LASBELA: If you are travelling to Bela for the first time, you are unlikely to even notice the destruction caused by the recent floods. That is because in this small town, located in the heart of Balochistan’s Lasbela district, there was hardly any infrastructure to begin with.
What is very visible, however, is the desperation in the eyes of the woman straddling the highway — arms stretching out as you apply the brakes to avoid a 10-foot crater in what was once tarmac. You can hear it in the voices of little children, running barefoot after you, sheepishly asking for snacks. But most of all, you feel it in the disappointment across their faces when you tell them that no, you are not a relief worker and do not have anything to give them.
According to Assistant Commissioner Hamza Anjum, who is responsible for the Bela and Uthal tehsils, almost 65 per cent of Bela’s population has been affected by the floods.
The land is fed by an irrigation system comprising canals and tributaries originating from the Pulari river that enters the district via Khuzdar. It is this river that expanded in the recent floods, fed by water gushing down from the mountains, causing both the river and its distributaries to spill over into adjoining lands, destroying hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of standing cotton crops.
At least 35 of these homes were located in the village of Laal Gul Goth, located around 18 kilometres from the main Regional Cooperation Development (RCD) Highway.
“We lost the roof above our heads,” says Taj Muhammad Gadoor, a resident of the goth, pointing to the now dry riverbed where gushing water recently swallowed up the houses in its path.
He goes through his phone to show us pictures of the area from before the floods. It is difficult to imagine what once stood there.
Meanwhile, the villagers gather around an army truck handing out rations and other essential items. The goods were collected by an NGO, the Niyat Foundation, from donors in Karachi and transported to the village by army personnel for security reasons.
The villagers, including the children, appear familiar with the drill. They line up, receive their share, and then come to those of us with cameras to pose. The women, however, stay inside the camps and cover their faces as soon as they see any of the workers or journalists. The camps stretch out into the fields, and a peek inside some of them shows belongings crammed into sacks, old suitcases and whatever else they can use for storage.
Mohammad Anwar, one of the residents, vividly remembers the night disaster struck. “It all happened so suddenly,” he says, referring to the night of August 25, when the 90-foot stream flowing through the village suddenly flooded and swallowed up almost 35 homes, as well as a mosque and madrassah that stood in its path.
Mr Anjum explains that the stream he was referring to was the Kanki nadi, a seasonal river that flowed after rainfall in the mountains. The village had grown around this stream, and residents used its water for domestic as well as agricultural purposes.
A portion of one structure still stands — and even that is on the brink of collapse. It’s the school where more than 85pc of the local children were enrolled.
“Boys, girls, they all went to the school,” explains Mr Gadoor. He worries that the closest one is now almost four kilometres away. He regrets that their school will most likely be the last to be rebuilt.
As we ask the local children about it, one young girl, aged between 6-7, keeps asking her father, “Where has my school gone?”
“It’s hard for her to recognise it now, especially since the village is no longer there. She feels we may have moved and does not like it one bit,” the father explains to us, almost apologetically.
As we talk about houses and schools, Laal Rehman, a village elder and the local imam, wants a masjid and madrassah to be rebuilt as soon as possible. Volunteers from the Niyat Foundation are quick to offer help; but where are they to build it?
One of the three brothers who own the land on which the mosque once stood wants it to be reconstructed exactly where it used to be. Mr Hamza and the volunteers try to explain the risk if it rains again in the future.
Eventually, a spot suggested by the assistant commissioner and the volunteers is agreed upon. A ripple of hope runs through the crowd: “Barkat aye gee,” [blessings will follow] everyone agrees.
With that, the imam rises. He gives the call to prayer and makes supplications, reposing hope in his faith as he stands against the backdrop of his washed-away home.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2022
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