NOWSHERA: Day laborer Waris Khan was working in a market near his home in northwestern Pakistan on August 27 when he received a frantic call from his wife, telling him that their house had been flooded.
By the time Khan arrived home, the entire district of Sheikhabad in the town of Nowshera in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was submerged after floodwaters broke through a narrow embankment surrounding the area.
More than 1,300 people have been killed and millions lost their homes in flooding caused by unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan this year, which many experts have blamed on climate change. About a third of the country is currently under water, the government estimates, and the floods have affected more than 33 million people in a country of 220 million and caused $10 billion in damage.
The provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been the most affected and the majority of those killed are women and children. Sheikhabad, a poor neighborhood of around 200 dilapidated homes in Nowshera, is one of the worst affected, still submerged waist-deep in water nearly 10 days after 12ft-high waves swept over the region at the end of August.
Like hundreds of other families in Sheikhabad, Khan’s has found temporary shelter – in a small shop – and is desperately waiting for the water to recede.
In the months to come, the Pakistani government will need to focus on reviving the lives and livelihoods of workers like Khan in the wake of one of the worst disasters in the country’s history.
“This is my house,” Khan said, pointing to a group of houses about 100 yards away, with just their roofs sticking out of the floodwaters.
He choked up when asked what his urgent appeal to the government was.
“There is no work for us,” Khan said. “What should we do? Look at that water, there’s still three to four feet of standing water.
Another resident of Nowshera, Khalil ur Rehman, said that after the embankment broke, it took less than an hour for the whole area to be flooded.
“All we could do was save our lives,” he said.
Noor Badshah, a worker and resident of Sheikhabad, pointed to a large sofa placed outside a damaged house, with large cracks running through the walls. The rooms inside were littered with broken furniture.
“I fled my house with my children while the furniture and everything else was destroyed,” the 32-year-old told Arab News.
“This house is no longer habitable… I can’t bring my children back here,” Badshah added, as volunteers handed out polystyrene food containers in the flooded street. “Not a single thing inside these houses remained safe from the flood.
Picking up some boxes of food for his family, he added, “Only the poor workers live here. If their homes become unlivable, what will they do? Should we work for a living or build new homes? »
Quratulain Wazir, Nowshera’s additional deputy commissioner, told Arab News that 25,000 of the 80,000 families affected by the flash floods in the city had been “very peacefully transferred to relief camps”. Of the 77 relief camps set up in Nowshera, she said, only three were still holding flood victims.
“Now we only have three relief camps left because most people have returned to their homes,” she said. “You can see that we are committed to providing these people with food and other items and medicine.”
But many aid workers in the area said it would take weeks, if not months, before homes were in any condition for people to return.
Umar Khan Utmanzai, who is part of a team of 25 student volunteers working with flood survivors in Nowshera and the nearby town of Charsadda, told Arab News it could take up to a month for all people displaced in Nowshera are returning home.
“We saw a very terrible situation in Nowshera, with mud (in huge quantities) in people’s houses,” he said. “The water is still there in the houses and streets of Nowshera. So I don’t think they will be going home soon.
The volunteer said another major concern was disease outbreaks, which pose serious risks. Diarrhea, skin diseases and eye infections are spreading in government relief camps across the country, officials said.
“People are suffering from diarrhoea, which due to the lack of proper sanitation in these flood-affected areas is causing a lot of problems,” he said.
Wazir, the deputy commissioner, added: “We are facing many (health) problems; there is an outbreak of dengue (fever) and malaria so medical camps need to be set up in different areas… We need medicine, food and non-food items for all these people as they are going to restart their zero life. So we have to push them up.
For now, many residents of Nowshera say they are just grateful if charities or government officials deliver food twice a day.
“People provide us with food once a day, sometimes twice,” Khalil ur Rehman said. “But it is never certain that it will come.”