August 7, 2022
By Munizae Jahangir
Hanna Urakh, once a tourist attraction just 20 kilometers away from the capital of Balochstan, Quetta, is now in ruins.
Along the main highway, a stream flows where people gather to wash their belongings to get rid of the smell of the flood water. Before the flood hit the area, the stream had less water. But now that the dams are full, there is plenty of water rushing through.
Two villages on either side of the stream have been completely wiped out. On August 26 and 27, in the village of Haji Gul Mohammad, a dry stream swelled up, drowning almost 18 homes around it and affecting 350 people who had to flee to a nearby hill to save themselves.
Homes were completely destroyed, with walls barely standing and belongings washed away. Fortunately there were no deaths. Just a few kilometers away in Qilli Haji Atta Mohammad, a protective wall around a nullah broke down, drowning another 17 homes and washing away apple orchards, ready and ripe to be harvested and exported.
Village drowned due to mismanagement
We arrive in the village of Haji Atta Mohammad, and angry villagers crowd around a visiting Baloch official, Manzoor Ahmed, who is representing the Planning and Development Department and has come to assess the damage. The villagers accuse the government-appointed contractor of criminal negligence which led to the destruction of the protective wall around the nullah, thereby drowning their homes.
“The contractor appointed by the government failed to clean the nullah and so the height decreased and then he lowered the protective wall that was built by the British,” says Naqeebullah who has lost his home and is now living in a tent on his land. “When there was unprecedented rain, the nullah swelled up and the lowered protective wall was not enough to contain the water. This is not just climate change, it’s bad management and corruption by the contractor. He should be held accountable.”
The rest of villagers crowding around the government official Manzoor Ahmed tell us that since the village was washed away in the floods, the contractor has vanished.
Another resident of the area, Ghulam Mohammad, tells me that the sole source of income of the villagers were the apples and the vegetables which have now been washed away in the floods. Half the houses are made of mud and others are concrete but all have been damaged by the flood.
Ghulam Mohammad and Naqeebulllah’s families have now shifted to Quetta, where rents have increased due to the influx of those displaced by the floods. Naqeebullah says one male member of each family has stayed behind to guard the land and is using the government donated tents to live there.
While some families have the means to send their loved ones away, others have not been so lucky and are living in donated tents on their flood affected lands. The women lug their belongings to the nearby stream to rinse out the smell of the floodwater.
A sack of flour and a tent is not enough
As we travel upstream along the once dried up waterway where women wash their belongings, we arrive at the qilli (Pashtun for ‘village’) Haji Gul Mohamamd.
Alongside the stream we meet Ziauddin Kakar whose house was washed away in the flood waters. He points at the rubble that was once his house and sadly smiles, reminiscing of his home, now completely destroyed.
“We had nine rooms and most of the house was made with brick and concrete. We worked very hard to build it bit by bit.”
Close by us, Abdul Razik, another resident is washing his carpet. He angrily tells me that a few days ago a military helicopter dropped bags of sack from the sky, but they ripped apart once they landed from such height.
“We are dignified people and not beggars. At least land the helicopter and distribute food,” he complains Razik says the Chief Minister of Balochistan Mir Abdul Qudus Bizenjo has not come to even visit the village, despite the fact that it is just 17 kilometers away from the provincial capital. A young man standing close by says the government’s response has been disorganized.
“Giving us a tent and a sack of flour is not enough. We are not beggars, we expect the government to give us a plan for rehabilitation.”
Baloch women who cannot be seen even in a catastrophe
While the men flock around our cameras eager to speak to us, the women of the village are confined to a relative’s large home and are not allowed to speak to us. The large home where the women have been given refuge belongs to Mohammad Israr, who sternly tells me that good Baloch and Pashtun women would never speak to a stranger let alone appear on television.
I insist on speaking to the women without a camera and very reluctantly I am given access. As soon as I enter Israr’s large home perched on the nearby hillock from the stream, women crowd me, eager to speak of their misery.
They say they have received the government donated sack of flour and tents but are more concerned about their children’s future. A teary eyed young bride, Maria Gul Mohammad, says “What will happen to our children? How will they go to school? Their uniforms, school books and bags got washed away in the flood waters.”
Another young mother tells me that the school has informed them that if the children take too many days off, they will be expelled. Children have been complaining of skin rashes, stomachaches, fever and diarrhea since the flood destroyed their lives.
Maria and other young women say they are not sure how long their relatives will give them refuge. They wonder what the government’s plans are for rehabilitation and reconstruction.
It will be an ordeal for the villagers to rebuild their homes without any government help. The temperatures in this area hit subzero in the colder months, and now with winter approaching, villagers living in tents and their relatives’ homes are worried.
Around 250,000 acres of farmland and orchards have been destroyed in the floods. The villagers of Haji Gul Mohammad export apples, but now the ready crop is seen strewn across the area.
One villager tells me that no tourist visiting the beautiful area was allowed to pick apples because it is their sole source of income and fetches a good price in the international market. But now the orchards are ruined, and the apples are buried under the rubble of their homes.
The villagers generously offer us apples that have not been spoiled. When we refuse to take any apples from them, they say they may have been ruined but cannot let their guests leave hungry.
Waiting for a plan
31 districts out of 34 in Balochistan have been affected by the floods and 10 districts have seen a lot of destruction. 64,685 houses have been partially or completely destroyed while 18 bridges and road infrastructure has been severely damaged.
In the district of Quetta, Qilla Abdullah and Qilla Saifullah, there are no tent villages. Flood affectees are either given refuge in colleges or are staying with relatives. In most areas, flood affectees have received tents and food but their future is uncertain.
The provincial and federal governments have yet to unveil a complete comprehensive plan for continued relief and rehabilitation, and that is what is causing more distress amongst flood affectees.