Unsung heroes: Citizens scramble to help far-flung areas devastated by floods

Amidst the destruction caused by flash floods and torrential rain, families have stepped up to help their community by collecting donations and providing basic necessities.


Residents of Paroa tehsil, in Dera Ismail Khan, use a makeshift boat to leave their flooded area.—Abdul Basit Alvi

August 30, 2022

ISLAMABAD – Maryam Jamali and her family have been engaged in relief activities for flood victims in Balochistan since this year’s monsoon began last month and a dam burst in Quetta and Qila Abdullah. The responsibilities are divided: Maryam is looking after fundraising, her mother does the purchasing in Quetta, and on the ground in flooded Jaffarabad, Jhal Magsi, Nasirabad and Dera Bugti districts are her landlord father and uncles ensuring incoming refugees from other villages get shelter and food.

Flash floods and torrential rains since June have inflicted massive destruction on almost all the provinces. The government has declared a national emergency in view of this humanitarian crisis of epic proportions brought about by the effects of climate change.

Pictures and videos floating on social media daily from south Punjab, Sindh and the hardest-hit Balochistan show large swathes of land completely inundated, gushing floodwater washing away mud houses, cattle and roads, and destroying anything in its path, including millions of acres of agricultural land that many locals lived on, depriving millions of any form of shelter and food. Many remote areas have been cut off from the rest of the country, while some have reported a breakout of waterborne diseases also.

As per the climate change minister, over 20 million people have been rendered homeless or without shelter and around 1,000 killed, and the country’s weather forecast division doesn’t see the monsoon ending any time before end-September.

Families rise to the occasion in areas that still await official help

While the government, aided by the army and the National Disaster Management Authority, scrambles to provide relief to as many flood-affected areas as possible, there are villages and settlements that nobody even knows exist. In these circumstances, some local families and youths, as the Jamali family, have stepped up to help their communities in this hour of need by collecting donations and providing basic necessities such as food, shelter and clean drinking water.

“We always thought the 2010 floods were the worst for Balochistan, but this time it’s much higher than that, which is telling, because of a lot more rains. Every single house has been destroyed, 95 per cent of the people in Jaffarabad are affected, every single district mentioned is flooded, dermatitis and other skin infections are spreading fast. In Dera Bugti, water is just accumulated with no outlet because the area is inaccessible in general, so we can’t get resources there. We’re using trucks and tractors to transport food and evacuate people,” Maryam, a native of Jaffarabad’s Chowki Jamali village pursuing her A-Levels in Islamabad, but currently busy coordinating relief efforts with her family from Quetta, told Dawn over the phone.

According to a Balochistan Provincial Disaster Management Authority report on Tuesday, 234 people — 110 men, 55 women and 69 children — have been killed since the start of the monsoon.

The situation in interior Sindh is starkly similar, where the PDMA reported 263 deaths, including 120 children and 35 women. Shanza Faiq, her husband Minhaj Mahdi Memon, both civil servants, and her father-in-law are joined by 37 volunteers in providing direct relief to flood-affected people of several villages in Naushahro Feroze district.

“We are centred around Naushahro Feroze, specifically Darbelo village that my father-in-law belongs to and where around 70pc of the houses have been destroyed. We’re also working in Gopang village, which has been wiped off as well as Kandiaro, Muncht, Sodhar. We’ve camped 3,500 residents of these villages in four government schools as well as mosques and Imambargahs of Darbelo where they’re being provided cooked meals thrice a day.

“We need medicines for gastro problems, and mosquito nets. We got 200 ration packs prepared for Rs5,000 each on subsidised rates and transported them from Sehwan to Naushahro Feroze, Darbelo and Gopang in trucks offered by a friend,” Ms Shanza explains.

She also complains of a province-wide shortage of basic ration and hoarding. “Flour mills across Naushahro Feroze have stopped working, so there is a dearth of wheat flour.”

Similarly, Maryam says their priority is also providing food and shelter, but their efforts are being hampered by the damage to road infrastructure across the province as well as the density of the districts they’ve targeted. “We are providing tarps, plastics, and 100 tents to Jaffarabad with a capacity of six charpoys each. We have so far helped 500 families in Jaffarabad with food, shelter, evacuation and medical care; we’re also serving food to refugees in Dasht town, and setting up telemedicine and medical camps in cut-off villages. My village of Chowki Jamali is hosting 1,000 people from other villages and more are coming. Later, they will all be evacuated to Saifullah Canal where a tent village will be set up. We’re providing cooked meals and medicines to people. There’s no drinking water, baby milk, medicines are depleting. And we need to keep in mind the affected areas are the most populated in Balochistan.”

KP, Punjab

While not as severe as Sindh and Balochistan, the incessant rains and floods haven’t spared Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab either. Houses have been destroyed, animals washed away, shops collapsed, standing crops damaged and over 300 killed in both provinces. Some of the affected areas are so far from the mainstream even in normal days that in times of a natural calamity getting help to them is unthinkable.

Ehtesham Hassan, a Dera Ismail Khan native, has engaged 10 student and volunteers, including medical technicians, for providing ration and medicines in Daraban Kalan tehsil, Chaudhwan and Musa Zai Sharif villages, around 70km from DI Khan city.

“Houses in these remotest areas have washed away, crops destroyed, animals gone. The people there have nothing, clothes, shoes, utensils, drinking water. Someone even told me they were drinking flood water. And since it’s extremely dangerous to travel in some areas, we have prepared a ‘boat’ by inverting a charpoy onto an inflated truck tyre to transport resources. In some cases, my team members have walked a couple of kilometres in the villages that don’t have roads in normal circumstances,” he says while collecting donations in Lahore to send to his team in DI Khan.

He says they have so far distributed resources among 50 families that needed immediate help. “Since they have no shelter and a place to cook, we’re providing them clean drinking water, dry food such as dates, chickpeas and rusk to survive, in addition to medical help.”

Over in the flood-ravaged southern belt of Punjab, social and political activist Nadir Gopang and some students have initially set up a small camp in his hometown of Rohilanwali in Muzaffargarh district, and in a couple of days will move to Fazilpur, which is completely inundated.

“We collected ration, drinking water, clothes and medicines from the limited resources we have and distributed them in Hajipur Town Committee of Fazilpur, and are also setting up a medical camp there. We initially set up a relief camp in Muzaffargarh to provide medicines and ration from there. We want to move towards very remote areas such as Lundi Syedan village, Tibbi Lundan, Dajal to the west of Indus Highway by the Sulaiman Mountain Range. But, there are many areas where no one has reached yet, and can’t be approached until the state provides logistic support. Some small villages have been completely damaged because of floods from the mountains. Things are so bad that now a canal is flowing through Basti Jalluwali in Taunsa tehsil. Some areas are so inundated that there is no dry space to bury bodies.”

Amid all the relief efforts, the very pertinent women’s menstrual hygiene needs haven’t been ignored. Shanza says they’re providing medicines, sanitary pads and cotton roles among women, procured from different areas of the province owing to a shortage, while Ehtesham has distributed around 500 pads in the areas of DI Khan district he’s operating in.

Faizan Mazari and his brother have also started raising funds to help provide shelter in their hometown of Rojhan Mazari in south Punjab. Once they have a significant amount, their father will purchase some basic essentials and personally distribute them in the area. “It’s completely flooded. People are homeless, wheat stocks and cattle have drowned, hundreds and thousands of people are on roads. The Indus Highway is destroyed. Some villagers have moved to safer places, but some are still stuck there. Our plan is to initially provide tents because it’s been raining constantly for a week and more has been forecast so they need shelter.”

And all of these people were clear they couldn’t wait for the respective administrations to come to their rescue. The central and provincial governments, it seems, have only been able to get to a limited number of flood-affected areas. Shanza, Maryam, Ehtesham, Nadir, Faizan all told Dawn they haven’t seen state presence in any of the regions they’re working in.

“In our area, it’s been accepted that the deputy commissioner is a figment of our imagination; he has vanished. I begged the PDMA and NDMA for help but they asked us to go to the DC office. These are really big districts and since roads are damaged and inundated, it’s not easy to travel,” laments young Maryam.

Nadir and Ehtesham say many small local organizations have made some efforts to provide food and shelter in both south Punjab – such as Dajal and Jampur tehsil of Rajanpur — and DI Khan, but there’s been no government help. “Some officials come to meet the feudals and pirs for photoshoots, fulfil formalities and leave,” they both said, while at the same time, the latter feels the government doesn’t have enough resources to handle the scale of the destruction.

Faizan says since his was a feudal area, the lawmakers tried to aid their constituents at the beginning of the monsoon, but “when things got out of hand, they officially said everyone was on their own”.

And this is just the tip of the relief iceberg. Several other individuals, especially youths, are collecting donations and supplies to help flood victims across the country in any little way they can. Young artist Bisman Marri in Quetta is selling his paintings, a freelance journalist in Zehri is selling clothes she’s made with Balochi embroidery, photographers are selling prints of their photos.

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