Saleem Khan, a village located in a remote part of Islampur Union Council in Swat, has been a symbol of neglect for several decades.
This village is home to over 350 families, yet remains deprived of the most basic facilities of life. Before the floods last year, local people had prepared a four-kilometre dirt track on their own, which served as the only communication link for the villagers, providing a link to the town of Islampur.
The track included a little bridge as well, if a wooden plank across a stream qualifies for the term. When floods raised the water level in the stream, the water washed away the ‘bridge’, the track, and, as was later discovered, the entire stream.
Despite all the destruction, some villagers are working hard to restore the link by building a bridge with the help of the Refugee Affected and Hosting Areas Programme (RAHA) of the United Nations Development Programme and the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP).
“We would use this track every day to travel to other places and our lives were ruined after the floods washed away the entire track. Now we have to cross the mountain to reach home,” said Alam Zeb, a resident of the village, as he took a break from working all day in the scorching heat, all while fasting.
With no formal education, Zeb is unaware of the local government setup. When asked about the local member provincial assembly (MPA), he said, “I don’t know anything about him. I voted for the PPP candidate because my father told me to.”
Muhammad Rehman, a secretary at local welfare organisation Adal Falahi Tanzeem, termed the road and bridge “indispensable” for the development of the village.
“There can be no development without proper infrastructure. Several problems arise if vehicles don’t have access to a village. Many patients die on their way to hospitals, while the people have to travel long distances for daily activities,” he said, adding that he had never seen any elected representative coming to the village in his entire life.
“We cast our votes every time because our forefathers did so, but we don’t know who the candidates are,” said a local resident standing in a group of people.
The SRSP, with the help of RAHA has started building a bridge for Saleem Khan, besides other projects in and around the village. According to locals, the bridge alone will solve their biggest problems.
“Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are working in our area. They are helping us by hiring local labour to restore parts of the track. The SRSP and RAHA are also constructing a bridge for us which will end many of our life-long troubles.” said Fazal Rabi, a local social activist, with a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2011.