Saturday, July 30, 2011
A tale of two flood-hit Pakistani villages
MOR JANGI (Pakistan): Residents of this Pakistani village whose lives were devastated by last year's floods complain they have been largely forgotten. Sewage runs through the streets. Some people still live in tents under the searing summer sun. Residents of one get new homes while locals in another complain of being forgotten
Others had to sell their cattle and take on heavy debts to rebuild their homes.
Not far away, in Wairar Sibra village, locals are getting ready to move into new houses, complete with electricity and courtyards, thanks to the largesse of the wealthy man who owns the power plant looming over the settlement. The villagers are excited because the new homes are even better than the ones they had before the floods.
The contrasting fates of the two villages in central Punjab province are a testament to the uneven response to Pakistan's worst floods, which hit a year ago and inundated a sizeable chunk of the country.
Often, the deciding factor between success and failure in Pakistan is how much access people have to the rich and powerful, a rule that seems true even in the wake of a natural disaster.
Many of the 18 million people affected by the floods, which were triggered by heavy monsoon rain, were among the country's poorest and most vulnerable. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Islamabad and international donors, millions of people are still in dire need of help.
Mr Nazir Ahmed is still living with his family in tents set up amid the ruins of his home in Mor Jangi. The 35-year-old brick kiln worker has little hope of rebuilding his house since his daily wage of less than US$3 (S$3.60) is barely enough to feed his family and treat their frequent bouts of malaria and diarrhoea.
'I haven't been able to save money, and I don't have any land or cattle to sell,' said Mr Ahmed, as his five young daughters and two young sons gathered around him.
Many villagers were counting on receiving about US$1,160 promised by the government - the minimum needed to rebuild one room of a house.
But the government has distributed only about US$232 per family, and the cash payout programme has been plagued by allegations of corruption.
Even some international aid ended up doing more harm than good. A Czech aid group, People In Need, hired a local engineer to build a sewage system, but villagers accused him of using only a fraction of the materials needed and keeping the rest for himself.
Engineer Bashir Nadr denied the allegations. But several streets in the village are now awash with sewage.
It is a different story altogether in Wairar Sibra. Flood waters swept through the village on Aug 4 last year, destroying all 168 houses and sending the 1,250 residents fleeing to relief camps, said Mr Malik Mureed, a 35-year-old farmer. But the village is next to a power plant owned by one of the richest men in Pakistan, Mr Mian Muhammad Mansha, and several villagers work there.
Residents in many other villages across Pakistan are far less fortunate. At least eight million flood victims remain in dire need of basic health care, food, or shelter, said Islamic Relief, a Britain-based aid group.
The floods killed 2,000 people, and damaged or destroyed 1.6 million homes and thousands of acres of crops, said the international aid group Oxfam. More than 800,000 families remain without permanent shelter, and more than a million still need food assistance, it said.
Reconstruction is predicted to cost up to US$10.9 billion - almost a quarter of Pakistan's national budget.