15 Aug 2010
Pakistan: Eye witness reports from flood affected areas
Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa devastated
Faisal Khattak, Naseeb Gul Peshawar
Man-made and natural disasters continue to take a heavy toll on life and property in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. It seems there is no end to the suffering of the people in the province, as it lurches from one crisis to another. Several days after the recent flooding, the province is still struggling to cope with the situation. Though a full picture of the devastation caused by the torrential rains and huge floods has yet to emerge, the overwhelmed ANP-PPP coalition government ruling Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa has already described the losses as unprecedented. Chief Minister, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti remarked that the natural calamity had pushed back this under-developed province by 50 years.
Muhammad Afzal Khan, veteran nationalist leader and a resident of Swat, said, “The damage caused by the floods has been much greater than what has been inflicted on us by insurgents. I couldn’t imagine that Swat would suffer so much destruction: every bridge was dismantled, roads rendered unusable, entire villages vanished and agricultural land, orchards, roadside bazaars and houses on the banks of river Swat, right from Kalam to Barikot, were washed away”.
Swat, along with Shangla, Nowshera and Charsadah was one of the four districts worst affected by the floods. However, 11 out of 25 districts in the province have suffered severe damage and the rest were also affected by the rainfall. It will take years to rebuild lives, revive livelihoods and reconstruct homes and infrastructure, also damaged by insurgents and military operations.
Nature has not been kind to this part of Pakistan. The earthquake of October 2005 that struck part of the province, along with Kashmir, destroyed much of the infrastructure and wiped out villages in the mountainous Hazara division. Reconstruction is still not complete in Mansehra, Battagram and Kohistan districts which suffered the most and livelihoods have not been fully restored.
Death and destruction has now revisited parts of Hazara, particularly the remote Kohistan district, following torrential rains and floods. Battagram and Mansehra also suffered losses, but the overall death toll and property damages in Hazara this time are less than the destruction experienced by Malakand and Peshawar divisions.
The provincial government’s weak capacity to rescue people and provide them relief was quickly exposed. The day the floods peaked, the province reportedly had five boats and no helicopters. There were no life jackets at the disposal of the government. Subsequently, boats and helicopters were procured from the military, federal government and foreign donors. The demand for helicopters came from every affected place, but not many were available in the initial days and in some cases they could not land due to floods. Lives could have been saved if more helicopters had been put into service quickly, as survivors taking refuge on roof-tops, or high ground in some cases, waited for days to be picked up and moved to safety. Domestic and foreign tourists were finally airlifted to safety after being stranded for days and Chinese engineers and workers on hydro-power projects in Kohistan and Shangla were also evacuated.
However, tourists stranded in Kalam accused the military authorities of airlifting their own families and friends ahead of other deserving people.
People unable to get help in time were bitter and angry. One of the biggest complaints was of the government’s failure to forewarn them about the enormity of the danger of floods. There is no early warning system in the province. The government argued that a cloud-burst caused the flash floods and that this was unpredictable. But this explanation could not satisfy those affected, who were enraged that the government failed to come to their rescue when their cities and villages were flooded and even getting safe drinking water and food became a challenge.
Chief Minister, Hoti, saw first-hand the bitterness of those affected in Nowshera and Charsada, where he visited on the fifth day of the floods and not earlier. He had to concede that he and his government functionaries should have come earlier. So frustrated were the survivors that many remarked that the rulers flew overhead in helicopters to watch their miseries.
The rains and floods have destroyed houses, crops and properties. The losses are colossal and compensating the affected seems to be an impossible task. The government, lacking both imagination and resources, failed to deliver at the time of the floods and expecting it to rehabilitate the affected people and rebuild their damaged homes would be like asking for the moon.
Agriculture and livestock losses
The flash floods have caused unprecedented damage to the agriculture and livestock of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, already hit hard by years of armed conflict. The natural catastrophe that struck the upper parts of Malakand and Peshawar valley on 28 July resulted in a humanitarian crisis and widespread losses to the provincial economy. The exact assessment of damages to agriculture and livestock has not been made yet.
The floods have virtually wiped out these two main income contributing sectors.
Agriculture’s share in provincial GDP is around 20%. It employs an estimated 44% of the labour force. The northern and hilly areas of Malakand region are famous for high quality apples, peaches, walnuts, citrus fruits, apricot, wheat, maize and rice etc. The Peshawar valley, including the districts of Peshawar, Charsada, Nowshera, Mardan and Swabi, produces plums, almonds, and loquat, apart from major crops such as wheat, maize, barley and tobacco.
The floods affected most parts of Malakand, such as Shangla, Swat, Kohistan, Dir upper and lower, which are cut off from the rest of the country, as more than 67 bridges and hundreds of miles of link roads have been washed away. The major parts of Malakand division are submerged, which means that fields and orchards have been wiped out. Agricultural experts are saying that soil-eroded areas will take years to get ready for next crop. Similarly, water logging would be another major problem in irrigated areas near to rivers, because the soil had absorbed more water than its capacity.
Provincial Secretary of Irrigation, Ashfaq Khan, told the media that the major canal systems of the province had been damaged. The Munda Headwork in Charsada district bore the major brunt. This headwork regulates the canal system which feeds 127,000 acres in Charsada, Peshawar and parts of Mardan district. The headwork has been washed away, while 3,000 meters of canals have also been destroyed. It means no availability of water for the next crop in Peshawar valley.
According to Taslim Jan, Director General of the Agriculture Extension, the standing water in fields and orchards of Swat, Peshawar, Noshera and Charsada is a major issue, that will affect the overall livelihoods and the subsistence of growers and farmers. Apart from agriculture, horticulture and bee farming, the other main sources of income of many households in Swat and Peshawar valley have also been damaged, which will adversely affect the farmers and consequently the provincial economy.