In some parts of the country even finding a dry patch of land for burying the dead has become a stark reality and with existing graveyards already submerged under water, many fear that they might not be able to find the final resting place of their loved ones ever again.
Various districts of Punjab have been left utterly devastated by the floods, and amongst the victims are hundreds of cemeteries, which has prompted fears that graves may have been washed away for good. One such graveyard is the main one of Miranpur area in Rajanpur district, where ancient graves dating back centuries are currently inundated.
Sher Muhammad, a resident of the area, is one of the affectees of the catastrophe and while talking to The Express Tribune expressed his grief at potentially losing out on all trace of his family members. “My grandfather and mother are buried in this graveyard,” Muhammad said depressingly, “when the flood water recedes, we will see if there are any signs of the graves or everything is gone forever.” He further informed that the town had been vacated due to the flooding and those wishing to bury their loved ones in the ancient cemetery were deeply troubled.
Tariq Gashkuri, who is from the same town, concurring with Muhammad, said that many people have died during the monsoon flooding but their burial has become a huge problem. “The bereaved families wish to bury their loved ones in their ancestral cemetery alongside the graves of other family members.” However, presently it does not look like the water level in the graveyard will decrease anytime soon but the local populace is still bent on making the cemetery the final resting place of their family.
“Five people from my family have been temporarily buried in a protected area. After the flooding stops, we will dig out the dead bodies and bury them again in our cemetery,” informed a visibly torn Gashkuri. A spokesperson for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), when asked about a rough number of graveyards that may have been affected like the one Miranpur, said that the number was in hundreds. “310 villages and 32 union councils covering an area of 600,000 acres have been affected. Particularly the towns in DG Khan and Rajanpur have been destroyed.
So we can assume that more than 300 graveyards have been left in ruin,” the spokesperson informed. While the PDMA spokesperson did not have an estimate on how much it will cost to restore the cemeteries, according to the survey conducted by The Express Tribune, most of the cemeteries lack a boundary wall, due to which water accumulates in them even during normal rains. In bigger cities, the maintenance of cemeteries is the responsibility of the municipal authorities, but in small cities and towns, the maintenance of cemeteries is done by the locals.
However, even in bigger cities like Lahore, which has a total of 845 graveyards, as per official numbers, cemeteries are largely ignored. Presently, the construction of 4 major cemeteries is pending in the city and about Rs 4 billion was allocated for the restoration and construction of graveyards but those funds have not been utilised yet. When asked about the restoration work of the cemeteries, Ajmal Malik, Chief Engineer of the Local Government Department, said that the working papers and funds for restoration and development of cemeteries were ready and the work would be completed very soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2022.