Sharjah woman's dream wedding swept away

Bride-to-be loses family home weeks before ceremony.

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DUBAI // Like any other bride-to-be, Aimen Zia was dreaming about the perfect wedding. The date was set for just after Ramadan and the venue, the family home in Nowshera, north-west Pakistan, was almost ready for the big day. It was filled with antique furniture and crockery bought from Europe and America by Miss Zia's mother in preparation for her daughter's marriage, and wardrobes housing all the dresses, jewellery and accessories for the three-day celebration.

But three weeks ago the monsoon rain waters pouring down through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province broke the banks of the rivers, wreaking havoc throughout the rural area. Miss Zia, 22, who lives in Sharjah but was planning to move to Pakistan after getting married, said everything was destroyed. "We have two houses and one was torn to the ground," she said. "The other, the one where all my stuff was, is still standing but it is nine feet under water. Everything has gone down the drain. It is like a nightmare."

Sikander Zia, 25, Aimen's brother, estimates his family has lost more than Dh500,000 worth of property and belongings, plus irreplaceable documents, photographs and other mementos from the past 40 years that remain submerged in the floodwater. "Of course it's a terrible disaster for our family, but it is not just us," he said. "Half the country has been affected and we are really some of the lucky ones. At least we live in the UAE. We are not begging on the streets for food and shelter and we have not lost any family members."

At the time of the flood the house was occupied by 25 staff, who all survived. But the daughter of a staff member, just four, is still missing. "It is awful and horrible to think about this," said Miss Zia. "To not know where your child is, to have nothing to eat, no clean water and just the clothes you are wearing. I burst into tears just thinking about it. I can't watch the TV." The Zia family is one of millions affected by Pakistan's worst floods in 80 years.

Rasheed Ahmed, 30, from the Dera Ghazi Khan district in Punjab province, said about 70 of his family members and friends had lost their homes and were struggling to find food and water. Mr Ahmed, a manager of the family trading company in Deira, is desperate to help them but cannot do much. "I only get a small salary," he said. "I don't know what to do. I am very, very upset. Their lives have been turned upside down."

Before the floods Mr Ahmed said his relatives, mainly cousins, nieces and nephews, were living happily. They were farmers of cotton, wheat and sugar cane and had some livestock. He visited three times a year and was saving up to bring his wife over to live with him in Dubai. Now all his savings will go on helping his family, he said. Amjad Ali Sher, the Consul General of Pakistan in Dubai, said yesterday that its input into the relief effort included a new bank account, opened so that expatriates could transfer money directly to the rehabilitation fund. The consul has also launched a campaign on Spice Radio to inform the public. In addition, Pakistan International Airlines will be airlifting special items to affected areas, free of charge.

"The response from the UAE community has been tremendous," he said. "But it is no way near over yet. There is a lot more to be done. Even one dirham can make a difference."