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Home remains a distant dream for many flood-displaced Pakistanis


Home remains a distant dream for many flood-displaced Pakistanis

Many victims of this year's floods in Pakistan will likely have to wait a few more months before they can return to their devastated villages.
18 November 2010
A young boy washes himself at a camp for displaced people in Sindh province. Many people must remain in the camps for the time being.

KAMBER SHADADKOT DISTRICT, Pakistan, November 18 (UNHCR) - When floods swept through their village in southern Pakistan's Sindh province earlier this year, Mumtaz Ali and his pregnant wife lost their seven-year-old son. Weeks later, a weakened Zulekha gave birth, but the baby died soon afterwards.

On top of these tragic losses, the floods have destroyed the tenant farmer's crops, costing him 150,000 Pakistani rupees (US$1,800). "My landlord will ask for money, but the rice crop was destroyed," he said: "I will bear the brunt."

And the family's ordeal shows no sign of easing in the near future because winter is approaching and their village in Sindh's Kamber Shadadkot district remains underwater.

The only positive development is that Ali, Zulekha and their four surviving children - a son and three daughters - were recently moved from their makeshift home in a school building in the district to the Seelara Kot camp, which was set up by UNHCR and currently houses around 180 families.

UNHCR has established 42 new camps housing thousands of displaced people like Ali and Zulekha in northern and southern Sindh, where the refugee agency and its partners are helping to improve living conditions.

The biggest needs include shelter, household items, food and clean water. And the displaced in this region are likely to need such assistance for at least three more months because of the approaching winter and because the floodwaters are receding more slowly than hoped. Home remains a distant dream.

Most of those staying in the new camps had been living in schools or other public buildings, which were needed by the local authorities.

Meanwhile, Ali and his wife continue to mourn the death of their two children. The farmer said his wife "always weeps when she looks at other people's children." Recalling the loss of his son Diba, aged seven, Ali said that while fleeing their home, "I thought he was with his mother and my wife thought the other way around. When we reached dry land, we realized we had lost him."

The death of their new baby, meanwhile, was exacerbated by Zulekha's weak condition and the lack of health care facilities at the first place that they found shelter. In the end, they had to ask a traditional midwife for help. A recent UNHCR survey indicated that almost 28 per cent of the flood-affected people in Sindh province have no access to health care facilities.

"My poverty is the reason for my suffering. If I had enough resources or a boat I could have saved my son from the flood waters; if we had had enough resources we could have saved our new-born baby," Ali sobbed.

But at least he and his family now have better living conditions. "We are comfortable in this camp as compared to the school, which was very crowded," he said, adding that although they had access to potable water they still faced some food shortages.

By Qaisar Khan Afridi on Kamber Shadadkot District, Pakistan