Twelve months on, dark memories haunt Pakistani families

Published: 3 August 2011 16:05 CET

By Joe Cropp

The annual monsoon rains returned the very night Fazal Nabi and his family moved into their new home in northern Pakistan. Throughout the sleepless night, the family could only think of the massive floods that swept through the district of Charsadda just over 12 months ago, destroying their house and almost taking their lives.

With darkness descending, fear began to take hold throughout their small village as water from the nearby canal cut off access to the only road and began to creep towards their homes.

“The whole village spent the night listening to the rain and watching the water rise,” says Nabi, after the rain stopped and the water retreated. “It was like our worst nightmares were becoming real; the floods were coming back; it was all happening again.”

In July 2010, the massive floods that went on to devastate large parts of Pakistan hit the Nabi household without warning. For hours, the family of 11 perched on their roof, watching as the flood waters rushed by. When the house was suddenly washed away from under them, they were forced to swim for safety.

Children clung to jerry cans, logs and anything else that would float. Those who could swim towed the others, doing everything possible to keep the family together as they struggled towards dry ground. When they could finally stand in the fast flowing waters, parents carried their children on their shoulders.

Eventually the entire family walked out of the flood waters, grateful they had survived a disaster that claimed lives of close to 2,000 people. The emotional scars, however, still remain.

“These memories are still raw in the minds of flood survivors,” says Ea Suzanne Akasha, psychoso¬cial delegate for the Danish Red Cross. “With another monsoon on the doorstep, fears of flood are common among villagers. They are worried another flood is going to come and they don’t know how to cope.”
As part of an integrated recovery programme, Red Cross Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been visiting people affected by the floods, listening to their stories, and helping to  restore their peace of mind.

“Working with communities over the long term to help people overcome their fears is just as important as providing food and shelter,” says Akasha. “But with so many people affected by the floods, there is still much to do and many more communities to work with.”

Nabi and his family began their journey to recovery in a camp set up by the Pakistan Red Crescent Society at the Charsadda railway station. Along with 150 other families, they were provided food, shelter and basic supplies.

Determined to rebuild their lives, they left the camp and returned to their small plot of land, pitching a tent next to the rubble that was once their house. With the women and children staying at a nearby town, Nabi’s four sons lived in the tent while they rebuilt their home, using material and technical advice provided by relief agencies.

Constructed with bricks and concrete, instead of mud, and standing on a five-foot base, the property is designed to be safer and stronger during the next disaster.

But for Nabi and his family, after one night in their new home, the fear remains. “Listening to the rain at night, the house feels like a jail,” Nabi says quietly. “I feel our life is going to be spent like this – waiting for the next flood to come and wash us away.”

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