Monday, 23 August 2010 18:47
“Black. Black water. The black water of doomsday. It felt as if hell had come”. Baht Ahmed described to me how his family found their home suddenly filling with water in the dark of night. It was raining hard when the surge of water and mud came out of nowhere. “We were so frightened, the children were crying loudly because they were so scared”.
As soon as water began to flood into the house they took a tarpaulin, some food and clothes and a cooking stove and fled through the downpour to higher ground. They stayed there for three days; Baht, his wife and six children. When they returned to their house they found foul sludge a foot deep inside–it took them two days to clean it out. They were less fortunate with their fields which were washed away together with the half-grown maize crop they had hoped to harvest in October. Now they will need to buy wheat seed and hire a tractor to plant winter wheat in November.
Niazpari was not so lucky. Her husband was away working when water and mud surged out of the night into her home. “The noise was terrifying, rushing water and mud, very loud”. Her husbands’ brothers came and rescued her and her six children and took them all to the house of her father-in-law, Umar Mohammed. That is where they are living now because their house was washed away. Two families, 17 people, are living in two rooms because of the flood.
I met Bhat and Umar at World Vision’s Khazana clinic in Pakistan’s Lower Dir. Bhat had brought three of his children and three of his brother’s children because all six were sick with fever and vomiting. The problem had started three days before when first one child, then a second fell ill. The doctor prescribed medicines. He also gave them water purification tablets because the water they have been drinking from the stream in front of their home and the well they always use is contaminated with flood water. The doctor explained how to use the tablets. "Mix one in four litres of water and wait for half an hour". I asked how they will measure the water. Baht said he would use a soft drink bottle and put the water into a large bowl. This is the first time he has been given the means to clean the water his children drink. There is no tradition of boiling drinking water here, nor any understanding of why they should.
Umar had come to the clinic with Niazpari who is stunned and withdrawn since the crisis of the flood surge and the loss of her house. He patiently fans his daughter-in-law as she sits in the heat while saline drips into her arm to correct her low blood pressure. She is silent, looking at those around her with a distant stare.
Bhat says his children are also traumatised. “They wake at the slightest noise in the night, they go crazy at every storm and when it thunders they run away in panic”, he says. ”They talk about the surge all the time, about how it happened”.
I am reminded that the after-effects of this monumental flood will carry on haunting people’s lives even when the water has returned to its normal level and the fields have been cleared and replanted. This is something we must not forget as we raise funds for clean water and shelter and food for people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods. We need to be thinking months into the future if we are going to be of any real help.