It's 121 degrees. The waters continue to rise, and soon even the high road will be underwater. As it is, there's nowhere else to sit, much less sleep. The house? Swept away days ago, with all your belongings. There's nothing left.
You've gone a week without any food at all. This is nothing new; you've been doing this for years, now, so that the few grains of rice and the leaves you can scavenge can go to the children. But there isn't even that now. You look at them, trying to sleep in the mud: bellies horribly distended, flies and mosquitoes tormenting them, skin erupting in rashes. The baby's so weak from starvation, dehydration, and diarrhea that she can't even cry, but you know she's in agony. And you know that the malaria and cholera are already burrowing into their fragile little battered bodies, while Death lurks only a short distance away, salivating greedily at the prospect of your children.
There is no food. There is no clean water. There is no dry land. There is no hope. But there is filthy, muddy, contaminated water - everywhere. There is burning, soul-killing heat.
There is a Hell, and you are in it.
You know, I complain a lot. About my illness. About our financial situation. About our housing situation. About any of the thousand small annoyances in any given day.
But I look around, and you know what? I'm actually in Heaven, apparently. Without dying first.
The sun is shining brilliantly. It's currently a balmy 74 degrees, with a lovely slight breeze. I'm wearing shorts, and the house is cool and comfortable. There's food in the fridge, clean water coming out of the tap, and (for now, at least) a roof over my head. I'm sitting in an overstuffed chair, feet up, laptop on my lap, coffee at hand, sending pixels out into the Internet in the hopes that someone will read them.
I'm damn lucky. Damn blessed. Compared to a huge percentage of earth's population, on my bleakest day, I'm still thousands of times better off. And on this day? On this day, compared to the souls battling for survival today in The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Southern Sudan, Chad, Pakistan, and Haiti, I'm in heaven.
And they're in a hell partly of our making.
I'm not going to outline this country's mammoth contributions to global climate change, to the plight of other nations, to the specific hells that we have helped to create in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. To do so would take a year and a day, and some of these folks don't even have another day. Instead, I'm going to focus on the great, gaping, gnawing need of people half a world away, and hope that by showing you what today is like for them, you'll be led to find an extra five dollars somewhere to save another life.
In Africa, there is a belt north of the Equator known as the Sahel. It comprises a string of nations, including The Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Southern Sudan, and Chad, among others. Several of these nations are the poorest and most devastated on the planet - by drought, by famine, by climate change, by war, by poverty, by corruption, by colonial exploitation. Now, these countries have been devastated yet once more, by monsoonal flooding that has gone virtually unnoticed and unreported by the world's media.
In Niger, some 200,000 people are newly homeless:
On Monday, torrential rain brought down the few buildings still left upright three weeks after the Niger river, the third biggest in Africa, burst its banks in the worst recorded floods since 1929.
. . .
"We made little of the rising water level and were surprised in our sleep," said Mariama, a widow with nine children who lost everything when their home collapsed.
According to Niger's Early Warning System (SAP) and catastrophe management officials, the whole of the country, including the perenially [sic] arid desert of the northern Agadez region, has been affected by flooding caused by heavy rain.
The SAP and UN agencies have estimated that almost 200,000 people have no homes in the eight regions of Niger, where at least seven people have died since the start of the catastrophe, according to media reports.
Niger's situation was already bleak:
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, subject to repeated droughts with soil erosion and desertification a major concern. It has one of the highest birth rates in the world. One in seven women die in childbirth and one in six children die before their fifth birthdays.
Tragically, events of the past few years ensured that the flooding would be more catastrophic than usual. Niger - along with much of central Africa - has endured years of terrible drought. With the drought came famine of Biblical proportions. And now, instead of an ordinary monsoon season that might have salvaged at least some of their crops, the land is being battered by torrential rains and massive flooding. Walls of water have swept away the meagre crops, starving livestock, malnourished humans, and anything else in their path.
"It's a double catastrophe: before the rain, the people lacked food, now the few reserve stocks of cereal have been washed away by the water. There's nothing left," said Ibrahim Mahaman, a village chief cited by the Oxfam aid organisation.
More than seven million people in Niger face food shortages in a serious crisis because of a major shortfall in the crop harvest for 2009-2010, according to the UN.
Now, the rains have turned a grim outlook positively lethal:
Aid agencies warned yesterday that 10 million people are already facing severe food shortages, particularly in the landlocked countries of Chad and Niger, after a drought led to the failure of last year's crops. As many as 400,000 children are at risk of dying from starvation in Niger alone, according to Save the Children.
Now unusually heavy rains have washed away this year's crops and killed cattle in a region dependent on subsistence agriculture. Organisations including Oxfam and Save the Children say that the slow international response to the emergency means that only 40 per cent of those affected are receiving food aid. As many as four out of five children require treatment for malnutrition in clinics.
The rains continue to fall, and the waters will continue to rise:
In Niamey, while the floodwaters are gradually pulling back, the meteorological office has forecast heavy rain until mid-September.
On its web site, the Niger Basin Authority has forecast a second major rise in the level of the river between November and January.
It's not just Niger. Another 105,000 are reported homeless in Burkina Faso from new flooding. Several thousand more are homeless in Mali. In Southern Sudan, the BBC reports, roughly 57,000 have been forced to flee their homes, and more rain is expected:
"The rains are going to continue up until October, so the situation may get worse," Southern Sudan's Health Minister Luka Monoja warned.
"A serious situation has developed in Aweil - more than three quarters of the town is flooded and so many houses collapsed.
"We saw that all the people were chased out of their houses, and were now living on the road, because the road is the only area in the town that is raised."
And as with Pakistan, standing pools of water infested with mosquitoes are spawning a new outbreak of potentially deadly diseases, including cholera and malaria. But unlike the people of Pakistan, most of the people of these African nations, now devastated by years of famine and overwhelming malnutrition, have virtually no immune systems left to help ward off disease. The disease rate in Pakistan is expected to be horrifying; in these African nations, proportionally, it is guaranteed to be even worse.
Record heat is making conditions much worse:
Pakistan, now experiencing its worst ever floods, had Asia's hottest day in its history on 26 May, when 53.5C (128.3F) was recorded in Mohenjo-daro, according to the Pakistani Meteorological Department.
Sudan, Niger, and Chad all set records for high temperatures in June:
Sudan, 25 June, 49.6C (121.3F), Dongola
Niger, 22 June, 47.1C (116.8F), Bilma
Chad, 22 June, 47.6C (117.7F), Faya
See here for a list of temperature records hit this year - 17 countries, which is itself a record, three more than the previous record of 14 set in 2007.
These are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our children and elders. But for the grace of Spirit, God, Allah, some other deity, or nothing but fate goes each of us. And someday, we just may be the refugees who need the world's help to survive the ravages of climate change.
So please, dig deep. Even $5 will help someone. And it may do more than just help - it may save a life.
Indeed, $5 will help save a life: It will buy one LifeStraw, ShelterBox's personal water purification system, which will last one person for a year.
Note: Below is a list of some of the NGOs that are doing important work on the ground in Pakistan. Some, such as ShelterBox, have also been working on the ground in parts of Africa for years; others will undoubtedly send teams to help address this newest crisis. Use due diligence in donating to any unknown group. With those caveats, here are some ways that you can make a difference now:
AmeriCares: Medicines, medical supplies and equipment, nutritional support, etc.
Direct Relief International: Mobile health teams and medical supplies, including Pedialyte and antimicrobials.
Human Development Foundation: Relief/reconstruction, including clean water, supplies, disease prevention, sewage disposal, temporary school facilities.
Islamic Relief USA: $2 million Pakistan campaign, including on-ground needs assessments; aid distribution; general relief.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders): Medical care; clean water; supply kits, including mosquito netting, tarps, blankets, hygiene supplies, clothes.
Mercy Corps: Water supply kits, including tanks, purification tablets, filtration units; food supply kits, including rice, oil, staples; tool kits.
Oxfam International: Hot food; clean water; boats for search/rescue; installation of tanks and toilets; sanitation kits; hygiene supplies; cash-for-work programs.
Red Crescent: Emergency services; food packs; bulk rice; tents; other supplies; help with field operations, including shelter, water, sanitation, logistics, other relief.
Relief International: Distributing "Survival Kits," including dishes/utensils; water purification tablets; cooking stove; jerrycan; floor mat; mosquito netting; hygiene kits; etc.
ShelterBox: Distributing water carriers; filtration systems; ShelterBoxes, including 10-person partitioned weatherproof tents, insulated ground sheets, thermal blankets, mosquito netting, tool kits, stoves, dishes/utensils, water purification supplies, children's kits, etc.
UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): Through partner NGOs, distributing tents, sheeting/tarps, cooking sets, buckets, sleeping mats, blankets, etc.
U.S. State Department Texting Program: Forwards $10 donations to UNHCR for distribution of supplies in two provinces; text "SWAT" to 50555.
Some of us at Daily Kos use a Google group to help organize for the crisis in Pakistan. Anyone who would like to get involved or get alerts when a new HELP PAKISTAN diary is posted, please join.
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