Suddenly, They Had No Roof

Suddenly, They Had No Roof

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It was sometime after nine in the evening and young Rizvanullah was at home in Badalai Village near Madyan with his parents and siblings. It was the second day of incessant rain the likes of which, so the elders said, they had never witnessed before. The word around his village was that this was the second deluge.

From the door of their single-room hut about a hundred meters from the river, Rizvan had watched the level rise, the water more and more taking on the shape of a living, growling monster. Without warning, at some point after nine, the door and the wall it was fixed in were sliced away as if by a giant knife. The foaming white demon now dizzyingly roared past leaving no room for them to escape.

With their gardening implements, Rizvan helped his father break open the opposite wall. Through this hole, they had barely escaped into the chill downpour when the rest of what was their home was swept away like a matchstick.

Earlier, Rizvan’s father, Sanaullah, had watched the river swallow up, bit by bit, his plot of land measuring about 1,500 square meters. There, like all past summers as far as he could remember, he had grown tomatoes and cucumbers for the market in Mingora. Only a week before the rains came, he had sold some of the harvest and brought home a fortnight’s rations. But now, Sanaullah and his family were only able to escape with the clothes on their backs.

The family took refuge with a kindly neighbor. However, such welcomes do not last very long, especially when the host, too, is under pressure. After a few days, Sanaullah got the first hint to look for alternative arrangements for his family. The rain had slackened off and as the flow of the river began to recede, Sanaullah was horrified to see that what was his vegetable plot was now a mass of boulders brought down by the torrent.

Sanaullah moved his family to nearby Madyan into the house of an acquaintance in the hope of finding work in town. In the face of continual rain, however, Sanaullah was unable to find work and pay his keep. Soon, this hospitality wore off as well.

Promising to pay rent for the use of one room in the house, Sanaullah left Rizvan in charge in Madyan and went to Okara where he worked winters in a factory. He was only fortunate that the town and his employer were not hit by the flood and there was work to be had.

I met Rizvanullah in the food aid distribution point of Church World Service-Pakistan/Afghanistan in Fatehpur Village near Madyan. All of ten years old and a mere stripling, he looked lost and forlorn for his mates had already received their share of food aid and left for home. The aid package comprising of wheat flour, sugar, rice, lentils, tea leaves, and cooking oil weighed just over a hundred a thirty-seven kilograms. This was more than the load a strong man can carry with difficulty; it was simply too much for a child.

The difficulty of transportation was aggravated by the fact that the road in the five kilometers from Fatehpur to Madyan had been washed away and there was no transport, save for a short distance only. I asked how he was going to manage. Rizvanullah wobbled his head and spread out his hands helplessly. He had no idea. That he got the load home before nightfall was entirely by the kindness of a CWS-P/A volunteer.

Rizvanullah and his family are not alone. Here, the particular disadvantage is that the boy left to fend for his family is still but a child. In Punjab or Sindh, despite every restriction, women are still very much their own persons and most are capable of functioning reasonably well in the absence of their men folk. Under the harsh social restrictions of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, this is impossible. Since no woman will ever be permitted out of the courtyard, in the absence of a grown man, this family (and others like it) is especially vulnerable.

If Sanaullah remains away at work in Okara, there will be some money to make things go, but this means leaving his family to fend for itself. If, on the other hand, he returns home, he and his family will be entirely dependent upon charity. For the time being, this comes from organizations like CWS-P/A and World Food Program. But for how long, is anyone’s guess.

It is not to make comparisons, but the fact is that because of the inundation and the layer of new sediments that remain after the floods, farmers in Punjab already look forward to a better wheat crop next summer. But in mountain villages, thousands of farmers have lost their entire arable land to the ferocity of the floods. The topsoil is gone and only rocks brought down by the river sit where crops and fruit trees once grew on terraced fields.

The cost of rehabilitation of terraced farmland is huge, in terms both of expenditure and man hours. A comprehensive assessment of damages will take time to complete; reconstruction will take even longer. The issue is that farmers like Sanaullah depend upon their land for survival. Their families will suffer miserably if too much time is taken before recovery initiatives are in place. How long will the thousands of Sanaullahs have to wait before they can resume normal life? Will Rizvanullah and his siblings be able to return to school in the near future?