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Deadly Deluge – Covering the Pakistan Floods

By Omer Saleem

It all started when the monsoon system entered from the Himalayas on 03 September and triggered torrential rains in most populous province of Punjab and disputed Kashmir region. By the evening reports of causalities from rain related-incidents started to come in.
Over the next three days the rain never stopped for a single minute. Lahore City, the provincial capital of Punjab province, had all major roads inundated.

Traffic was jammed at all major roads by the afternoon.

Pakistan Floods: Vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam after heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: Vehicles are stuck in a traffic jam after heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

As the rains continued for the last 24 hours, most people opted to stay at home. Nevertheless some parents were anxious to take their children to school.

Pakistan Floods: School children ride a bike to school during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province,  Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa/ Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: School children ride a bike to school during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa/ Omer Saleem

It was my first experience in covering flooding, standing in the middle of an inundated road, holding an umbrella with one hand to cover my gear and capturing images with the other.

Pakistan Floods: People with their vehicles make their way through a flooded road during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province,  Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: People with their vehicles make their way through a flooded road during heavy downpour in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province, Pakistan, 05 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

After three hours I came back home to file my images, but for the whole day even when I slept I felt as if it continued to drizzle on my face.
By that evening the death toll reached 100 with unconfirmed reports that neighboring India would release the flood water into Chenab river of Pakistan — another blow to an already devastated situation.

Flash floods during the monsoon are common in Pakistan, where the worst deluge in 2010 submerged one-fifth of the country, killing more than 1,700 people and affecting more than 20 million people. This time residents had the same haunting memories of 2010 but were not willing to leave their homes where their life’s earnings are their cattle and belongings. These people have lived for generations in such a simple lifestyle, without access to clean drinking water or other basic needs. Most work as farmers cultivating the major crop of the region, rice and wheat. However this flood also destroyed cultivated land along with crops.

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

On 5th September our coverage expanded to other cities of Punjab province where people started to flee following flash floods. I went to Jhang district some 250 kilometers from Lahore.

In Chiniot city I accompanied the colleagues of Rescue 1122, the provincial government’s rescue agency that helped evacuees from flooded villages near the Chenab River, then further on to Jhang City where the army was called in.

Omer Saleem while covering the floods in Pakistan

Omer Saleem while covering the floods in Pakistan

It is not always easy to get access to such rescue operations conducted by the Army, so I was grateful when the army major in charge of the operation granted me permission to go on board with the proviso that we not interview victims.

Pakistan Floods: shooting pictures from a helicopter

It is quite risky to photograph aerial views standing at helicopter door where sheer wind pressure can pull you out. The only remedy you have is to get a hold onto a cord with one hand and shoot with the other.

Omer Saleem while covering the floods in Pakistan

Omer Saleem in a helicopter while covering the floods in Pakistan

Finally the efforts paid off. We were the only agency to have the privilege to show the aerial views of the flooded areas to the world.
The next few days we continued to cover the floods as they reached the historic Multan city of Punjab province some 400 kilometers from Lahore City. Luckily this time the Army accommodated the media on their helicopters, and I had a warm welcome from Army pilots who recognized me.

Pakistan Floods: A Pakistani Army soldier distributes food bags in flooded areas in Shujabad, on the outskirts of Multan, Pakistan, 15 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: A Pakistani Army soldier distributes food bags in flooded areas in Shujabad, on the outskirts of Multan, Pakistan, 15 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: People affected by floods are rescued in Shujabad, Punjab province, Pakistan, 14 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: People affected by floods are rescued in Shujabad, Punjab province, Pakistan, 14 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Pakistan Floods: An aerial view of flooded areas in Jhang, Punjab province, Pakistan, 10 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

A woman effected by the floods waits to be evacuated in Chiniot, Pakistan, 09 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

A woman effected by the floods waits to be evacuated in Chiniot, Pakistan, 09 September 2014. epa / Omer Saleem

Flooding in Pakistan has now begun to subside as raging waters headed towards the Arabian Sea in the south. Sadly nearly 320 people died and another three million were affected, with some 45,000 houses damaged and roads, bridges and crops destroyed.

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