Calamity after calamity has descended over the Swat Valley, once considered Pakistan’s tourism capital. As people try to move on from the destruction of the military operations, the devastation of the floods has pushed them back.
The economy in Madyan, a town in Swat that still holds its tourist charm, had started to pick up as freshly-constructed hotels finally began attracting tourists when the army pushed out Taliban insurgents. Once the operation was declared over, the government had promised to invest in schools and hospitals, and build up security. The army organised the Swat Peace Festival in June to invite foreigners to visit.
But that was before the floods. Now Madyan’s residents fear that the overwhelmed government will have little time or resources to restore the tourism industry once waters recede.
Communication systems have also been affected, a problem aggravated by power shortages, and there is a lack of food and medicines. In a nearby shop that sells generators, a board advertises cell phone recharging: a sign that life in the town is picking some pace.
But multi-storey hotels, the lifeblood of the town’s economy, have vanished and homes, buildings and bridges have been decimated, throwing essential transport into chaos. People have been left to their own devices and men can be seen crossing the river in a pulley, as raging waters flow on.
“The people are left with nothing. Their houses have been destroyed, their businesses are gone. The government should help them, but we have no hope of that,” said local hotel owner Murad Badshah.
Some who were well-off are now left with nothing. “My father has been working in Saudi Arabia for the last 32 years. He sent all his earnings here, with which we made five houses. We lived in some and rented out the others. They have all been swept into the river. Now we have nothing. Our children are living under the open sky,” said resident Sajad Ibrahim.
This desolation and loss need to be addressed immediately, and people look to the government for help. But, they fear, the government is caught up in the catastrophe in many other parts of the country and thus may not have the time or resources for Madyan.
The locals, who have seen how poverty leads to violence, believe history may repeat itself. “If the government does not help them, where will they go? They will naturally resort to some illegal work. They will most certainly get involved in some unlawful activities,” Badshah warns.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2010.