Pakistan: Picking up the pieces in Balochistan after the rains

17 November, 2011
Salima Bibi and her family live in this small compound in Balochistan rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of the recent floods. Credit: OCHA/Humaira Mehboob
Salima Bibi and her family live in this small compound in Balochistan rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of the recent floods. Credit: OCHA/Humaira Mehboob

The stench of stagnant water fills Jhatpat, one of the main towns in Jaffarabad, in the northern Pakistani province of Balochistan.

The congested streets have become unbearable since the September monsoon rains, which have neither drained nor evaporated due to blocked sewage lines and dropping temperatures. Mosquitoes and other insects are spreading malaria, diarrhoea and skin infections.

This is the second year in a row that the people of Jhatpat have faced this situation, and the strain is beginning to show. “Summer last year was an ordeal we will never forget,” says Salima Bibi, a mother of eight children. “Our houses were flooded, which caused the walls to fall down.”

Salima and her husband were among the hundreds of families forced to leave their belongings and move for three months to a relief camp in the adjacent town of Sibi, following the 2010 floods. The families returned to their houses and started rebuilding last December, after the waters receded from the town.

“We came back to a house barely standing, the structure was badly damaged and the walls were unstable. Only the boundary wall was intact,” she says. “We started rebuilding our home with what little we had saved, and with the help of Watan card* payments we received from the Government.” They also received supplies such as tents and household goods from the United Nations.

This year’s heavy rains have made life even more difficult for families like Salima’s, who were only just beginning to pick up the pieces. After the floods last year, the district remained inundated in water for months, causing the sewer and sanitation systems to collapse.

Due to flash floods and heavy rains this year, the situation has worsened and the canal water that was the main source of drinking water in the town is contaminated.

Salima and her extended family are living in a compound of 30 people, including 19 children, alongside the family's livestock. The barn has been completely destroyed. “We are forced to keep our cattle in the same place as our children because we have no other place to keep them,” says Aftab, Salima’s husband.

“The children get sick because of living in such close quarters with the animals, but what can we do?” Salima says. “There is stagnant water just outside our house. Even if we manage to keep the cattle separate, our children are bound to get sick due to the water.”

Humanitarian agencies including UNHCR, UN-Habitat, Balochistan Rural Support Programme (BRSP), Water Environment and Sanitation Society (WESS) and Caritas International are working in the district to build brick houses with one room, a latrine and a kitchen for families affected by the 2010 floods. 

OCHA is one of the first humanitarian agencies to reach out to people in Balochistan affected by the heavy rains this year. Their needs and concerns were shared by OCHA with revelant humanitarian agencies.

The Government has helped provide food, tents and clean drinking water, but as the immediate emergency subsides, people still desperately need clean drinking water, permanent shelters, a new sewage system and assistance to rebuild their lives.

Salima is already planning a better future with a new barn, but “in the meantime we just have to bear it and pray that our children stay safe.”

* The Watan card is an initiative by the Government of Pakistan to disburse cash grants and aid to help families affected by the 2011 floods rebuild their homes. Every affected family was issued a bank account with an ATM card to draw up to PKR100,000 (US$1,162).


Reporting by Humaira Mehboob in JhatPat, Jaffarabad