Tarpaulins and tents saving the day in Sindh province

Publié: 14 novembre 2011 10:42 CET

By Majda Shabbir in Islamabad

Imam Bakhsh, his toddler son on his shoulders, stands next to his home – not a building with doors and windows with portraits of loved ones hanging from walls, but a dirty pile of rubble in a courtyard, laid with a few charpoys (traditional beds). The tarpaulin sheet covering the beds serves as a makeshift shelter for his family.

It’s been more than two months since Sindh, the southern province of Pakistan, was hit by record monsoon rains that flooded vast expanses of land, destroying homes and valuable crops. Some of districts still resemble vast lakes while the floodwater in others has now partially dried up. The landscape has many shades with pools of accumulated rainwater, cotton crops submerged with some sandy patches and a few completely or partially damaged mud houses with some white tarpaulins, easily spotted from a distance.

“Before we got this tarpaulin sheet from the Pakistan Red Crescent, we were spending our days under the open sky after our house collapsed in front of my eyes,” says 50-year-old Bakhsh. “It rained for about 15 days intermittently but heavily like never before. The house got filled with two feet of water. It resisted flooding for some days but couldn’t stand for too long.”

The family managed to save just a few beds and some utensils but most of their belongings are still buried under the rubble of the house. Most of the villagers fled their houses and took shelter in a nearby school while others went to the area landlord’s guesthouse. Bakhsh and his family spent two weeks in the school but barely got their hands on anything to eat.

Almost nine million people have been affected by the current floods in Sindh which have damaged 1.5 million homes and affected 6.7 million acres of land. Over 640,000 people have been displaced; many fled to the relative safety offered by temporary relief camps.

Around 200 houses have been damaged or destroyed in Bakhsh’s small village. A father of five, Bakhsh earns only Rs200 per day as a labourer in the city three kilometres from his village, but since the rains flooded the city, he is out of work like most of his neighbours. “We still have nothing to eat and mostly bring some food on loan from shops in the city. The landlord has given us some wheat.”

The situation in the affected areas is still worrying. Many people have moved back to their homes but are surviving in dire conditions. With many people living in makeshift homes, shelter remains one of the most urgent needs.

Bakhsh has just returned to his village from a Red Crescent relief distribution center where he received a tent, some cooking utensils, hygiene kits and blankets.

“The tent has been a blessing. My children now have a temporary roof over their heads,” he says.

The most urgent needs remain food and shelter. With the onset of winter in late November, it will take another month or two for the stagnant water to drain away. Meeting the needs of affected communities is proving to be a growing challenge.

“We are just waiting for better times”, says Baksh. “I can’t build another home as it costs around Rs12,000 to build a mud house but I have no money. We need some transportation, the simplest being a donkey cart, to pick up heaps of mud to make the house. We don’t even have that.”