‘Nobody comes here’: Despair in some flooded areas, rebuilding in others

Published September 10, 2022
This aerial photograph shows a flooded area on the outskirts of Sukkur on September 9. — AFP
This aerial photograph shows a flooded area on the outskirts of Sukkur on September 9. — AFP

“Our entire onion crop over our one-acre land has died,” said Ghulam Fatima, 27, belonging to the village of Jalal Thebo, in district Tando Allah Yar, in Sindh.

She and her husband, Mashooq Ali Khaskheli, 18 years her senior, are clearly disturbed. “I haven’t slept in many days,” said Khaskheli, his dark forehead, etched with worry lines.

“I do not know how I will repay the huge loan of Rs75,000.”

He and Fatima had borrowed a neighbour’s cell phone for the interview over a video call and showed the damage around their home.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) said it rained 177.5mm against its normal of 63.1mm making July the wettest since 1961. “July 2022 rainfall was excessively above average over Balochistan (+450 per cent) and Sindh (+307pc). Both rank as the wettest ever during past 62 years,” said the PMD’s monthly summary.

A third of the country has been affected while over 1,390 people have been killed since June 14, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

The provinces of Sindh and Balochistan have been the worst affected with floods engulfing entire villages, inundating farmlands and wiping out crops, and sweeping away over 754,000 livestock.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 66 districts have officially been declared ‘calamity hit’ by the government – 31 in Balochistan, 23 in Sindh, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and three in Punjab. Many have likened the destruction to the 2010 super floods.

Situationer: How current calamity compares to 2010 floods

“In just another month the crop would have been ready to be harvested,” said Fatima, who is mother to six children.

This time, she said, compared to the previous year, they were expecting a bumper crop. “We were expecting to make a profit of up to Rs400,000,” she said. “It’s a delicate crop and needs to be looked after well as it needs just the right amount of water and sunlight.”

Fatima worked by her husband’s side on the farm as they cannot afford to hire extra farmhands.

As if the destruction of the crop was not tragic enough, the boundary wall of their home has also crumbled in several places. “I’m afraid to go into the kitchen as the bricks on the roof may fall over me,” said Fatima. In addition, two walls of the toilet have developed big cracks and may come down as well. For now, they have hung jute as a screen for privacy.

A stranded man stands at his house damaged by floodwaters in Mehar city after heavy monsoon rains in Sindh’s Dadu district. — AFP
A stranded man stands at his house damaged by floodwaters in Mehar city after heavy monsoon rains in Sindh’s Dadu district. — AFP

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif termed the floods “the worst in the country’s history” and estimated the economic loss caused by it to be more than $10 billion in damage to infrastructure, homes, and farms. In Sindh, in particular, the damages may well be over $1.6bn as all major crops have been destroyed.

More than 33 million people have been affected, which is about 15pc of the population; more than 1,468,019 homes have been damaged or destroyed, while over 5,500 kilometers of roads have been damaged, according to the NDMA.

But it’s becoming more difficult for this family of eight to survive without work. “I need to find work, — quickly,” there is an urgency in Khaskheli’s voice. “I cannot bear to see my children sleeping hungry, and it is happening too often.”

Read: People who survive floods may die of starvation, says Faisal Edhi

Flood victims reach out for food aid, while taking refuge on higher ground, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Jhangara village in Sehwan. — Reuters/File
Flood victims reach out for food aid, while taking refuge on higher ground, following rains and floods during the monsoon season in Jhangara village in Sehwan. — Reuters/File

According to the charity Action Against Hunger, 27m Pakistanis did not have access to enough food even before the floods. It warned that widespread hunger was imminent. Nearly 2m acres of crops and orchards have been hit, according to the United Nations. Food costs had skyrocketed in Pakistan way before the floods and economists predict prices to shoot up further.

Khaskheli also knows there will be no work in his village or even in the surrounding villages for some time. “The land is inundated with water, it needs to be de-watered, and only after the soil dries will we be able to cultivate,” he said.

The water is still knee-deep. He is among the 40pc of the country’s labour force that relies on agriculture for employment, but right now there is no work in this sector that represents about a fifth of the economy.

On August 30, Dawn quoted Sindh chief minister’s adviser on agriculture, Manzoor Wassan, as saying: “The flood water is not expected to be completely drained out of the farmers’ fields in two months.”

Khaskheli recently took a loan from a relative to take his eight-year-old daughter, Fazila, to the government hospital in the city of Tando Allah Yar. “A villager took us as far as the main road on a donkey cart and from there we took a bus.” The two-way journey cost him Rs2,000. The doctor said she has malaria, said Khaskheli.

“It’s more difficult when she gets sick,” said Khaskheli of her daughter who is hearing impaired and cannot speak. “She cannot tell us what she needs or what she feels and it hurts me that I’m unable to help her,” said Khaskheli. “I end up crying,” he added.

Continuing to live in a partially damaged home, they have yet to receive any relief goods. “Nobody comes this way,” said Fatima. Khaskheli has refused to leave the village and take his family to the makeshift relief camps on the main road near his village. “I don’t like to be among those waiting for handouts,” he said. According to the NDMA, over 633,000 people are living in camps, of which 536,000 are in Sindh.

And according to Fatima, the conditions are deplorable. “There are no toilets, there is no privacy to bathe and they eat and relieve themselves at the same place,” she said. “My husband took me to see and I saw women sitting taking out lice from each other’s hairs,” she said. “Some were in stained shalwars,” she said referring distastefully to the dismal menstrual hygiene management there.

“…Despite a great deal of effort made by the government and NGOs, we have only reached 10pc of the people, 90pc still await assistance,” said Faisal Edhi, of Edhi Foundation, at a press conference in Karachi on Sept 3.

He also said people “don’t want to come to the streets with their children and only ask for food” echoing Khaskheli’s sentiments. He also found people’s participation in relief work minimal, compared to the 2010 floods or the 2005 earthquake.

People take matters into their own hands

Meanwhile, in the northern part of the country, people have decided not to wait for the administration to come to their aid and have taken matters into their own hands.

“We have been disconnected from the rest of the world for the last several days,” said Sher Nawab Kalami, a resident of Kalam, a valley located along the bank of River Swat. “We have not received even a fistful of rations from anyone so far,” he said.

“Don’t give us rations; build the road for us, we will manage our food,” said Sayed Nabi, another resident, who was employed as a manager at a hotel that was partially destroyed.

People in an area of KP move rocks and wooden logs by hand as they attempt to repair roads on their own. — Photo by Umar Bacha/File
People in an area of KP move rocks and wooden logs by hand as they attempt to repair roads on their own. — Photo by Umar Bacha/File

Kalami said nearly 13 big and small villages, including Kalam city, with a population of 350,000, have been cut off from the rest of the world because of the road.

“To be able to access food, petrol, diesel and healthcare, we need to build this road now,” said Kalami.

Four days ago, the Kohistanis, as these mountain people in Swat valley are called, decided to repair the 35-kilometer road between Kalam and Bahrain.

“Nearly 2,500 men aged between eight and 60, can be seen working every day from 9am to 4pm since the last four days. They have repaired about 8 km so far,” he said, adding that there are parts of the road that are intact.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the chief of army staff, on a visit to Swat on August 30, emphasised the urgency of opening the Bahrain-Kalam road in a week.

A little overwhelmed by emotions, Kalami broke down when he said: “In a crisis, we all come together, always.”

He himself has been picking up heavy stones and replacing the potholes with smaller stones and gravel from the riverside. “There is an air of camaraderie,” he said. “People are talking to each other, even laughing if someone cracks a joke; it’s not at all sombre and gloomy!”

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