The first signs of destruction are visible just two hours' drive away from Karachi as you enter the low-lying province of Lower Sindh in southern Pakistan. Abandoned shells of poultry farms stretch on both sides of the road next to deserted wheat fields while roofs of larger buildings have collapsed in what appears to be the aftermath of a war.
"It was like the world had come to an end," a man later told me, recounting the terrifying moments two months ago when unprecedented torrential monsoon rains quickly flooded this whole region, uprooting more than five million people from their homes. Many of them still live in miserable makeshift tents along elevated roads and levies unable to cultivate these flooded lands.
They are everywhere. In one camp in Badin district, one of the hardest hit areas, some 50 families lived right at the edge of the road, so close that passing cars often swerved to avoid hitting children. They were crammed under plastic sheets held by wooden poles, sleeping next to the few possessions they could save: bundles of clothes, a few pots and pans and the occasional straw bed.
"Children here are weak and malnourished, you can see this with your own eyes," said Samjho, a 22-year-old mother living there. She explained that her son got sick and died soon after the floods and was buried in the water since there was nowhere else to lay him to rest.
"Children's throats get sore after drinking contaminated water from the nearby canal. We have nothing left in this world; there's no hope for us," she added, staring at the surrounding flooded fields, pointing at the distance to the rooftops of the wooden shacks popping out of the water, the place they used to live.
Many hospitals have been destroyed, and most schools are either occupied by internally displaced people or were wiped away. The UN warns that food and medicine stocks are running out, while diseases like malaria and acute diarrhoea are increasing sharply partly due to stagnant floodwaters, putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk.
I found some of them at emergency nutrition units run by Save the Children. The images of emaciated children waiting to be treated keep coming to my mind days after having left the area. I had seen similar scenes in Kenya and Somalia during the recent East Africa crisis, a disaster that got the world's attention. But the world does not seem to have noticed this crisis at all. Only 22% of the US $357 million UN emergency appeal has been received so far.
But even here there is some room for hope. At a child friendly space also run by Save the Children, groups of children were engrossed in a game called carrom board, a mix between billiards and table shuffleboard.
Others meanwhile carefully drew colourful pictures of peacocks and birds. "Before they used to draw only water, fish and confused lines; many were traumatised," a social worker told me. "Look at them now. They're happily drawing other images," he said, adding with a smile that there is one thing though they keep drawing: candles. That will continue, he thought, until the electricity comes back.
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