Home >

Catastrophe, challenges and mental health

An increase in mental health struggles and waterborne diseases has been reported in flood-affected areas of Balochistan

September 10, 2023


n 2022, a devastating flood struck Balochistan. A year later, its repercussions continue to haunt the survivors in Lasbela district’s headquarters, Bela. The flood in Bela had left thousands struggling psychologically, emotionally and financially.

According to locals, more than 65 percent of the population lost their homes as mud houses turned into rubble due to continued rains and rising water levels. Skin diseases became common in many areas, including Bela.

The flood washed away Gul Bibi’s house. Bibi’s agony didn’t stop there. Nearly a month later, her husband divorced her. “The flood changed my life. I never expected to survive this agony,” Bibi says.

With the collaboration of the government of Balochistan, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Peoples Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI-B) organised a seven-day long medical camp in various localities of Lasbela district in the last week of August.

It was at this camp that we met Bibi, a mother of two in her 40s.

Bibi recalls that following the flood, she developed a rare skin disease that severely affected her face. She sought treatment at a local hospital but there was no early improvement. Then her husband divorced her, further worsening Bibi’s already deteriorating psychological health.

Today, she continues to battle with multiple psychological challenges. “The flood not only took away my home but also gave me a rare skin disease. To top it all, my husband left me. I now live in with my mother,” she said.

Dr Ayesha Ghani, a general physician assisting flood survivors in Lasbela on behalf of PPHI Balochistan, has noted a surge in skin problems and waterborne diseases following the flood. “This increase was due to water contamination caused by sewage, dead animals and human waste in the floodwaters,” Dr Ghani explains. She says the water remains contaminated even today, leading to the emergence of new types of waterborne and skin diseases in the area.

It has been a year since the unprecedented rains and floods severely impacted Bela city. Even today, the survivors faced countless challenges, including severe psychological problems, lack of shelter, lack of income and waterborne diseases.

Zuliqa Khatoon (name changed) is a widow in her 70s. She now resides with her neighbours. The flood swept her ancestral home in Bela. Khatoon, a mother of two sons, lost her speech for some time due to severe psychological issues.

The death and devastation that occurred in the Bela a year ago still haunts its residents, leaving them stranded and struggling to rebuild their lives and find stability amid the ruins.

She recounts how, when her house was swept away, she had meagre savings that she handed over to her eldest son, who used the money to purchase a small piece of land on the outskirts of Karachi. She then moved there with her son.

“My son’s primary source of income used to be farming in Lasbela. Once we lost the farm, he lacked means to support the family when we moved to the new place,” she says. “He was always filled with unhappiness and anger, as was his wife,” Khatoon, now 70 years old, recalls. “One day, my son and daughter-in-law asked me to leave the house. I had no idea where to go. I returned to my old neighbourhood here with nothing to my name. Thankfully, my neighbours have provided me with a room to live in. I teach Holy Quran to children to get by.” Khatoon’s younger son is addicted to drugs and has no fixed residence.

The story of Zuliqa Khatoon and her family is typical of the experience of hundreds of individuals in Bela. Hundreds of survivors still find themselves without homes and employment and struggle to cope with psychological issues, one year after the flood. While some have managed to rebuild their houses, sustainable incomes remain a concern for them. Speaking with the survivors during the camp, we realised that many of them were fighting severe mental distress. Almost everyone expressed frustration, claiming they had received very little assistance from authorities.

The death and devastation that occurred in Bela a year ago still haunts its residents, leaving them stranded and struggling to rebuild their lives and find stability amid the ruins.

Since the 2022 flood, reports from frontline workers have revealed an alarming increase in violence against women and girls in Lasbela district, including domestic violence. The PPHI-B and the UNFPA have established three women-friendly spaces in the district to combat such violence. The women-friendly spaces provide psychological support and distribute baby and women’s dignity kits among survivors. Flood and GBV victims gather, speak freely and let their children play in these spaces.

“At least we find some peace of mind in this place. We can converse, share our experiences, and describe our distress to a psychologist,” says Mah Bibi, a 50-year-old woman who currently resides in a hut with her daughter-in-law after her house was destroyed in the floods.

“We haven’t been able to rebuild our home yet. My grandson gets scared when it clouds up. His fear intensifies when the winds blow. We are deeply concerned about how we will survive the next winter,“ she says.