The doctor on a mission in flood-hit Pakistan

By Jane Corbin
BBC News, Pakistan


An endless line of people patiently wading through the water, along the submerged highway - babies on the women's backs, furniture hoisted over the heads of the men.

This is the scene that I see from my vantage point perched on top of a huge police truck forging through the floods towards the town of Dera Allah Yar.

Beside me is Doctor Shershah Syed, a famous surgeon from Karachi who is bringing medicines and aid to the hospital in the town.

We pass a lorry toppled on its side - the men sitting on top tell us they've been there for four days waiting for someone to rescue them.

It is six weeks after the floods struck and there is no sign of government relief effort in the area. "This is a tragedy beyond my imagination," Doctor Shershah tells me.

"Pakistan and this province and the whole country will go back 50 years because of the floods," he adds.

Donor reluctance

The World Bank estimates that damaged infrastructure alone will cost nearly $10bn (£6.3bn) and Pakistan is a country already deeply in debt. Millions of people are relying on food aid as they will not be able to grow rice and wheat until next year.

Image caption,
Some of the women Dr Syed treats come from remote areas and have never seen a doctor before

When we reach the hospital they are still pumping out the water and the yard is full of mud. The doctors show us the water mark - high above our heads and the ruined medicines and equipment piled in the corridors.

We are the first people to get through with aid supplied by the British Midland Doctors Association. The hospital has received nothing from the government which has struggled to cope with the scale of the disaster.

Donors have been reluctant to give to a country with a reputation for militancy and corruption and the UN has only raised half of the $2bn it pledged to the flood victims.

But people are willing to give to concerned individuals like Doctor Shershah, who through the Pakistan Medical Association is co-ordinating distribution of food and medicine in flood hit areas.

Doctor Shershah, a gynaecologist, has dedicated his life to improving the lives of poor women and for him the flood has proved an opportunity as well as a catastrophe.

The water has forced women out of the remotest areas to places where they can be seen by a doctor - often for the first time in their lives.

The doctor brings his team from Karachi to a run down health clinic on the edge of the flood zone where there is no qualified surgeon to cover a population now swelled by thousands of flood victims.

I watch as the doctor performs 27 operations over the course of 12 hours - with hardly a break.

Feudal system

The women are poor labourers weakened by constant childbearing and many are desperate for simple, free surgery that will transform their lives.

"You don't have to be Einstein to do this kind of operation," the doctor says as he finishes performing a hysterectomy. "It's about improving the quality of life for these women."

Image caption,
The doctor's camp has the basic necessities lacking in many villages

Pakistan still has a high rate of maternal mortality - around 400 in every 100,000 pregnancies.

An emergency arrives at the clinic - 16-year-old Roubina is having her first baby and is exhausted by her long labour.

There are signs of foetal distress and the doctor's team swiftly carries out a Caesarian section.

"We were lucky the doctor was here today," Maqbool, Roubina's husband says as he proudly holds his new son. Mother and baby might not have survived if the doctor's team had not been here.

Doctor Shershah has set up his own camp for flood victims. Eight million people in Sindh were displaced by the waters and many hundreds of thousands are still living in tents.

He has always been a social campaigner but he has become more angry about the plight of the poor since the floods.

"These people are extremely, extremely poor - they have nothing but their hard labour," he says as we walk around the camp.

''The flood has de-rooted them from their land, and ignorance and illiteracy will kill them," he adds.

Dr Shershah blames the feudal system which still dominates Sindh where half the people are illiterate and big landlords virtually own their labourers.

The doctor's camp has the basic necessities lacking in many villages - clean water, classes for the children and a simple free health service run by paramedics.

Torchlight operations

It is after midnight and the last woman is on the operating table in the clinic. The theatre blacks out and Dr Shershah's assistants have to use their mobile phones as torches so he can keep operating.

Pakistan spends more than $5bn a year on its military and defence but it cannot keep the electricity going in a rural health centre.

"It is so shameful we have to do these life saving operations by torchlight," the doctor tells me.

"This a country with the atomic bomb and F16's and submarines - this is the priority set by our government and it makes me very angry," he adds.

The women will return to their families and eventually to their villages and life will go on.

The doctor does not believe the flood will result in a change of government or indeed change anything much at all in his country.

All he can hope is that the disaster will focus the world's attention on the plight of Pakistan's people and that international donors will demand reform in exchange for aid.

This World: Pakistan's Flood Doctor will be broadcast on BBC Two at 1900 GMT on Monday 13 December, or catch up on BBC iPlayer.

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.