At a complete standstill

Originally published on the Dawn blog.

As part of the Future Leaders of Pakistan’s (FLP) flood relief efforts, a team of volunteers, with a truck- full of relief goods travelled to Saidu Sharif in Swat on August 13. We travelled by bus, the ride taking us four-and-a half-hours from Islamabad with the heavy rainfall making the journey even more difficult, which had all of us praying fervently. We saw the Indus spread beyond the two strong embankments into the fields of cash and food crops, creating islands out of the huts and houses near the banks. We also saw what was left of the Chakdara bridge that connected Dir with Swat and the rest of the country –  now a make-shift wooden bridge set up by the Army being the only means of commuting, that too by foot.

Upon entering the Swat division, the effects of the flash floods were clearly visible; broken bridges, tilted trees, fallen electricity poles and collapsed walls. But upon entering the marketplace, it was exhilirating to see the Pakistani flag painted on almost every shop shutter and walls and inscriptions of ‘Pakistan Zindabad.’

Once in Swat, we made a trip with our truck to the circuit house – an Army base in Saidu Sharif – where we handed over 100 ration packages and 100 bags of flour to the Pakistan Army to airlift to Kalam and Bahrain, the populated towns of northern Swat which have been cut-off with no access by road.

Our next stop was the Bangladesh village – known by this name due to frequent flooding in the area. But the water marks on what was left of the walls in this village were testimony that the latest floods were of an unprecedented level, damaging basic infrastructure and forcing the villagers to remain either on roof-tops or move to villages away from the inundated Bangladesh.

In mountainous areas like Swat, the flood water does not stay for long, but the fiercely gushing flash floods often cause immense damage. Hence, camps with tents are not common, as most people either return to their homes to start rebuilding, or – in the case of extreme damage – stay with relatives, friends or a generous family of which there is no dearth in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, where people are known for their hospitality. Even the smallest of houses host around 40 people at a time, a trend that has continued from the IDP days during the military operation.

A local community member had prepared a list of the worst-affected families, and according to the names on the list, ration packages and flour bags were distributed after checking the ID card of each survivor. With most sources of income for the inhabitants of the area destroyed and sky-rocketing prices in the markets due to food shortage, food supplies and medicine are top priority for the residents.

The innate human tendency to secure one’s survival was evident as the children of those who had already been given rations climbed the truck from the sides to ask for more supplies. The people in Swat are extremely vulnerable, specially since thousands had only just returned home after living as IDPs around the country. Now, due to the floods, the famous orchards and fields of Swat have been rendered unproductive for this season.

Future Leaders of Pakistan are sending two trucks loaded with relief for flood survivors each week in the coming months. More information and updates on donations and volunteering are available at www.flp.org.pk.

Usama Khilji is the Membership and Mentoring Leader of Future Leaders of Pakistan.

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