Nearly seven weeks after floodwaters devastated Pakistan, 35-year-old Israr sits quietly at an International Medical Corps mobile clinic in Charsadda, 15 miles north of Peshawar. He is doing what he has done every day since the disaster—helping family members and friends deal with the effects of the floods. On this particular day, Israr accompanied three of his sisters- in-law to our clinic for treatment for skin infections from contaminated waters.
Israr, who normally earns a living doing odd jobs, helped rescue hundreds of local residents from drowning during the frightening early hours of July 28 – the day the flooding began. He braved the treacherous floodwaters to rescue people from being swept away because he could do what so many others could not. He could swim.
Israr recalls being awakened at 5am by a frantic phone call from his father-in-law who lived in a neighboring village. Floodwaters were sweeping through the village, destroying everything in their path.
“After receiving the call, my younger brother and I rushed to my in-laws’ village on the bank of a tributary to the Kabul River,” said Israr. “As we neared Shabara (the village), we saw all the buildings along the riverbanks were already under water and the water level was rising at an alarming speed.”
The only way Israr could reach his family was to swim through the gushing floodwaters.
“ By the time I entered the village, the water had almost submerged the houses,” he recalled. “ I swam to my in-laws’ house and got my sisters-in-law, their brother and both parents to higher ground.”
Then he returned, swimming from house to house, calming those in panic and encouraging others who could swim to help bring the women and children to safety.
“I kept praying for courage and breath,” said Israr, who said he had never attended school, but learned to swim at a very young age.
As Israr sat weeks later at our clinic in Charsadda, he vowed to teach his two young sons how to swim and, somehow get them enrolled in school. His wish, he said, was for his children to study medicine, so they “can serve the suffering like the International Medical Corps’ workers.”
Since the floods struck, Israr goes to his in-laws’ village daily to help neighbors retrieve their belongings or to take sick villagers to International Medical Corps’ clinic for treatment.
Many patients treated by our medical teams in northwestern Pakistan are suffering from skin infections, watery diarrhea and acute respiratory infections caused by contaminated waters and unhygienic conditions. International Medical Corps, which immediately deployed local medical teams after the floods struck, currently operates 22 mobile health units throughout KPK. We are also running two diarrhea treatment centers in the region.
To date, we have conducted more than 37,000 health consultations, including approximately 2,100 psychosocial consultations.