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Yesterday, I travelled from Peshawar to Southern Punjab; a 24-hour journey that felt like it would never end. As we drove through countless towns, I kept wondering what I would find when I reached the flood affected areas of Rajanpur. As we neared our destination, the first warning signs of flooding appeared: large amounts of water in the middle of fields, and silence. I find nothing more unsettling than an evacuated community. Families’ belongings all left behind – furniture, everyday utensils, carts and lorries; but not a living being in sight.
Having worked in many emergencies, what I saw next should not have shocked me, but I was taken completely by surprise. Everything was under water. What used to be the road had become a massive pool of water and you could not tell where the road ended and fields began. The worst part was seeing so many people everywhere, all trying to escape their flooded villages or return to collect their things. With the water up to 10 feet deep, the only way to cross from one side to the other was by swimming or taking a boat. Men, women, children, and the elderly, all waited to cross over; and some of the children were swimming across, unable to wait for the boat. There were also a few odd looking ‘boats’ floating in the water made from traditional charpoys with plastic containers tied underneath for buoyancy. I would have enjoyed the ingenuity of it all had the circumstances been different.
I decided to cross over in the rescue boat, and sat next to a lady and her two sons. She had some medicines in her hand and explained, “My son has a skin infection so I had to show him to the doctor. We are going back home now.” I was afraid to ask if her home had been flooded, but I finally mustered up the courage and was relieved to learn that it had not. However, she said a lot of their belongings were damaged by the waters and her whole family was falling sick. “I don’t want to complain. I am grateful we are all safe and we still have a house to go to. Things are so much worse for most people,” my boat ride companion continued.
She was right. Being safe and together with loved ones was a blessing. As we crossed to safety, all I could think of was the number of people who were stranded. How are they coping? What are their plans now?
The coming few days will definitely help me get some answers…