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January 31, 2011

Winter wanes


January 31, 2011

Back in the days before I knew very much about Pakistan (there are plenty who would argue that I still don’t) I thought of it as a ‘hot’ country; and never thought of it as winter-woollies territory. Like so many others of my assumptions about this diverse place, I was wrong. My first full winter in Nagar, 1995/6, was an eye-opener in every respect. Whilst we did not exactly sew ourselves into our clothes at the end of November and unpick the stitches in early March, it was as cold as I had experienced in the Himalayas. We had no power for months, there was little food to be had by the end of February and the road to China did not open until late April. A long hard winter. Ten years later and further education regarding the national meteorology. The Cholistan desert can be a very cold place indeed, as I discovered in ‘05 living in a village literally on the edge of the sand-sea. It was dark for fourteen hours out of twenty-four, and bitterly cold at night for three months. We huddled under this quilts on charpoys that were ideal for sleeping in the summer and less than ideal to see you through a winter night in Fatimapur.
Today, living in a concrete box with a poor gas supply and intermittent electricity we tend to believe that we are having a hard time of it, but whatever we have grumbled about in the last two months pales into insignificance when considering what the victims of last year’s flood have gone through. I was in Swat last October, and it was clear that the people were getting themselves back on their feet. It was devastated, that much was clear, but there were also strong evidence of international aid and of the army, particularly, having a grip on rehabilitation. It would take several years to get everything back as it was, but there was a sense that things were headed in the right direction.
Here in Bahawalpur, the Great Flood passed us by. The Sutlej came close to overtopping but never did, and apart from a few days when low-lying

parts of the city were flooded by rainfall, we got off lightly. There are no refugees hereabouts; we have never been short of food and for many of us the floods are something that happened to a lot of other people but, fortunately, not to us.
It was a flight up from Karachi in early November 2010 that blipped my ‘concern’ radar on. Flights tend to act as a soporific for me, I sleep like a log, but it was water that kept me awake on this one. Horizon-to-horizon water as we flew up the Indus and across lower Sindh. This was not in the script. Floods drain away. The water disappears, everybody gets cleaned up and we move on. Except that it had not done that in large parts of Sindh last November and it still has not in the dying days of January 2011.
Report-fatigue set in for me decades ago. Reports come into my inbox like rose-petals at a wedding. Most of them get at cursory look at best, but the reports from Oxfam and UNICEF this last week were like a grenade going off under my desk. As you read this, children are dying of starvation and there are about four million still homeless. Few of them will have spent a warm night in the last two months. Like most of you, I had not noticed. Winter may be waning for me, but a hungry spring awaits for many.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: [email protected] com

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