<p>In an attempt to bring his children to safety, a villager employs a charpoy as an improvised ‘life raft’, affixed with empty plastic containers to help keep it afloat, in the floodwaters that inundated this town in Balochistan. —Online/ File</p>

As rain wreaks havoc in Balochistan, residents’ cries fall on deaf ears

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, during his visit to the affected areas, also expressed displeasure over inaction by the authorities.
Published August 8, 2022

When the first spell of monsoon rains hit the parched landscape of Awaran district in Balochistan, Ghulam Qadir was among the thousands of residents who heaved a sigh of relief. There had been almost no rain for the last couple of years and the land had become almost barren. The rain also broke the heat spell that had gripped the region for the last several months.

The relief was, however, short-lived. As it continued to pour, Qadir realised he would soon have to move to higher ground. That time did come, sooner even than he had anticipated.

Less than a week before Eidul Azha, Qadir woke up in the middle of the night to find water entering his home. A small river, located approximately one kilometre from his home and which remained mostly dry for the better part of the year, had overflown and caused urban flooding among the surrounding settlements.

 A home in Lasbela district destroyed in the rain. — Photo provided by Baloch Yakjehti Committee Karachi
A home in Lasbela district destroyed in the rain. — Photo provided by Baloch Yakjehti Committee Karachi

Realising that the current was rising and the rain showed no signs of subsiding, he gathered his wife and six children along with what little belongings they could carry and made for higher ground. Standing at a distance with his family, he looked at his home, crops and cattle gradually get swallowed up by the water.

Devastation everywhere

According to a report compiled by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Balochistan has received 181.7mm of rain since June 14 — almost 300 per cent above what it normally receives each year.

During this period, 170 people have lost their lives, including 55 children and 43 women, while another 75 people have been injured.

The report, dated August 6, further states that over 18,000 households have been impacted, of which 13,385 homes have been partially damaged while another 4,702 homes have been completely destroyed. Besides, the report continues, over 600 schools have been destroyed, while 16 bridges and 670 kilometres of roads have been affected across the province.

These numbers, however, do not even begin to tell the story of helplessness and despair that has gripped the millions of residents affected by urban flooding across the country, particularly in Balochistan — Pakistan’s largest and most impoverished province.

 A view of a bridge in Hub that was damaged during the rain spell. — Photo provided by author
A view of a bridge in Hub that was damaged during the rain spell. — Photo provided by author

At the same time, they have also brought back the same questions that rage in the wake of any natural disaster: What is the role of the provincial government, the local government, the bureaucracy and the provincial disaster management authority in such a time? Did these authorities have no way of foreseeing and taking preventive measures to mitigate the loss of human lives and property? And now that the disaster has struck, why is there little to no help forthcoming despite two high-profile visits by the prime minister?

In fact, the same NDMA report states that 360,000 people in 34 of Balochistan’s 37 districts have been affected by the rains during this time, 7,000 of whom are currently living in relief camps. The NDMA claims to have handed out 7,000 food packets to these persons, while another 27,087 food packets have been distributed by the PDMA, according to the report. But are they enough?

“Some people, I think from the district administration, came and gave us around five kilogrammes of lentils and tents,” said Qadir. “That wasn’t nearly enough,” he lamented, adding that it was his neighbours and other people from the area who had stepped up to help them.

Unaccounted losses

While the NDMA report takes stock of human lives and other infrastructure, it does not account for the loss in income for thousands of farmer, particularly in Makran division, where the flooding has destroyed thousands of acres of date trees during harvest season — which falls between April and July.

The farmers, who are largely reliant on this harvest and sustain themselves for the entire year from its proceeds, are now completely devastated. The rain has also caused the deaths of over 23,000 livestock in Balochistan — another major source of revenue.

During his visit to the affected areas, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced Rs1 million as compensation for each family that had lost a loved one. Besides, he also announced Rs500,000 as compensation for those whose homes had been completely destroyed and Rs200,000 for those whose homes had been partially damaged.

 A large crack has appeared in the walls of this house following heavy rainfall in Bela, Balochistan. — Photo provided by author
A large crack has appeared in the walls of this house following heavy rainfall in Bela, Balochistan. — Photo provided by author

What is ironic is that the majority of the affected families, who were contacted for this report, said they had not even heard of such an announcement. And if they had heard of it, they did not know whom to approach to claim the compensation.

Qadir’s is one of the hundreds of families whose home was completely destroyed, but he has yet to receive any word from the government regarding assistance for rebuilding efforts. The losses he has incurred in the form of crops and livestock are a whole different matter.

In Makran division alone, Commissioner Shabir Ahmed Mengal estimated that the rain had destroyed crops worth at least Rs2 billion. There has been no word from the authorities on whether these farmers will be compensated for their losses.

Meanwhile in Turbat, Assistant Commissioner Aqeel Kareem said that the district administration had disbursed Rs1 million each to nine families who had lost loved ones. In response to a question regarding damage to infrastructure in the area, AC Kareem said that several areas of Kech district, including Nasirabad, Shahabad, Askani, Sami, Pidrak, Neelag and Achanak Bazaar, were badly affected.

He added that the district administration had distributed “tents and other relief items” among the affected persons. Here too, there is no plan to compensate the farmers who have lost millions in destroyed crops.

Official apathy

For most residents of Balochistan, what is really heart-wrenching is the apathetic attitude of the provincial government and district administrations.

“When the first floods came, Chief Minister Qudoos Bizenjo did an aerial survey on board a helicopter around the Lasbela region before flying off to Islamabad for more important matters,” claimed Farooq Baloch, a farmer from Kech district. “If the prime minister had not announced his visits, the CM would never have visited a single affected region,” he said, adding that the premier had visited more regions in two days than Bizenjo had since the start of the flooding.

 Men carry their belongings to safety after heavy rainfall caused flooding in Balochistan. — Photo provided by author
Men carry their belongings to safety after heavy rainfall caused flooding in Balochistan. — Photo provided by author

This apathy came into the open during the premier’s visit too, when he was informed by displaced persons at a relief camp in Qila Saifullah that they weren’t being provided food and water.

“During my visit here and to other camps, I have been told the people are not being provided food and water […]. People clearly said they were not getting any food and water and when I asked them how they were managing, they said they had to send someone back home to fetch food,” PM Shehbaz told the media.

“It is extremely unfortunate that these camps are without food and water,” he lamented.

The premier said immediate action should be taken against the district administrations concerned, adding that Balochistan Chief Minister Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo had assured him that action would be initiated against those responsible. The latter then directed the provincial chief secretary to suspend the officials concerned if food was not being provided at the relief camps.

The threat, as expected, seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

No respite

In Awaran, for example, Deputy Commissioner Dr Jameel Ahmed said that two people were killed and around 500 homes were damaged in the rains. He added that the victims’ families would receive their compensation cheques very soon. “ The families whose homes have been damaged have started receiving relief in the form of tents, rations, food and other essential items,“ he added.

His words, however, rang hollow for Abdullah Baloch, a resident of Awaran. “Our homes are destroyed, our cattle have been killed and crops have perished but all we have received from the officials are merely claims,” he lamented, adding that with the exception of Teertej and Array (Jhao), where tents and lentils were distributed among the affected persons, no other villages and towns had received any aid.

 A cattle shed located adjacent to a house has collapsed in Awaran. Over 23,000 livestock have been killed in the rains since June 14. — Photo provided by author
A cattle shed located adjacent to a house has collapsed in Awaran. Over 23,000 livestock have been killed in the rains since June 14. — Photo provided by author

“Such claims were made previously as well, particularly after the disastrous earthquake of 2013, when most of the affected population had to make do with what they could get on their own. Then too, there was no help from the government,” he added.

Imran Baloch, a resident of Chitkan in Panjgur district, had some similar grievances, particularly with regard to the delivery of relief goods. “The people of Balochistan have never been given any relief in such situations,” he lamented. “This time too, other than a few cars of the PDMA, which camped on the main road with some rations and tents — that too given to people hardly affected by the flood’ — there was nothing for the affected people who largely belonged to far-off areas,” he added.

According to Imran, the PDMA’s trucks had only been brought and parked on the main roads as a publicity stunt by the ruling party.

For now, the residents of Balochistan can only hope that the next spell of rain, expected to commence later this week, is not as devastating as the last. With no expectation from the government and disaster relief agencies, they can only look up to the sky for deliverance.