Photo: David Rose

In Pakistan, where the three-month rainy season starts in July, they typically experience an annual average of 14 centimetres of monsoon rainfall. But last year’s average was over 24 centimetres, far above the norm. The country’s northwest region was the worst hit, with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan experiencing “once-in-a-century” rains. This has developed into one of the worst natural disasters any country has faced in recent years. In the face of a crisis of such epic proportions, Imran Khan has been at the forefront of private relief efforts. The retired cricketer spoke to Reader’s Digest.

RD: The United Nations estimates that more than 21 million people have been injured or are homeless as a result of the flooding. That’s more than the combined total of individuals affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. It’s really quite difficult to comprehend the scale of this disaster, isn’t it?

Khan: It is very difficult to comprehend because people do not equate [the flood] to tragedies like the tsunami and the earthquake simply because there were not that many people killed. It is potentially though, far far far more disastrous than the earthquake or the tsunami because basically you now have 20 million people fighting for survival. Out of this 20 million, 70 to 80 percent are subsistence farmers, which means they only have their crops and their livestock to live by, most of which have been wiped out.

There’s also a huge possibility that not enough wheat will be planted this season because many areas are still unfit for planting or won’t be ready for wheat cultivation. So we’re looking at food shortages, hyperinflation and the possibility of famine in certain areas. Looking ahead, things will keep getting worse unless there’s a massive rehabilitation effort, which unfortunately isn’t visible right now. There aren’t enough funds.

RD: What is the greatest need for the flood victims right now?

Khan: Basically, people need to be rehabilitated as soon as possible. The areas where the floods have receded and it still is possible to cultivate—the farmers there need seed to plant crops before planting season ends. The quicker they plant their crops, the quicker we get livestock to the farmers, and the quicker we help them with construction because winter is at hand. People need a roof over their heads. These are the most urgent and immediate concerns.

RD: Can you share your personal experience with the flooding?

Khan: There are so many stories... the tragedy is huge. When I saw the water overflow the embankments of the Indus... it was the most awful experience watching these villages become inundated. We were on higher ground. We watched the water flow into these villages and saw these poor people wading out and carrying their children on their shoulders. And you realize that this same story would be repeated in other villages all along the Indus, right to the sea. Initially, there’s a sense of total demoralization. People thought there was nothing they could do. What could you do under such circumstances?

I decided that we had to do something—not doing anything wasn’t an option. So I formed a relief effort and joined with other NGOs. Everyone is getting together and dividing the work up so that we can better cope with the disaster. This is beyond the scope of what an individual or a single government can do because you’re talking about 20 million people here.

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