Poor Pakistanis 'start from zero' after floods leave them homeless and jobless

Millions of families have lost belongings, crops, animals and family members

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When the swollen Swat River changed course in late August and roared into Naeem Ullah's village in north-western Pakistan, it swept away his home and all 13 of his relatives' houses.

His sugar cane crop, planted on five hectares of leased land, also was destroyed, leaving him jobless, homeless and with few prospects of repaying the money he borrowed to buy seed and fertiliser.

"I have to start my life from zero," Mr Ullah, 40, said from his village of Dagi Mukarram Khan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

"I have lost everything. I can only pray to Allah to give me the strength to face this biggest challenge of my life."

Floodwaters driven by months of relentless rain — and a heatwave in the spring that accelerated the melting of glaciers — have covered a third of Pakistan, affecting 33 million people.

More than 1,300 people have died in the floods, Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority said.

The cost of the damage is estimated at $10 billion, with 1.6 million homes lost or damaged, 5,000 kilometres of roads destroyed and more than 700,000 livestock gone.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to travel to hard-hit areas of the country this week to see the devastation caused by what he called "a monsoon on steroids".

Across Pakistan, millions of families have lost their homes and belongings, crops, animals and even relatives, with many struggling to find dry areas of land to erect tarpaulin shelters and keep themselves and their remaining livestock safe.

Roads and bridges have been washed away, hampering aid efforts and forcing the authorities in some areas to deliver limited help mainly by helicopter.

In the Awaran district of south-west Balochistan province, floods still stretch towards the horizon, having destroyed many of the mud homes in the impoverished region.

A house belonging to Dilshad Baluch's family was washed away and a neighbour was killed when his home collapsed as floods swamped their village in July.

Downed power cables brought a risk of electrocution in the standing water, he said.

With bridges to Karachi impassable, the area's major supply route remains cut off.

Helicopters have dropped parcels of rice and beans but "it's far too little" and villagers cannot cook it without kitchens or dry firewood, Mr Baluch said.

"We are living on open ground," said the 21-year-old university student, who returned home for the summer from his studies in Islamabad.

Many people are angry, he said. "But most of them are just feeling helpless. There is no one to take care of them and no one cares about them."

Debt problems

With Pakistan saddled by debt and international humanitarian agencies overwhelmed by global demand for assistance, families in the country may have to fund much of the recovery effort themselves.

Families are eligible to receive a maximum of 50,000 rupees ($226) for damaged crops, said Taimur Ali, media co-ordinator for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

That could potentially be raised after a fuller assessment of the damage, he said.

The provincial government also has announced it will provide up to $1,370 in compensation for each damaged home. It has distributed 1.75 billion rupees for rescue and relief efforts since the start of July, he said.

The International Monetary Fund last week agreed to release $1.1bn in funding for Pakistan, with politicians saying the money would help to keep the economy afloat.

But many farmers doubt the support will be enough. Some say their fields have been devastated and that the land will need to be restored before planting again.

Flooding in Sukkur, Sindh province. Monsoon rains have washed away crops and damaged or destroyed more than a million homes in Pakistan. AFP

Sher Alam, 47, who lives in Mera Khel Sholgara village on the outskirts of Charsadda City, lost his sugar cane crop after flooding on August 26.

He has already borrowed $450 to repay the lender who provided the seeds and fertiliser for this year's crop and is now seeking another $230 loan to pay for help to restore his farmland — something he will have to do in his spare time.

Mr Alam, who has five children, said he found a job at a private car park in Charsadda to make ends meet.

With his crop now good only for animal feed rather than the lucrative sugar he expected, he said he did not know how he would be able to survive.

The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that more than 800,000 hectares of crops have been spoiled by flooding in Pakistan, which has led to fears over food security.

Not getting paid

Mr Baluch said the crop and livestock losses were a huge worry for the country.

"This is not only putting in danger people's lives, it is putting in danger even their future," he said.

As the price of remaining supplies of fruit, vegetables and meat soar, the poorest are struggling, he said.

"There are some people who have savings but most of the population, particularly in Balochistan ... survive on daily work. But the work is affected by the floods, so they are not getting paid. They are suffering drastically," he said.

Floods have also contaminated most of the wells that communities in his area rely on, he said.

"People will be suffering and too many people are going to die," he said.

The floods have destroyed houses across Pakistan. EPA

Many of those affected by flooding said they had not been given adequate warning, or that repeated alerts over months of rain diminished their will to act.

Mr Alam said his village did not receive a formal government notice about the late August flooding, but nearby villages passed on a warning.

That, combined with social media alerts, gave his community about three hours to move some of their livestock and goods to safety, he said.

Mr Ali said flood monitors were installed on five rivers and at two other locations in the province, which helped to provide an early warning of flooding.

About 80,000 people were relocated from the Charsadda region, he said.

Losses from this year's floods are expected to be lower in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa than during the devastating 2010 floods, in part because of the lessons learnt from that disaster, he said.

"We prepare winter and monsoon contingency plans every year and allocate funds to every district to cope with any disaster," he said.

Updated: September 06, 2022, 8:30 AM
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