KARACHI: As the government grapples with one of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history, death stalks several villages of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Hundreds of thousands of people there are still waiting for relief 10 days after the calamity left them shelterless, said survivors and local politicians in telephonic interviews with The Express Tribune.
Heavy monsoon downpour and bloated rivers overran swathes of land in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, swamping the districts of Nowshera, Charsadda, Swat and rural Peshawar. Several villages and hamlets have been washed away by the strong current. According to official statistics, around 1,400 people have been killed and close to two million affected by the floods.
Charsadda has been the worst hit district. The government administrator says 80 per cent of the local population has been affected. “One million people in Charsadda district have been affected by the flood. And half of them are most vulnerable now,” said Kamran-ur-Rehman Khan, the district coordination officer (DCO).
Though authorities have restored the road link between Charsadda and Peshawar where several bridges were damaged, Khan said that Shabqadar tehsil is still cut off from the district headquarters. Some 27 villages have been destroyed in the union council Umerzai, displacing a population of 50,000. As floodwaters recede, villagers are seen scavenging through knee-deep mud to salvage whatever was spared by the deluge in their flattened homes, according to aid workers.
Survivors narrate horrific accounts of the devastation. “The flood caught us in sleep. I awakened to the swish of surging waves. And found my house almost inundated,” Amanullah, 38, told The Express Tribune by phone from his village of Utmanzai. “We took shelter in a state-run school, leaving behind everything,” he added.
Fortunately, nobody in Amanullah’s extended family of 42 died in the flood. But they lost their granaries, their livestock, their houses, everything. They are, however, fortunate to be sheltered in the school. The rest of the villagers have not found any shelter.
Most survivors are living in the village graveyard situated on a mound. “We don’t have food, water or even tents. We’ve been living under the sun since the flood swept away our homes,” Rasul Khan, 45 and resident of Utmanzai village told The Express Tribune.
Two Afghan refugee camps in Utmanzai were also affected by the flood. “There were 700 houses in the two camps. At least 400 were completely destroyed, while the remaining were partially damaged,” Ishratullah, an official of the Afghan Commisionerate, told The Express Tribune. “The UNHCR has promised to give us only tents,” he added.
Little government aid has trickled in since the calamity hit the area, the home constituency of Asfandyar Wali, chief of the ruling Awami National Party (ANP).
Survivors have vented criticism over the “apathy” of their leaders towards their plight. “It has been 10 days since the flood destroyed our villages. Neither has Asfandyar visited us nor has any government aid reached us,” said 40-year old Rohullah. But the provincial law minister, Arshad Abdullah, who also belongs to the ANP, defended Wali. “We have been visiting affected villages on behalf of our party chief,” he said. But Abdullah has not visited the village of Utmanzai.
While the government is still engaged in “assessing” the damages, philanthropists and charitable organisations have stepped forward to help the survivors. The Liaquat Tarakai Welfare Trust, a district Swabi-based charity, is providing relief items in the affected villages. “We are providing food items, utensils and medicines to the survivors, not only in Charsadda but also in Nowshera and Swabi districts,” said MNA Engineer Usman, who defeated Asfandyar Wali in NA-12 (Swabi) in the 2008 general elections.
“I call upon all political parties to come forward and help these hapless survivors purely on a humanitarian basis,” Usman told The Express Tribune by phone from a relief camp in Charsadda. “I’ve visited the affected areas, the death and destruction is unimaginable,” he added. He warned of a humanitarian crisis in the flood-affected areas, saying that the government must act before it is too late.
Mukhtar, the organiser of the Liaquat Tarakai Welfare Trust, said that they have visited several villages in Charsadda and Nowshera districts to provide relief to survivors. “Amid a stench of dead animals, survivors were begging for food and water. And we didn’t come across any government agency offering relief to them,” he told The Express Tribune from a village in Tangi, at least 35 kilometres away from Peshawar. “The survivors are vulnerable as there is threat of outbreak of water-borne diseases in the region,” he added.
Swabi district has also been affected by the deluge. And the worst affected area in the district is union council Jehangira. “At least six villages of the union council, located on the confluence of the Indus and Kabul rivers, have been badly affected,” Shahram Khan, former mayor of Swabi, told The Express Tribune from Allahdhair, one of the affected villages.
Survivors said local lawmaker Pervaiz Khan, who belongs to the ruling ANP, has not visited them nor has any government aid trickled in so far. Khan said they have provided relief goods to 600 families in the union council. And their medical team is also treating the survivors for water-borne diseases.
Survivors in Charsadda also complained that the little aid coming from the government side was distributed on a political basis. And only those recommended by local lawmakers are given relief goods.
Analysts say the government must act, and act now, to avoid another humanitarian crisis in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which is already struggling to rehabilitate hundreds of thousands of people displaced by militancy. At the same time, the political leadership should also think above party lines to help the survivors.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2010.