August 30, 2010 -- KARACHI - Twenty million people have been impacted by the floods in Pakistan. It's the worst natural disaster in the country's history. Unlike an earthquake where devastation happens quickly, with floods, the disaster builds slowly. I'm on my way to Pakistan to cover the impact on health.
Watch Dr. Besser's reports from Pakistan this week on World News with Diane Sawyer and Good Morning America.
I have lived, worked, and traveled across the world all of my life. I get incredible energy from experiencing new cultures and places. I realized I had this bug as an exchange student in Australia when I was sixteen. That was followed by a year going around the globe on the cheap after college; six months working in the Himalayan Mountains in India during medical school; 2 months on the Island of Truk doing post-typhoon assistance as a pediatric resident; a year working on polio vaccine research and cholera treatment in Bangladesh; and years working in a medical clinic in Mexico. I know the incredible task medical workers face daily in developing countries. The mission becomes extraordinary on the heels of a natural disaster.
Now that I'm at ABC News, the travel is different. I go to capture images, tell stories, and most importantly, help us understand this problem in a new way. We have seen the facts -- devastation encompassing an area the size of England. More than a half a million Pakistani's are stranded and only accessible by air.
But this disaster is unlike any other experienced in the region. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon calls it the worst disaster he has ever seen. Now Pakistan and all agencies working to provide relief face one of the largest challenges -- preventing the second wave of death from disease and hunger. Although the flood waters are receding, the damage remains. Many fear the worst is yet to come.
And while many have pledged millions of dollars to aid the victims, the amount of aid does not compare to past natural disasters. According to the international non-governmental organization OxFam, an estimated $570 per person was pledged after the first month of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. An estimated $700 per person was pledged after this year's earthquake in Haiti. According to the UN only $19 per person has been committed for Pakistan.
My first attempt as an international health correspondent was in Haiti where we tried to show how the problems after the earthquake were a result not just of the earthquake itself, but of the poor conditions that were there at baseline. We told the stories of people who were bearing more pain and suffering than anyone should have to experience in ten lifetimes, and of heroes, local and foreign, who were working and continue to work to rebuild that beautiful country.
Now I head to Pakistan filled with apprehension, responsibility, and fear. The reports to date have been quite devastating. The impact on the population overwhelming. Millions are homeless and without clean food and water. Diarrheal and respiratory disease are on the rise. Pregnant women do not have access to maternity care. Can I tell stories that will help our audience see the faces of this story in a way that will motivate people to help? I sure hope so.