A survivor story

The floods in 2022 left millions of people in Pakistan displaced. Under the ACT Appeal, Community World Service Asia reached out to more than 7000 flood affected people (1099 households) by providing cash assistance to purchase food and essential household supplies. A total of PKR 60,000 (Approx. USD 203.3) was distributed in three separate tranches; in May, June, and July, with affected families receiving PKR 20,000 (Approx. USD 67.3) per month. This monetary support help meet their immediate food needs while also enabling them to save for other essentials, such as medical expenses, clothing, and more.

Hamzu Veerji, a 43-year-old mother of three children from Mir Deen Talpur village in Mirpurkhas district, was one among those supported through life-saving initiatives under this appeal. Hamzu and her husband, Veerji, have been married for fourteen years and have been pillars of unwavering support to each other. They worked together on agricultural fields of a local landlord as a means of livelihood before the flood struck their village. They cultivated and harvested red chillies on one acre of land and received a merger wage between PKR 150 to 200 (Approx. USD 0.51 to 0.68) per day.

Like many others from Mir Deen Talpur, Hamzu and her family was forced to abandon their home and belongings in haste, taking only basic food items (that would barely last them a couple of meals) and their two livestock—a bull and a goat, along with them. With not much money at hand nor a source of running income, the family had to sell their prized bull for a mere PKR 15,000 (Approx. USD 52). “Our bull was very precious to us and had been one of our key source of sustenance for years. We had no choice but to sell it. And that too at a very low price.” Hamzu and Veerji had purchased the bull in 2015 from a fellow villager for PKR 4000 (Approx. USD 14) as an investment to increase their livelihoods, as income from agricultural work was insufficient to provide for their children.

Without their cow and their daily wage, the family lived in a temporary shelter without proper protection on an elevated open ground for two months while waiting for the floodwater in their village to recede. Their village had accumulated up to five feet of water. When Hamzu and family returned to their village, it took them another two months to rebuild their mud-house; that meant more time under the open sky without a structured shelter or a roof to keep them safe. The family of five all lived and slept on just one charpai (a traditional woven bed used across South Asia). The charpai was among the few items they owned that had not washed away in the floods.

Hamzu and Veerji could not bear to see their children suffer these post-flood hardships anymore. But they felt helpless. Building their house again required a lot of time, strength and resources. All they were short on. “Initially, it began with the rain, followed by the challenge of enduring without food and shelter. Later, the heart-wrenching sight of our house reduced to a mere fragment clinging to life greeted us upon our return. Our children were profoundly affected, having already endured a great deal. My husband, Veerji, and I had to act swiftly to reconstruct our home, but the process of mixing water and mud was time-consuming, and allowing the structure to dry also required patience. Nonetheless, we made every effort to expedite the process,” shared Hamzu.

Access to clean water has always been a scarcity in Mirpurkhas. And the floods further exacerbated this issue. This meant increasing health problems among affected communities in villages like Mir Deen. The nearest well to fetch water from is at a six kilometres walk from Hamzu’s village and unfortunately this water is not even clean. This was a major challenge and concern for Hamzu and Veerji who really just wanted to ensure the good health and safety of their children. Luckily, with financial support from Community World Service Asia (CWSA) they were able to purchase clean drinking water and some groceries to stock up.

From the first instalment of PKR20,000 received, they spent ninety percent of it (Approx. USD 62) on groceries and drinking water and saved the remainder for future needs. “We used the money to buy sugar, tea leaves, rice, vegetables, and a few gallons of water, as the water we collected from the field was undrinkable. We could only use that to prepare the mud for our house.”

Hamzu prioritised purchasing abundant food for her family to protect her children from the risk of malnutrition, a serious concern in rural Sindh, especially among children in their formative years. Her youngest child, Meher, who is just 4 years old, had lost a lot of weight due to the lack of proper nutrition after the floods.  Hamzu was now relieved that her children could consume nutritious meals and regain their ailing health.

The couple utilised the second instalment then for purchasing another goat (PKR 5000), to buy clean clothes (PKR 5000) for their children and the remaining on restocking food items. Hamzu explained their approach to managing the aid, stating, “With each instalment, we bought groceries and saved between PKR 2000 to 3000 for future needs, as we knew this assistance was not permanent. I discussed with Veerji the importance of saving money so that we can buy another bull, as it is the only way we can foresee now to improve our economic situation.”

Following the floods, Hamzu and Veerji found themselves without work and income but now they own two goats that provide milk, which they sell to fellow villagers. They have saved a total of PKR9000 (Approx. USD 30.5) up until now from the cash support provided to them. Hopefully in a few more months this hard-working couple will be able to buy a bull which will enable them to expand their income by selling its milk in the market.

Despite the hardships, Hamzu and Veerji value maintaining stability in their life for their children. With the support provided under the ACT appeal, they were able to rebuild their life step by step, with dignity and respect. Through careful budgeting and prioritising their family’s well-being, Hamzu and Veerji not only overcame their flood-imposed suffering but also created opportunities for a brighter future for their family.

On this International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, Community World Service Asia underscores its commitment to addressing the linkages between disasters and inequality. With continuous community engagement and the support of our partners, CWSA  integrates Climate Action and Risk Reduction into its programming as well as into its organisational development.  As we operate in a country (ies) that is at high risk of disasters and is among those with the highest share of the population living under the poverty line, we design projects, engage with communities and help develop long-term community structures that prevent and reduce losses in lives, livelihoods, economies and basic infrastructure caused by disasters.



To put it simply: we in Pakistan are not prepared for natural disasters. One reason may be the fatalism that afflicts us and that God will be our saviour when calamity strikes. In fact, we leave much undone for God to step in to help when need be. No surprise then that during the few months of the year when our rivers run low, nomads, and sometimes even settled groups, build their homes in riverbeds. The Ravi River outside Lahore1 is a prime example of this occurring year after year.

It is also known that in the summer vacation district of Kalam (Swat), a hotel sitting right on the banks of the Swat River was swept away in the 2010 floods. The following year, the owner rebuilt his property on exactly the same spot. In 2022 it was washed away once more. There is a very slim chance that a lesson was learnt.

Downstream of Attock2, the River Indus creates a wide floodplain through Punjab and Sindh. In Punjab, the river flows virtually straight as an arrow in a south-westerly direction. But in Sindh it is an immense web of oxbows with very shallow banks. The fall of the land stretching up to almost 10 kilometres here is less than a metre. Moreover, unknowing to many, the soil of lower Sindh is virtually impermeable. Here water takes years to percolate into the aquifer.

It was seen that the water left behind by the deluge in 1987, was still sitting in the ditches by the roads five years later. In the districts of Badin and Mirpur Khas, lakes had formed where migratory birds like flamingos and pelicans were wintering in 1992. Likewise, the dry oxbows of the old bed of the Indus in upper Sindh turned into major water bodies that remained for several years.

The flood of 2010-11 was one thing. In 2022, it was simply biblical. Throughout Sindh, men related that once the deluge began in July, it continued for a full forty days with short gaps in between. Whereas mud and wattle huts stood no chance under the cascade, even brick and masonry homes started to collapse after a couple of weeks. These latter are of two types. The one with a proper cement concrete slab lintel for the roof; or the less expensive one with a girder and cross strips inlaid with tiles. In many cases the walls are just one brick thick.

As the skies sent down cascades of water, the Indus too rose from the deluge in its upper reach. Millions of acres of farmland went under as the oxbows overflowed turning the land into a very sea. Date groves with their fruit ready to be picked were flooded killing off the trees at worst and best damaging the fruit. Sindh, famous for its cotton output, lost virtually all of its cotton crop. The vast vegetable patches in the floodplain that had remained dry since 2011 were drowned.

When it is not in spate3, the Indus floodplain is very fertile farmland and all along its course through Punjab and Sindh the loamy soil is used extensively for wheat and vegetables that can be harvested before the summer thaw in the mountains reaches the plains. In 2022, farmers along the river were able only to reap their wheat and collect their vegetables before May. Anything that remained on the stalk was destroyed.

This year, there was no farmer in the Sindh plains along the river who so much as made good their agricultural expenses. And since the practice has long been to make this investment on credit, thousands of farmers went under huge debts.

Loss of agriculture was something that could have been overcome and indeed the milder monsoon of 2023 has ameliorated the agricultural scene to only a little extent because when sowing of wheat commenced in December, the soil was still waterlogged. As a result, the yield was very poor in March. If submerged farmland has to be reclaimed it needs a giant effort by the government to pump out the water. Individual farmers who can afford it have been seen doing such dewatering, but the magnitude of the job is way beyond the capacity of individuals and the civil society.

However, it was the loss of housing that broke the backs of the farming communities across Sindh. With their incomes lost, they were unable to rebuild and a year after the deluge, innumerable families are still living under makeshift shelters.

The cash assistance of PKR 48,000 (Approx. USD 156) in four equal instalments to affected families under one of CWSA’s flood response projects, was some help but as Shams Din a sharecropper of village Ismail Sanjrani (Khairpur) said it was like ‘salt in the flour’, in reference to the pinch of salt added to flour before kneading. His two-room house built many years ago was a heap of bricks and clay after the deluge and the cost of full reconstruction with current inflation was PKR. 300,000. With the little help he had received, he hoped to raise the walls to lintel level. Across it, he said, he would stretch the tarpaulin that currently made his home.

Even holders of ten acres of irrigated land in the district were hardly any better off. With their agriculture completely lost, and their more spacious houses either completely razed or with just the walls rebuilding would cost way more than what poor Shams Din does not have. The hope in early 2023 was that there would be no visitation and that their agriculture would yield sufficient profits to start rebuilding.

The greater losers, however, are owners of fruit orchards. Lemon, mango and date that grow abundantly in Khairpur district yielded nothing leaving fruit farmers under huge debts. The flooding left large number of these trees not just fruitless, but dead. Some of these orchards, particularly lemon, were planted only three years before the flood and the owner had barely repaid the loan for the purchase of the trees. Just when they thought they were heading for a profitable harvest, all was lost.

In the south in Mirpur Khas district, the story is not very different. Thousands of acres of farmland now look like lakes. Here the damage was done as much by the nonstop rain as it was done by the overflowing Left Bank Outfall Drain (LBOD). For years this drain meant to carry effluent to the sea had been no more than a trickle. Consequently, influential landowners encroached upon its course, blocking it to create farms where historically only barren land had spread.

When the Indus overflowed and with it LBOD, towns and villages around Jhuddo went under. The damage around Jhuddo was mainly because of the unofficial damming of LBOD in its lower reach: it may have blocked tainted water flowing into the farms of the rich and powerful, but it created havoc for ordinary people.

While housing and agriculture was lost, the additional damage was done by the overflowing of effluent from LBOD. The common complaint here, as in Khairpur and other areas, was that flooding had tainted their hand pumps. Thousands of people were therefore drinking poisoned water causing skin and gastro-intestinal diseases. Primary health care units were unable to cope with the flood of humanity pouring in without outside help. Health camps established by CWSA provided some succour. The disaster was simply too great and widespread for its effect to be mitigated by these heroic but small initiatives.

While the civil society has been hard at work, their effort is still too little compared to the impact the floods of 2022 has had on the people of Sindh. A greater effort is needed to bring back people’s lives to normal.

  1. Capital city of Punjab province. The second largest city in Pakistan and 26th largest in the world, with a population of over 13 million.
  2. It is the headquarters of the Attock District and is 36th largest city in the Punjab and 61st largest city in the country, by population.
  3. A sudden flood in a river

Village Dharshi Bhagat lies by the road connecting Samaro town with Samaro Road; the latter being the town’s railhead where the old abandoned metre-gauge railway station still stands for the first two weeks after it started in late July, the rain did not stop for a minute. Thereafter it continued to teem down with brief intervals lasting never more than some minutes until the village went under a metre of water.

Twenty-five-year-old Heeru was only days from delivering her baby when it started. As the water rose, she and some other women made a desperate run to save whatever little cotton they could from the fast drowning field they had so carefully tended the land they worked as labourers. The struggle in mud and water was worth only a few thousand rupees.

With the village going under water, she and her family left their home and the fields and moved to the only stretch of road that was above the dark water. For three months, they lived under a makeshift shelter of bamboo poles holding up plastic sheeting for a roof. It was good fortune that Heeru had salvaged some cotton and there was some cash for food because in the time of the rising waters, she gave birth to her second child, a daughter. When her pains began, her husband hired a motorcycle and ferried Heeru to the Basic Health Unit at Samaro Road where she fortunately got the attention of the doctor and a safe delivery.

Not long after the birth of the child the meagre cash in her kitty ran out and her family subsisted on chilli paste and roti. Their one goat provided a small amount of milk daily. It was a hard life for the family, especially so for the young lactating mother.

Heeru recounted how her firstborn, a son, had died two years ago aged just four months. The child had gone down with fever and convulsions and though the Basic Health Unit at Samaro Road was just 4 km away, the parents were tardy in taking him there. For five days the poor child suffered and when they eventually did get to the BHU, the doctor could do nothing to save the baby.

For some inexplicable reason, seeking medical assistance was simply not a priority for these poor people. They still relied on folk medicine and even considered milk tea some sort of panacea.

Dharshi Bhagat, who gives his name to the village, said Heeru’s husband was lucky to be able to rent a motorcycle because shortly after, the only transport capable of plying on the submerged roads were big four-wheel drive vehicles. An ailing person had to be carried either on a string bed or piggyback all the way to the units either in Samaro or Samaro Road. And this was a time of rampant disease. Fever, skin infections and diarrhoea were raging in the makeshift camp strung out along the road. In that desperate time of zero income, men were seen carrying the ailing to the BHU.

In mid-October, the first Community World Service Asia’s medical mobile unit reached this village. The village was still submerged and the mobile unit had to be parked on the road, the only strip of land free of water. Dharshi Bhagat said this came not a day too soon for who would not have appreciated this gratis service at the doorstep in that time of great adversity.

Lady Health Visitor Farkhanda said the mobile unit had been on the road for ten weeks moving from village to village and treated on average a hundred and fifty patients every day. On the first visit to Dharshi Bhagat, they had a similar number between nine in the morning and three in the afternoon. Referrals of more complicated cases was made to the Samaro town hospital. Common complaints were malaria, water-borne gastro-intestinal, eye and skin infections. This time around, respiratory tract infections had increased and the demand was for ‘pills for strength’, as multivitamin tablets are referred to.

Outside, among the crowd of men waiting to consult the doctor Bhoomo said he felt weak and his ‘liver burned’ and showed a handful of blister-packed multivitamin tablets and an antacid.

“The first time the medical van visited our village, I was suffering from the same, but I had been out cutting mesquite to sell in neighbouring villages and I missed my chance to see the doctor,” said Bhoomo. For him his suffering was secondary. Most essential was for him to make some little cash for food.

Why hadn’t Bhoomo gone to the hospital in town during all this time? “I have no money, the fare out and back is Rs 40, and after I spend a day cutting mesquite, there is only enough cash to purchase food for my family of nine. I cannot afford to go to town.”

On the second visit in mid-November the mobile health unit had in just two hours treated one hundred and thirty patients. And an equal number waited patiently outside. Some like Dheero said they had no complaint and had come only to watch the goings on; most others complained of stomach ache and fever. Nearly all of them had either simply suffered stoically or experimented with folk medication to no effect. The lament was the same all around: they had no money to visit the hospital in town. And they could not afford to take time off from their struggle to earn some money.

Listening to the very vocal Kasturi, suffering in silence seemed to come naturally to them. She had a reasonable income from working as a seamstress while her husband was a door-to-door clothier. Their once comfortable life was now reduced straitened circumstances.

“The crops have all been destroyed. There is no work and therefore no money. Who can order new clothing in these times? The Lord is kind, I took great precautions and my three children did not fall ill, but families with illness could either feed themselves one, or at most two, meals a day. They did not have the means to make frequent trips to the Samaro hospital.”

Dharshi Bhagat was right: the mobile unit had come not a day too soon.