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CNN Cover Story: Washed Away

Aired September 5, 2010 - 19:30   ET



TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This is the CNN cover story WASHED AWAY. Sanjay Gupta, M.D., leads a journey through the floods of Pakistan.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We were literally in boats in the same place that we had been walking the day before.

FOREMAN: Seven and a half million Pakistanis are stranded, displaced, without a home.

GUPTA: There was just a riot out here. Need medicines, antibiotics, ended up on the ground shattered literally.

FOREMAN: And the success of the U.S. aid effort could impact the security of the United States itself.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What these monster floods have done now is shift the focus of the Pakistani military away from these militant groups and towards flood recovery, flood relief.

FOREMAN: The second wave, disease carried by polluted water is moving through the population.

GUPTA: These children are sick. This is a diarrheal treatment center to take care of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that we can use resources in a way that are effective and efficient. And we know that if we do that right now, we will save lives and prevent disease and help children.

GUPTA: We're in this camp, right. And I come upon this girl who is doing her homework in the tent. I'm thinking in the midst of all that squalor and poverty and pain and all of that, she's doing her homework.


FOREMAN: Wait until you meet that girl at the end of this show. You will be astonished. Welcome to the CNN cover story. We call it "Washed Away" because the floods in Pakistan that had been raging since the July monsoons have washed away an area the size of New England. They also have the potential to erode U.S. security, a subject we'll address shortly.

It's now 4:30 in the morning in Pakistan where 7.5 million Pakistanis have lost their homes to these floods. We do not know how many people have been killed. Nobody knows.

This small unforgettable moment caught by CNN's Sara Sidner will explain why.


SHAAZADI BANGLANI, MOTHER (through translator): We tried to get out, and I could only grab a few of my children. We couldn't grab two of them, she says. They went in the water.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shaazadi has not filed a missing persons report.

(on camera): Villagers tell us they don't tell the government because they don't believe anyone from the government is going to do anything anyway. So instead they hire gentlemen like this. He's a fisherman and instead of getting fish, he's fishing out bodies here.

(voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) says he's found about 16 or 17 bodies. He's lost count. The government expects the death toll to rise significantly because families have not filed missing persons reports.


FOREMAN: So, as Sara Sidner reports there, the death toll is unclear. So is the impact on U.S. security. But, first, let's look at the humanitarian disaster as documented by our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and his team.


GUPTA (voice-over): A fighting chance here in Sindh, Pakistan. It is all they can hope for. Rehamt Chacher, a farmer, didn't get any warnings when the floods came.

REHAMT CHACHER, PAKISTAN FLOOD REFUGEE (through translator): We just ran, he says.

GUPTA: He grabbed his wife, he grabbed his kids. He ran. And they took all they could. You're looking at it here. You see, they are staggeringly poor. But they wanted a fighting chance. And escaping the flood, they thought they made it.

ULLA CHACHER, PAKISTAN FLOOD REFUGEE (through translator): She started to get a fever. She couldn't keep anything down. She had lots of belly pain.

GUPTA: She's talking about her three-month-old daughter, Benazir. A few days later she describes the same exact thing happening to her son, two-year-old, Wasira (ph).

(on camera): They brought Benazir and Wasira (ph) here to civil hospital, and doctors right away knew that these children were sick, but with such limited resources, there was only so much they could do.

Let's take a look. Two to three patients per bed in this hospital. Do you have enough beds? Do you have enough resources?

DR. G.R. BOUK, PAKISTAN CIVIL HOSPITAL: No. There is no resources. Because of the huge population and there is some population from (INAUDIBLE) other (INAUDIBLE) provinces.

GUPTA (voice-over): The problem, bad water everywhere. With not enough good clean water to go around, well, many, too many have started to drink this. Millions of people. Diarrheal illness, cholera, dysentery, typhoid.

(on camera): Some of the children around here look very sick. You have at least two children per bed, some on the floor. Are you going to run out of space eventually. I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of people out there. What happens to them?

BOUK: At the moment, we can't do anything.

GUPTA: What are the chances this child is going to survive?

BOUK: I think 50/50.

GUPTA: Wasira (ph) and Benazir wouldn't get that fighting chance. This is their obituary. They didn't even make it to the hospital. Both children died on the way there. Two-year-old Wasira (ph) weighed just eight pounds. And three-month-old, just two pounds.

(on camera): I don't want her to cry. Sit here. Sit here. It's OK. Her belly is distended. That's the problem. And it's hard. It doesn't really push in. Give her some formula so she can keep some calories down and they give her medicine as well, mainly for nausea, but really no antibiotics, which is concerning because that's one of the biggest problems here. People getting infections.

(voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) are just two of the millions affected by the floods. This is their new normal. Living among dozens of strangers on mats, incredible, unimaginable loss. Two children dead in just one week. But now their mission to not lose another child, to save this child, (INAUDIBLE). She is already sick. And she wants to give (INAUDIBLE) a fighting chance.


FOREMAN: Mothers searching for the strength to keep their children alive, the struggle repeated throughout Pakistan. Of course, this disaster is so much more, too. When cover story, "Washed Away," returns, we'll explain the connection between these floods in Pakistan and the security of the United States. Because this natural disaster presents a real challenge to the fight against extremism. All part of Sanjay Gupta's journey through the floods.


GUPTA (on camera): Look at the lines right now. Thousands of people literally. They have this little barrier here. It is so hot outside. Anything to try and keep themselves cool. There's no question that relief is slow coming here. But even as we're filming at the camp, this Pakistani Army helicopter comes over and drops us food.




GUPTA (on camera): They survived the flood, and then they think they did all the right thing, and the kids get sick.

DANIELLE DELLORTO, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: That was the hardest part for me. Saying that. You think you prepare. And these families are just like every one of our families. It's almost striking it's totally relatable. And it was really - that part was really hard to see.

GUPTA: You can check little things to see how dehydrated they are. You push on the tips of their fingers, and the blood doesn't really come back very quickly. So dehydrated.


FOREMAN: We're going to get back to what our chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta and his team have documented on the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan in a few moments. But we want to turn for a moment to the security dimension for the United States. Because big concerns have been triggered by these floods on that very front.

To answer those, we've called on CNN's Reza Sayah in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, where he has been a CNN correspondent for the past two and a half years. He knows this country well.


SAYAH: Washington's wish is for the Pakistani military to go after these militant groups, and for the past couple of years they've done a very effective job in doing so, but what these monster floods have done now is shift the focus of the Pakistani military away from the these militant groups and towards flood recovery, flood relief.

They have about 60,000 of their soldiers in addition to police and security forces working in flood relief and flood recovery with that pressure off these militant groups. Obviously, they could give them the opportunity to regroup, re-energize, reorganize, and make more plans to attack more U.S. international forces across the border, in Afghanistan, Tom.

FOREMAN: You mentioned the administration's stance on this. Let's listen for a moment for what president Obama has said about this in the past.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11. And it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.

FOREMAN: Reza, if the catastrophe passes, at the moment, they get it under control, do they then go back to where they were in the battle against these extremists, or are they back at square one?

SAYAH: Well, I think they're hoping to go back to where they were. But if there's such a thing as a negative square, they could go there. That's how much backwards this country has gotten.

Remember, the Obama administration no longer believes that they can beat these insurgents with bombs and bullets. The newest strategy is putting an emphasis on economic and social development. They have the new (INAUDIBLE) bill passed by Congress recently, setting aside $7.5 billion for social and economic development.

These floods jam up that strategy. A big chunk of that money is now going towards flood relief and flood recovery. Again, what the Obama administration wants to see in Pakistan is economic progress, Democratic progress, social progress.

And these monster floods are presenting a huge obstacle to that strategy. That's why you see a lot of concern from Washington.

FOREMAN: And a one sentence answer here very quickly, Reza. Any concern about the nuclear elements in Pakistan? That they can fall into the wrong hands in the midst of all this calamity?

SAYAH: There's a lot of talk about this often even before the floods. But I think you've heard it from senior U.S. officials and certainly Pakistani officials that those concerns are unfounded. They continue to say again, both U.S. and Pakistani officials that these nuclear weapons, these nuclear equipment are in safe hands.

FOREMAN: All right. Thanks so much. Reza Sayah speaking to us from Islamabad.


FOREMAN: The CNN cover story "Washed Away" returns in a moment with more of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's journey through the floods.


GUPTA (on camera): A lot of people wonder just how bad is the flooding especially here in southern Pakistan. Well, take a look at the map here. This is the Indus River over here. That's how wide it should be. And right now it's about this wide instead.

Water in all those area that should be dry land. Want a better idea. We're on a boat. Take a look out here. As far as the eye can see, this is just water, power lines in the middle of it, all of this should be dry land.


FOREMAN: Welcome back to CNN Cover Story "Washed Away." There was a moment during Sanjay Gupta's journey through Pakistan's floods where he and his team found themselves in the middle of thousands of families desperate for food and water.

Listen to Sanjay and his producer describe what happened off camera.


GUPTA: It was a little scary at the time because you just screamed all of a sudden. We didn't know what was going on. But what exactly happened.

DELLORTO: I was getting pulled back. Someone - I don't know who it was -- was pulling me back, and I was in a big group of people. And I just screamed.

GUPTA: Just being really, really attentive and observant of all things that are going on. People who may have weapons. Anything and it can be a little frightening out there. It's like you're on. You got to be really on the entire time.


FOREMAN: That's the back story, what they could not capture on camera. Here is what they did capture.


GUPTA (voice-over): Ever wonder what desperation looks like? This is it.

(on camera): The police are coming in to basically break up this demonstration. So what happened here was locals basically set up a road block right over here. As soon as an aid truck would come in, they would basically storm that aid truck and try and steal as many supplies as they could.

(voice-over): They're desperate. And they're quick to tell you about it. It wasn't so much anger as it was bitter frustration and hopelessness. Thousands of displaced people being forgotten and ignored.

(on camera): Here's how it's supposed to work. A much more organized camp, for example. A family over here. They have mats. They have tents. They can withstand a lot of the rain that's coming. Look inside this tent over here, you see water jug. You see cooking oil. Even cooking utensils.

(voice-over): The problem is, you won't find many camps like this one. Most look like this. Thousands of families. Low on tents. Low on food. Thick with desperation.

(on camera): One of the really difficult situations here is that there's no mechanism of distributing the aid. It is just awful to think about. As people describe it to us they say it's just really embarrassing to be treated like animals.

Where is all the aid going? When you see trucks with aid in it but it doesn't seem to be getting to people who need it the most?

(voice-over): So we followed this aid truck from a distance. The first sign of hope these people felt in weeks. But what was about to happen was outrageous. First government rangers with big sticks organized. Women and children here. Men over there. All of them waiting in the hot sun.

(on camera): This is hard to believe. These people have been waiting now for some time for food. Women and children over here and men over here. The truck was there with aid in it, pulled into the gas station. Now they're just leaving.

(voice-over): There was no explanation for this. And more importantly, all these people still hungry, still thirsty.

(on camera): This is incredibly heartbreaking. People were waiting for quite a while for that truck thinking they were going to get aid. They received nothing.

(voice-over): Commander Faisal Shah has the impossible task of trying to feed 20 million people.

(on camera): Have you been outside of some of these camps outside of here and talked to the people? Have you actually heard from them because I hear what you're saying but when I talk to them I hear something entirely else.

CMDR. FAISAL SHAH, PAKISTAN NAVY MARINE CORPS: People are desperate. But there are also people who have been very, very fair. I believe that most of them are being fed regularly.

GUPTA (voice-over): But I saw a different story in the dozen refugee camps I visited. There's no regular meals here. Desperation mounts.

(on camera): It's going on again. People basically just going in and trying to get what they can get.

I just want to give you a quick idea of what can happen to some of the most precious commodities need when something like this happens. I mean, there was just a riot out here. Needed medicines, antibiotics ends up on the ground shattered, literally.

(voice-over): Desperation has its consequences. And in this case, no one benefited.


FOREMAN: When the CNN Cover Story returns, in a tent in the flood zone, Sanjay Gupta meets a young girl who can give us all a lesson in resilience. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: I mean, we're in this camp, right? And I come upon this girl who's doing her homework in the tent. And I was thinking in the midst of all that squalor and poverty and pain and all that, just doing her homework. What do you make of that? What does that mean for her, for that entire community of people living in that area and for everybody here in Pakistan? Like what is the message for the rest of the world when we see something like that?



FOREMAN: Welcome back to the CNN Cover Story.

When Sanjay Gupta was growing up he learned a bit of Erdu from his mother. He used that language this past week to connect with some children whose family had taken refuge in a tent. But he did not expect to see this.


GUPTA (voice-over): Here in Pakistan, there are fields of dreams. They look like this. Mixed with pain and poverty. But spend some time here, and look closer.

(on camera): So this is something maybe you wouldn't expect to see. We're in this tent, and all the kids in this particular tent are doing their homework. This is Remsha. She's eight years old.

She's trying to do her school work, she's telling me. She tells me she wants to be a doctor. People here have dreams. Just like Remsha and a lot of the other kids that are here with her.

(voice-over): They had a real house once, they tell me. It's now covered in water. She had her friends. She went to school. And, yes, she had dreams. It's Reshma's story. It may not be much different than yours. Starting with the neighborhoods they were forced to leave.

(on camera): Looking at all the images you may think people who were affected by this flood only lived in little grass huts. Simply not true. I mean, real neighborhoods affected by this flood as well, homes. All these people had to flee.

(voice-over): And she ended up here, no idea how long she will stay. So she does her homework. And her parents' mission, establish some sort of normally for their kids. A routine for Reshma rooted in religion.

(on camera): You're looking at aid being distributed here. This is rice with potatoes and chick peas. They put them in big buckets and they distribute it to all these tents.

One thing that might surprise you a little bit, they wait until the sun goes down. It is Ramadan. And even here in a camp like this they make sure they abide by those rules. No food in between.

(voice-over): Reshma and others in this camp are surprised when I shared reports about the floodwaters starting to recede. Surprised because just this week another million people in southern Pakistan became displaced.

Fleeing waters on the rise.

(on camera): She said she knows some English and she wanted to try that out with me as well. So what is your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Alanin (ph).

GUPTA: OK. And you're answering for her. What is your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Remsha.

REMSHA: My name is Remsha.

GUPTA: Very good. Very good.

(voice-over): Nothing can change this reality. More than a dozen awful deaths over the past week here. And people who have lost everything, simply trying to survive. But that's the thing about hopes and dreams. They are spread equally throughout the world. And no one can take them away from you.

(on camera): She says she really likes to go to school and she says she's studying really hard to be a doctor. Do you think you can do it? You can do it.

You can do it.


FOREMAN: And that is CNN's cover story for this Sunday, September 5th.

We've had a team of journalists in Pakistan for a long time now. And given the humanitarian and security implications of what you've just witnessed in this past half hour, we can tell you CNN will be on the ground in Pakistan for a long time to come.

We will be back at 10:00 Eastern time with all the latest breaking news. I'm Tom Foreman at the CNN Center in Atlanta. We hope you will join us then. But right now stay tuned for the riveting documentary starting right now, "The Atlanta Child Murders."