Hundreds of families have come back to their destroyed villages in Punjab. Many are living without shelter and there are food and medicine shortages. Skin disease and malaria are spreading.
Punjab's Chanab River was one of the many that swelled over
The 45-year-old farmer Allah Bakhsh is driving five of his relatives to their house in the village of Dera Wadu. It's been six weeks since the floods destroyed his entire village.
However, so far no refugee camp has been set up here for the 8,000 survivors and other villages, miles away from the next main road, are also not getting much help.
For the past nine days, Bakhsh’s wife and seven of their children have been living under a tree in this field, along with the animals. Three of the children and a cow are ill. Bakhsh is very emotional.
"All the people in my village need to rebuild their houses," he says. "I can live without clean drinking water and I can also live with diseases and without medicine but how can my children stay in the rain and sun under the open sky without a house. Winter is approaching and my animals also need shelter. I don’t know what to do and where to go to get a house."
Many of the flood victims are children
Everything was wiped out
The floods wiped out everything here. Everything is covered in mud. The villagers have tried to salvage anything they could - water-soaked mattresses, broken dishes and pieces of wood that once formed their bed rooms.
The 33-year-old Manzora Mai is Allah Bakhsh's sister. She does not have anything to cook for her children. None of her family members had breakfast or lunch today.
"The poor suffer the most. We have neither tents nor any food. We are dying of hunger as we have not received any food items so far. The water is contaminated and we can’t drink it. The children are getting ill because of drinking contaminated water from the tap and wells. We have been living miserable lives in our village since the flood," she complains.
Malnutrition, malaria and skin disease
The aid agency Save the Children has reported that over 12,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition but this figure does not necessarily include children who live in the remote, isolated areas affected by the floods, such as Mai's son. Children are not only faced with malnutrition but with malaria, diarrhea and skin rashes.
Whole villages were flooded and many of them are still under water
Dr Zafar Islam, a provincial health director for the province of Punjab, says that the floods have exacerbated already-existing problems. "Skin diseases cannot spread in four or five days. Our people are unhygienic and they had skin diseases before and during the floods but these have increased due to unhygienic conditions and because people are living together. We can provide medicine and treatment but the people must also live in hygienic conditions."
Islam says he's relieved there have not yet been any major epidemics but he and other local officials say they need more support.
Villagers say authorities are prioritizing the rich
Zulfiqar Khosa, a senior leader of Punjab province’s ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N), says they are doing all they can: "We have formed teams of teachers and civil society members to assess the destruction. This is in progress but we cannot tell exactly when we will start distributing aid because many areas are still flooded and the roads are damaged. There are still floods in Sindh province."
Children are not only suffering from malnutrition but also from malaria and skin diseases
Many of the villagers in Dera Wadu say they are not happy with the government’s response. They accuse officials of prioritizing rich people and their workers.
24-year-old Ali Raza is a farmer. He is worried about rebuilding his house and restoring his field and growing crops. "It will take at least two months for the water in our field to dry off. It is difficult for us to grow the next crops because we do not have anything left in our homes. The rich landlords are getting all the aid. We do not have shelter and we can’t work in the field."
Pakistani officials have said they will start distributing cash payments to flood affected families this month. Each family is eligible for about $1,200 (ca. 880 euros).
Pakistan is relying on international donations to pay this money. Roads, schools and hospitals must also be rebuilt. So far about half a billion US dollars have been pledged but the damage is estimated at tens of billions. Some observers have suggested international donations could taper off if the Pakistani authorities fail to find ways of increasing revenues.
Author: Mudassar Shah (Dera Wadu)
Editor: Anne Thomas