The time is for solutions. We have heard the media, the critics, the volunteers, as well as the politicians and the controversies. What our country needs is support from its people, its youth, us. Pakistan has been hit by a number of calamities in the past few years. Recently, I visited Swat for a relief effort, and even though as per government, rescue and relief operations have been underway, the situation in the North of Pakistan is still one that speaks of misery and tragedy; helplessness among the people, and indifference of the top leadership. Pakistaniat failed to spring from the corridors of power; however, the average Pakistanis took the responsibility in their own hands.
Many local organizations and youth activists have been fund-raising for the victims of monsoon floods, and donations have been, as always, generous. Just to cite a few examples, the Future Leaders of Pakistan have made relief efforts at a village called Fazil Korana, while, Pakistan Youth Alliance has distributed aid to Nowshera – areas with most affected people. More recently, Islamabad’s civil society collected and donated food packets for a hundred families in Swat and Kalam.
Flood has passed from Swat, and went southwards to Kot Adu and Sindh. So, people are now shifting focus from areas like Swat, Madian-Bahrain and Kalam to Southern Punjab and Sindh. However, the relief effort to Swat on 9th and 10th August showed that there has been no electricity in the whole city since over two weeks and the local population has been forced to use generators to survive. In the case of Swat, local residents reported that there has been absolutely no sign of any government assistance, and people have been trying to help each other themselves. Even though the water, which reached four feet in the streets of Swat, has receded back, it has left a number of bridges destroyed, some partially, others completely.
Upon talking to a teacher in a local school in Swat, who hailed from Madian Bahrain, it was learnt that his village was completely cut off from the rest of the country as a result of roads being submerged into water, and the only assistance that has reached these people is from the army. The response has been very lukewarm in places where youth organizations fail to reach; army that came to the rescue has been airlifting mainly people with either hard cash, or influential links, leaving others on their own. On the other hand, there have been similar stories from the residents and relatives of people in Kalam.
In a similar heart-wrenching incident, young people swam to safety in Kalam, while the elderly, women, and children managed to get on the rooftop of a mosque. Upon requesting authorities to airlift the stranded helpless people, it was reported that the helicopters were not available and could not operate in the given situation. Such a response unsurprisingly is creating disappointment, sadness, and desolation among the inhabitants of these areas. No one, among all the people interviewed had seen any reasonable response from the government, and as a result, felt dejected.
The destruction has been colossal. One resident complained that the government found it reasonable to put a ban on Geo, which was at least covering the damage, and now they were unable to tell the world about the difficulties and hardships they faced. Left on their own, the people of Madian Bahrian, Kalam, and Kabal are starving amidst water that they cannot drink. Their houses, cattle, crops, and even children have been swept away by a deluge that has no precedent in history. Further to the misfortune of these people, water that has accumulated is becoming a reason for widespread diseases. Although, water-purification tablets are the top priority among relief teams that are visiting the area, many people are still in dire need of assistance. According to the Principal of Khushal School Systems in Swat, it was learnt that people are coughing blood after drinking contaminated water in Kalam, which has been calamitously hit by the floods.
Most of the people that I managed to talk to were complaining about the apathetic response by the government agencies, and the grim need of food and clean drinking water. As the holy month of Ramadan starts, the hardships of flood-stricken families will only increase, due to lack of eatables, extremely high prices, and the difficultly in delivering and disbursing aid by local youth bodies. Over 100,000 acres of agricultural land flooded in the neighboring areas of Swat and Kalam, not only the present, but the future looks bleak. The floods that have affected 14 million people have caused damage and destruction in so many parts of the country to such a degree, that the relief and rehabilitation efforts will continue for a long time. What people in these calamity-hit areas need, besides the obvious and immediate distribution of food and clean water, is the support, even if symbolic, of their leadership – to make them feel at home in a country they love and call their own.
(First published in The Frontier Post)