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Pakistan floods, one year on: One man's story of survival

26 July 2011

Pakistan floods, one year on: One man's story of survival

One year after devastating flooding hit Pakistan, affecting nearly 20 million people, killing nearly 2000 and causing economic losses of £3.5bn, RedR's Nic Scarborough travelled to Pakistan to find out how RedR trained aid workers are helping communities to rebuild their lives. Here, he talks to one man, Shamshad, about his experiences of the past twelve months.

Shamshad is 48, but I guess he looks a bit older with his grey hair and beard; that and the long summers in Charsadda’s forty plus degree heat. He’s softly spoken, calm and has that kind of look that says he’s been around, endured times, been patient, lived with his lot.

He owns four acres of land and tractor. Right now he’s growing sugar cane. It’s about five feet high and pretty dense. It’ll be ready in September. Until then he’ll be going up and down the irrigation channels he’s made through his field, scooping up a watery-mud and dropping it into the crop’s edges to give it a bit of moisture and keep it on track.

Shamshad wears the Pakistani national dress. It’s a tunic-style shirt worn with loose trousers, all in an off-white shade. His youngest son is a quiet four year old. He too wears the national dress and at prayer time he stands at his dad’s side, copying him, movement by movement. Like father like son, they offer their prayers together.

Anyone of faith would think those prayers were answered this time last year, when Shamshad and his family spent four days on top of a little mud island, barely peaking above the 18ft floodwaters.

Stranded in the floodwaters

When the floodwaters struck – without warning – Shamshad and his son were offering Friday prayers then too. When they came out of the mosque there was water already running at their feet. It wasn’t the first flood Shamshad seen. He knew what he had to do.

The mosque is a mile or so from his house. In just twenty minutes, the floodwaters went from ankle height to head height. He picked up his children, whatever belongings he could manage and, helping his own mother and father too, ran towards a small mud rise, or hill, behind his village.

Standing on the mud rise is like standing on the roof of a large bungalow. Several thousand villagers were crowded onto two of these whilst waves washed around them, every splash hammering against the soft, fragile elevation.

Rain pelted down on them; it was still monsoon season after all. They were literally on an island. The tops of trees poked through the muddy waters at different intervals. The sun was unrelenting. And for days they perched there, marooned, like refugees in an overcrowded dingy in a storm.

“We managed to get a ten kilogram bag of dried sugarcane juice,” says Shamshad. “We ate small bits of it for two days and crushed small pieces for the children and placed it in their mouths. There was nothing else available. We took the floodwater in a pot and when the mud settled we slowly and gradually took the water from the top to drink. We drank that floodwater for two days. We were thinking of nothing, except praying to God.”
Getting back on his feet

After two long days, a helicopter arrived with food packages. A few kilometres away the government began blasting breaks in the raised motorway between Peshawar and Islamabad. The motorway had been acting like a dam, backing up the floodwaters behind it. When the breaks in the road were made the water began to recede. After two days Shamshad and his family were able to get down from the mud rise.

“When men returned to their houses, a lot of them were demolished or destroyed completely. The ones that were intact were not in a condition to live in,” says Shamshad. From here on they started their recovery.

“It was Ramadan and an organisation called SABAWOON came to our village and gave us 5,000 rupees. They had a store in Charsadda from where we could get food. They also provided us with some tools and wheelbarrows which we could use to start clearing the mud and cleaning our houses," he adds.
Other local organisations like National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) and Foundation for Rural Development (FRD) began responding to the crisis by helping people to rebuild their houses with cash for work programmes.

Rising from the debris

It’s now a year later and approximately 50% of homes have been rebuilt. Around Shamshad’s village cement is being mixed, bricks are being laid and houses are rising up from the debris. Infrastructure is also coming back; roads damaged by the floodwaters are being replaced.
For now, Shamshad is living in his brother’s house but knows that things will continue to improve. “With the support of these organisations I will soon be able to build a room for my family,” he says. “And I can do some labour to get some money to rebuild my house.”

RedR has trained aid workers from both SABAWOON and NRSP, equipping them with vital skills to ensure they can effectively respond to disasters. Thanks to this humanitarian expertise, Shamshad and his family, and many more families like them, have now begun to rebuild their lives after 2010's devastating floods.

Find out more about what RedR has achieved in Pakistan over the last year

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Photo credit © RedR/Mubashir Fida

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