Flood victims in Khan Garh Doma, Shehr Sultan are forced to survive in inhuman living conditions
t will be difficult to recover from the damages caused by the recent floods. Nearly 1,500 people have died and 3.6 million have been affected. The number is still increasing as we continue to get updates on the devastation.
The unfortunate events and their coverage provide an opportunity to listen to the voices of those most ignored, often living in rural parts of the country without access to basic rights. One such population is stuck on an embankment near Khan Garh Doma union council in Shehr Sultan in Muzaffargarh district after floods in River Chenab drowned nearly 100 households.
Interaction with flood victims in Khan Garh Doma afforded one an insight into the way people survive the inhuman living condition in these areas. No shoes on their feet, no schools, no drinking water, not enough food to eat, no medical facility in close vicinity – these are their usual circumstances. The floods have only aggravated the state of affairs for them.
Now they have no roof over their heads. The water is contaminated. Their crops and livestock have been destroyed. Above all, there is not enough attention towards them as there are areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and south Punjab that have been totally destroyed by the floods.
Asked about how the flood had affected them, many women and children in Khan Garh Doma were unable to answer. They just smiled as they were unable to understand the question in Urdu.
“They cannot answer you.They cannot speak or understand Urdu. They have never been to school,” said Ehsan, an uncle of the children. “Let me explain it to you. We have lost everything. Our crops and livestock are lost. Our houses stand demolished. We don’t even have safe water to drink. Many have developed health issues. How are we going to survive?” he said in Seraiki. He appealed for help.
Afterwards, the men were requested to allow the reporter to spend some time with the women, accompanied by a local who joined the meeting for translation; the women finally spoke. “We are using the riverside as toilet. We are also taking drinking water from the same place. Every other man in this union council is already a hepatitis patient,” said Masooma Bibi. She said she didn’t know about the situation with women. “Women usually don’t get tested.” She had never thought about a reason.
Regarding security issues, Haleema Mai said living in the open was unsafe. “There have been some harassment complaints but no action was taken. We try to resolve such issues among ourselves.” She said the most dangerous part was wading through water to reach their homes in case they need anything from there. “One can step on a snake or a dig; and the water is contaminated. It gives one itch every time one passed through it.”
Rabia Bibi said that for menstrual needs, they were using whatever cloth they had. “We are now short of cloth. Also, such things are not a priority issue. The priority is feeding our children.”
Rabia Bibi said that for menstrual needs, they were using whatever cloth they had. “We are now short of cloth. Also, such things are not a priority issue. The priority is feeding our children.” Rabia said she had five children, one of them a two-month-old. “I am worried for my sister who is eight-months pregnant. She will be giving birth soon,” she said.
Shehr Sultan is a municipal town in Muzaffargarh district. It is surrounded by the River Chenab on the northeast. The area generally remains safe from flood water but in August this year, India released water in the river that increased the flow in Ravi and Chenab Rivers. Ghazi Nizam and Murad Pur villages were badly affected by the rising water and a population of around 500 households faced the consequences of this overflow near Shehr Sultan’s main embankment on the east side.
“The Khan Garh Doma union council of Ali Pur tehsil has also been affected by floods. More than 100 households have been displaced from 7 bastis,” said Manzoor Hussain, the CHIP CEO. The CHIP is a civil society organisation working in this area.
Mureed Khan and Pervaiz, residents of the union council, said the area consisted of two mauzaz, namely Murad Pur and Ghazi Nizam, having 150 and 250 households, respectively. Most residents of the villages are daily wage workers, small-scale farmers owing one or two acres of land or tenants. The total cultivated area hit by water is nearly 400 acres.
Muhammad Irfan, a CHIP social organiser, said it would take at least a month for water to go down completely and allow the rehabilitation phase to begin. “At this stage, the challenge is to provide shelter and food to the affected population and control the spread of diseases.”
“One of the ways to prevent spread of diseases is to provide affected people with safe drinking water and hygiene kits. A number of people are suffering from fever, diarrhoea and skin allergies etc. There are pregnant women and children among the affected population.”He said a hygiene kit includes an antibiotic soap, a menstrual hygiene kit, toothpaste and toothbrush, a nail cutter and a towel.
The local administration said they were taking all possible steps to provide relief to the affected people. They said that those stranded on the embankment were actually encroachers on the land by the river bank. “We regularly ask them to vacate the place as there is a danger of flooding in these areas every year. They never listen.”
A social worker from Khan Garh Doma Muhammad Ayaz Qadir said that they are landless farmers cultivating cotton, wheat and other crops. “They contribute to the economy. They deserve at least basic rights,” he said.
Oblivious to the uncertain future she faces, barefooted but playful three-year-old Shazia from Khan Garh Doma kept touching the shoes of the visiting team. “Suhnraaay (nice),” she said every time.
The writer is a reporter at The News in Islamabad