17 Aug 2010
More people displaced as floods ravage country's South
Mianwali and Khushab districts offer a classic example of how our authorities mismanage disaster. Both districts were the first to be hit by the flood waters of the Indus River in Punjab province. The flood hit these districts on 29 July. When we visited the small but historic town of Mari Indus, on the bank of the swollen Indus river, as volunteers helping the affected people, we saw that the whole town was flooded and people were forced to take shelter on a mountain outside the town. A number of relief camps and huts were arranged by the government and NGOs for the affected people. The affected people in the camps told us that ‘the flood hit us in the night when we were sleeping. We woke up to the noise of water and just ran to towards the mountain to save our lives'. The salt range has been badly affected by the floods, wreaking disaster in dozens of villages in tehsil Essa Khel and the small town of Kala Bagh, a site specified for the controversially proposed dam, to conserve the water of the Indus and to generate cheap electricity. But other provinces are opposing this dam.
Though government relief has not reached all the affected people, it has somehow put cautionary sign boards indicating to travelers that their lives could be at risk when passing through these roads and bridges. There are many villages in Mianwali which have been hit by the flood and which no rescue team has reached yet. Many people are stuck on top of their houses in remote areas and are waiting for help. Politicians and local officials are hardly seen in these areas and mostly people are faring for themselves. Many urban parts of Khushab, Mianwali, and Sargodha are also affected by the flood, leaving poor people to suffer. Many people told us that they have not received any help from the government. Elected politicians come to us only for votes. ‘We find ourselves alone', say the angry and disappointed people.
In some areas, people have started to loose patience at the criminal negligence and indifferent attitude of state functionaries, and have started protests and demonstrations. During violent protests in Khushab, where there was no government help to save an endangered bridge, protesters started beating and attacking the local administration, police and rescue teams and blocked the main road connecting Khushab and Sargodha a few days ago. Small protests are also taking place in different areas. The shortage of food and water in the government-run relief camps is fuelling the anger and desperation of the affected people.
In Layyah district, the flood-affected people are reluctant to move. Though the same reluctance was exhibited by people in other flooded parts of the country, the residents of the low-lying areas of Layyah have their reason to hold their ground. Being owners of some of the most fertile lands in the country and huge livestock, most of them are not willing to leave their animals and stockpiles of crops lying in barns.
The main city of Layyah was saved by employing army personnel who erected an embankment there overnight.
Right now, more than 1,200 square kilometers of land in Layyah is inundated with water and 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The width of the Indus River has gone from 3 kilometers to somewhere between 18 and 20 kilometers and led to the complete drowning of 12 union councils (local councils) of Layyah. Crops and cattle worth millions face destruction as the scale of the disaster is too high for the authorities' capacity to manage. The flood waters also washed away 12,000 houses, ravaged 82 revenue states and destroyed standing crops over 300,000 acres. Layyah is not only famous for its rich agriculture and livestock but also for high-quality oranges. Orange orchards have also been badly damaged.
The local authorities have claimed that they warned people about the high floods and asked the people to evacuate their areas. But people refused to leave their homes without their cattle, not willing to leave their cattle and grain behind. The average amount of cattle an extended family owns is around 60 to 70. The provincial government has declared the district a calamity-hit area and waived off agriculture and water taxes. The people are demanding that the government establish temporary settlements and prepare for us to be able to stand on our own feet once the flood water recedes. People are saying that they are like beggars and do not want to remain dependent on the government and charities, but that the government should provide them with help to restart their lives.
Victims face exploitation at the hands of swindlers. There are groups of swindlers roaming around the Kukrwala Bund, to take advantage of the situation faced by the flood victims. When the rescued people arrive on boats to kukrwala Bund and get off the boats, these people started to approach them to buy cattle and hens. They advised people to get rid of their baggage to get much needed money. They told people, ‘it will be hard for you to find food for yourself and you are expecting to feed your cattle and hens'. The small farmers who had evacuated the low-lying areas a few days ago with their cattle are selling their animals at lower than half their market prices. ‘We are selling our animals to save them from starvation because there is no fodder available for them', said the dejected farmers. This exploitation is going unchecked in this whole area.