A year on, Sindh’s flood victims remain stranded and forgotten

Exactly a year has passed since the day Sindh was declared a calamity-hit region. As the government promises to rebuild, the affectees continue to suffer.
Published August 25, 2023

Fatima welcomes visitors warmly into the dwelling she now calls home — a small compound with a kitchen set up in one corner and two charpoys in the other. The charpoys are each occupied by the men and women of the family.

Fatima and her family in their house at budhni goth — Photo by author
Fatima and her family in their house at budhni goth — Photo by author

An open gutter is but two steps from her door in one of the several narrow alleys that make up Budhni Goth, a slum area located near the coastal belt of Karachi. Her family of 20 members is squeezed into a tiny 80-square-foot house. “Our home back in the village was huge, we had rooms for everyone. The children played in the large compound,” said Fatima.

The 50-year-old belongs to Kandiaro, a small town in Naushaharo Feroz district located in Sindh. She moved to Karachi after last year’s devastating floods swept away her home, her harvest and her livestock.

The majority of Pakistan’s second-most populous and agriculture-dependent province of Sindh was declared “calamity-hit” on August 23, 2022. It affected one in seven people in Pakistan and displaced nearly eight million people.

A year on, many of them are still homeless. Some languish in Karachi’s slums, while others live under the open sky awaiting the fulfilment of the government’s promises.

While rehabilitation and resettlement require years, the outgoing Sindh government had made ambitious plans, which it claimed would come to fruition in the next two years. There are, however, several flaws in the plan which stem from the cultural practices followed in Sindh.

Going back not an ‘option’

“We did go back to the village but the wadera (landowner) told us he doesn’t want a makata (a local land agreement) with us anymore and we should return to the city,” said Badal, Fatima’s husband.

In rural Sindh, as per a custom called ‘makata’, the ‘wadera’ (landowner) gives the farmer land for the season or the year — in some cases, the land is given for a longer time due to loyalty with the owners.

The farmer lives on and cultivates the land. The landowner sometimes gives the farmer a loan to buy pesticides, fertilisers and provide water. The profit from the yield is then shared by both the landowner and the tenant. At the end, the farmer is also required to pay off the loans acquired during the sowing season.

Badal and his sons approached other landowners but they all refused. Eventually, the family returned to the city. “Going back home is not an option for us anymore,” Badal sighs.

Two houses down the lane, in a slightly bigger house with fewer residents, resides Sajjad Ali, a 20-year-old, with his wife and parents. Sajjad limps to the charpoy in the compound while his wife rushes to the kitchen, a small room in the corner of the house with a small window opening up in the wall.

Sajjad and his family in the compound of their house — photo by author
Sajjad and his family in the compound of their house — photo by author

Sajjad came to Karachi last year. Travelling from Naushaharo Feroz was tiresome — it took them three days via road. For the first two months — June and July — the family resided in government schools and later shifted to Budhni Goth.

Sajjad had recently had his appendix removed from the city’s government-run Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital. The operation was free. “Hospitals in Larkana [nearer to my house] were asking for Rs250,000. I couldn’t afford it and had to postpone the surgery several times. I never thought it could be done for free in Karachi,” he exclaimed.

To Sajjad, life in Karachi is full of freedom and possibilities. “We don’t want to go back. We earn a decent amount through our work,” he added. He and his father have been employed by a pharmaceutical factory nearby which gives them Rs800-Rs1,000 per day.

He said that if they returned to the village, they would have to pay the landowners all the money they had borrowed for sowing the fields that they were unable to harvest due to the floods. “He (the landowner) wrote down details of all payments and wants us to pay interest on the loan, which makes it twice the original loan amount. We can’t give him Rs100,000,” said Razia, Sajjad’s mother. For Sajjad’s family, life in Karachi is their chance to break the chains of economic slavery around their hands.

Not everyone has been so lucky though. Though there is no official count, families who stayed back in the metropolis are few and far between. Many who returned to their villages, buoyed by the government’s promises, are living in tents under the open sky. Meanwhile, the outgoing government began its work six months ago. The plans are ambitious but the results are yet to be witnessed, but the executives carrying out the plans are more optimistic.

Ambitious rebuilding plans

For rehabilitation and resettlement of the flood-affectees, the provincial government, in collaboration with the World Bank, created the Sindh Peoples Housing Scheme for Flood Affectees (SPHF). SPHF is a Section 42 company [a not-for-profit association], which comprises a board of directors from the private sector.

As per surveys conducted by the SPHF, 12.36m people were affected and 2.1m houses were damaged or destroyed across the province in last year’s floods, of which 85pc were katcha (mud) houses and 15pc were pakka (concrete). The cost of repairing the houses has been estimated at $5.5bn.

The World Bank has provided $500m for the project while the provincial government is funding it with $227m. The officials are, however, unclear on how they will cover the shortfall, although they have reached out to private companies for assistance.

SPHF CEO Khalid Mehmood Sheikh said that the project is completely transparent. “The project is beneficiary-driven and there is no contractor.”

The process of rebuilding a house for a flood affectee is being supervised by five different non-governmental organisations such as the Sindh Rural Support Organisation, Health and Nutrition Development Society, Sustainable Actions to Access Financial Capital Opportunities, National Rural Support Programme and Thardeep Rural Development Programme. Each organisation has been assigned different districts whose primary role is supervising the construction activity.

Each family that lost their home will be given Rs300,000 in four instalments to make a standard one-room house of 200 square feet. The first payment would be Rs75,000, followed by three more instalments of Rs75,000, Rs100,000 and Rs25,000. The amount will directly be transferred to their bank accounts. For those who don’t have any, their accounts will be created.

The payments would be disbursed only after they show completion certificates at each stage issued by the NGOs operating in their respective district.

According to SPHF spokesperson Sana Khowaja, the houses will be climate resilient. The implementation partners — the NGOs — have been tasked with guiding local residents on how to make climate-resilient structures and ensure they’re complying with the instructions while building the houses.

“We did find a few problems, like the absence of infrastructure in these places, which we intend to fix after the houses are completed. We have been given money to build these amenities,” said Sheikh.

“Another problem is that according to survey data 356,126 people live on encroached land or land owned by other landowners.” On this, the SPHF CEO said that a policy is being developed by the government in which they will decide the fate of the landless displaced flood affectees.

As of now, 525,000 requests have been approved and 100,000 people, who own land or had houses on state land, have been given the first instalments to build their homes.

“According to our survey, 474,257 women lost their homes. Among them are widows, unaccompanied elderly women, women with disabled husbands and women who have been abandoned by their husbands,” said Sheikh, adding that the government is particularly keen on empowering these women by giving them land titles and houses.

The project is expected to be completed within two years.

“People who lived in houses made up of roofs with leaves and branches will now have concrete houses. No matter how small, they will be able to protect themselves from rains and floods,” Sheikh smiled.

But for people like Fatima and her family, who are hundreds of miles away from home, crammed into a tiny house, Sheikh’s optimism bears little weight. She dreams of her large courtyard in Kandiaro and seeing her children run about and frolic in their fields.

“I just want to go back home but for that, we need a house with walls,” she said.

A young man looks through the window inside the home of a flood-affectee in Karachi. — Header image by author