caused by an unusually intense monsoon season, melting glaciers and a severe heat wave, wreaked havoc on the country this summer. Although I was nervous before the trip, sitting at home in Canada watching what was happening in my birthplace made me feel helpless. He was eager to get there and do whatever he could to help.
When we arrived in a town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which was badly affected by flooding, my brain couldn’t process what I was seeing. We quickly went from driving down dusty, dusty roads in a dry, burned area to being completely surrounded by water. There was so much water that I initially thought I was looking at a lake, but then I saw the roofs of houses drowned.
When we visited, the water had already receded significantly from where it had been just a few days before, but was still up to my shoulders (or even higher) in some areas. In many of the places we saw, the water remained stagnant. Locals told me that this was one of the main differences between these floods and the floods of previous years. One man told me that he had survived two other devastating floods in the country, but this was by far the worst because the water came quickly and stayed for days or even weeks, whereas in the past it receded almost as fast as it came. . .
And it’s not just water, it’s mixed with sewage, garbage and dirt. This is causing major health problems for Pakistanis. Locals told me that at least two people in their town had died from dengue, a virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes and thrives in moist conditions. I suspect that number has increased since I left.
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Driving through the countryside, I saw protective walls that had been put up to defend against flooding, but they didn’t stand a chance and collapsed from the force of the water. I saw skeletons of buildings that were once hotels and schools that had literally been washed away by storms. I saw huge ancient trees uprooted. I saw huge bridges made of stone, bridges that were once robust and strong, demolished and destroyed. Due to the number of bridges that were destroyed by the floods, it was initially impossible to deliver aid to certain areas, but fortunately, Islamic Relief Canada is now able to do so by helicopter.
The water also brought thick, sticky and slippery mud, and I saw locals use squeegees to remove this mud from their barely standing houses. In places it was still knee deep when I arrived.
But despite the uninhabitable and devastating conditions I witnessed, the people we met were eager to welcome us and show us what was left of their homes. That was an emotional experience for me, because the community really let us in and shared their feelings openly. You could see the pain on their faces and hear it in their voices, yet they went out of their way to be hospitable and make us feel welcome.. Some even apologized for not being able to serve us tea or receive us in better circumstances.
I was able to help provide over 400 food parcels while in Pakistan, and Islamic Relief Canada will continue its efforts to provide clean drinking water, food, shelter, hygiene kits and feminine products for as long as needed. We have so many amazing people working day and night there, and they will continue to do so until the Pakistani people can return to some sense of normalcy. But we need funds to be able to do it.
Islamic Relief Canada is one of 12 organizations for which the Canadian government has pledged to match donations. We received a matching fund of approximately $5 million, allowing us to double our impact. But the job is far from over. Millions of houses must be rebuilt from scratch, an effort that will surely take years. We need someone who is capable of donate to the cause.
The time I spent in Pakistan was difficult, but leaving was much more difficult. I felt guilty for leaving the country I love, the country I feel most like home, during her hour of need. I wanted to stay, to continue helping, but coming back to Canada has allowed me to share what I saw with people from this part of the world.
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It was only once I left that all my emotions settled in, and I realized that I had been on adrenaline the whole time. I am still dealing with the sadness I felt witnessing so much devastation in Pakistan, a place that holds so many happy and meaningful memories of my childhood. And that pain is sharpened knowing this was not just a natural disaster running its course. This was caused by climate change.
The Pakistani people have been through a lot and yet we never give up hope for a better future. Witnessing that hope during my visit, despite all the devastation and tragedy, is what keeps me going. Pakistan will always be my home and I will continue to hold on to the hope that things will get better for the people and place I hold dear.”
—As told to Mira Miller
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