Columban priest sends update on Pakistan floods

Fr. Robert McCulloch
August 23, 2010

Columban Fr. Robert McCulloch and eight other Columban priests and lay missionaries are working in the Hyderabad, Pakistan region helping those affected by the floods. Below is an update he sent to us Monday morning.

“Although the Indus River is at record flood level at Hyderabad in south east Pakistan, the city has so far been saved from flooding. Concern remains about what will happen in the next few days when further flood waters reach from upper Sindh.

“Hyderabad is protected by a 20-mile long levee built between the Jamshoro Barrage, the final dam on the Indus before it reaches its delta on the Arabian Sea, and the Kotri Rail Bridge which crosses the Indus and which is essential for maintaining contact between the sea port city of Karachi and the rest of the country.

“Hyderabad remains on high alert.

Columban Fr. Robert McCulloch

“In the last 3 weeks, the Pakistan Army has taken control of strengthening and maintaining the levees. Yesterday the army officials assured the people of Hyderabad that the city was safe for the present and that the levees could control the floods unless a major surge of flood water occurred. A sense of confidence has returned to the people of Hyderabad. James Francis, administrator of St. Elizabeth Hospital, says that earlier in the week the city had become panic-stricken due to the alarming rise of the water in the river and continual calls over loudspeakers in the many local mosques announcing that Judgment Day had come.

“Unfortunately, the flood tragedy is becoming politicized. The Pakistan Army is not only protecting the levees from the flood damage but has to carry out 24-hour patrols to prevent malicious damage occurring. Four men were arrested carrying explosives on the night of August 14 and charged with intent to weaken the levee. Activists of the two major political parties in Sindh are also patrolling the levee as a political issue and accuse one another of endangering the safety of the city and its people.

“In spite of the nation-wide flood, political parties in Karachi have not stopped their on-going street wars during which an average of 20 political activists are being murdered each day. “Turf” is much more important to them than putting their energy into practical flood relief. Major Muslim sects in Karachi continue their violent campaign of wiping out religious, social, cultural, intellectual and business leaders of opposing sects.

“Anticipating the threat to the hospital building and facilities, St. Elizabeth Hospital has been working full-time to help thousands of impoverished agricultural labourers and their families move away from the river to safety. 3,000 are now living in the open on the main highway and thousands more managed to reach the ridge of barren hills on the other side of the Indus south of Hyderabad. They were able to carry just a little of the few possessions they had.

“Providing them with food, water and medical care are high priorities. Many of these people are scheduled caste Hindus who come at the tail end of official relief programs. The hospital vehicles have been outfitted as mobile ambulances and crammed with medical equipment and medicines to deliver care to these people. While planning the relief work for today with James Francis, hospital administrator, and our senior medical staff, we decided to spend whatever had to be spent and to run up accounts with the medical supply companies.

“Our hospital staff, Christian, Muslim and Hindu, are working together with one heart; no-one talks about time-off or overtime pay. We are pleased that the spirit of compassionate care that we have tried to make the characteristic of our hospital is very much alive as our hospital staff respond to the needs of afflicted people.

“Patients in need of surgical care are being brought by our ambulance to St. Elizabeth Hospital. Teams of young Catholic male nurses from the hospital have volunteered to stay out with the displaced people. They give medical care and let the people know that they are not forgotten. The immediate need is basic care. Much more will be needed as the danger of further flooding passes, the water recedes, and people return home to nothing.”