SUKKUR:“It seems as if we have come from some other planet, and that is why neither the government nor the district administration has shown up to mitigate our sufferings,” says Mai Mirchan, an elderly woman from the village Mehango Fakir of Thari Mir Wah taluka. I had to wade through knee-deep water to visit the relief camp; two months after floods hit the area water still surrounds almost all the villages in Taluka Thari Mir Wah, adding to the miseries of the residents.
Tears rolling down her face, Mai Mirchan narrates her story how her relatively well-off family has become destitute because of the torrential mid-August rains, “I don’t know exactly whether it was a rainfall or a curse of mother nature that ruined everything in our villages. I had three buffaloes, two cows, five goats and more than a dozen hens, besides a huge stock of wheat, rice and other items.” Her voice is dipped in pain. “Those rains were a nightmare for us because they swept away all our belongings, including cattle and stocks of grain. Most of the houses in these villages were razed to the ground. Only ten percent houses have survived the rains.”
Pointing towards the stagnant water, Mai Mirchan says that at the beginning of floods, the water level was eight feet high, which has now reduced to half. “Some of the well-off villagers installed dewatering pumps and drained out some water on their own; our government, so far, has done nothing.”
Another woman, Mai Satri, had a story similar to Mai Mirchan’s. The boundary wall of her house collapsed, forcing her and family to live in an open area with water everywhere. “Most of the families have moved to nearby cities and towns to stay with their relatives, leaving behind people like me who have nowhere to move to,” she says with sadness in her voice. Because of the stagnant water, some of the villagers have shifted their belongings to the rooftops of their houses. Mai Satri says, “After losing everything to the torrential rains, we had started to lose hope as well, but today my hope was restored due to the arrival of relief goods. Believe me, you people are the first to visit this far-flung area to do some good for people who are stranded.”
Mai Satri says that they were in desperate need of ration and medicines as many of them had not eaten anything for two days.
Another woman, Mai Bakhtan, is of the view that it was high time that people of her village realized that no one was coming to rescue them, and they have to adopt measures on a self-help basis. “You must be thinking how stupid I am talking about self-help in an area where almost all the residents have sustained a huge loss,” she says while bursting into laughter, her eyes welling up. Wiping her tears with her dupatta, she says, “It really is a testing time for us, but I am optimistic that Almighty Allah will bring an end to our miseries.”
Mai Bakhtan rushes when the ration distributing team calls her name, and expertly places a bag of ration on her head. She leaves holding a hygiene kit and a mosquito net in both hands.
Asma Gul, of village Ghulam Mohammad Cheena, looks terribly tired, probably due to walking a long distance, and that too in knee-deep water. “Yesterday, I was registered to get ration, and today I have come to collect ration and medicine for skin rashes,” she says. Asma says that she will never be able to forget the memories of the mid-August rainfall, that took away everything from them. She had two goats, and both died due to rainwater surrounding her village. “We are poor people and badly in need of help from the government, but nothing has been done so far. If only water is drained from our villages, we will be able to do something to make the ends meet.”
There seems to be no end to the miseries of people, especially in rural Sindh where rain and flood water is still accumulated on roads, streets, and agricultural fields. People in villages devastated by rains have been left at the mercy of nature.
During my visit to some villages of Tahari Mir Wah taluka in district Khairpur, I started wondering how the residents of those villages have survived amidst rain and flood water all over the place, causing damage not only to the standing crops of sugarcane, cotton and vegetables, but also paralyzing the normal life of people. The already broken road leading to villages Zawar Abdul Razzaq Shar, Mehango Fakir Shar and others is completely damaged after the severe rains, which lashed the entire Sindh in mid-August this year and brought huge agonies to the residents of the whole province, especially the rural population.
As soon as our vehicles reached near the village, the first thing we noticed was the knee-high water, which deepened as our motorized boat continued its journey. All the roads, fields, brick and mud houses, and school buildings are under water. Boundary walls of most of the houses have collapsed, and residents have taken shelter on the roofs of their houses or moved to some other places.
Our boat stopped near a house where arrangements were made to distribute dry ration, hygiene kits and mosquito nets to the marooned. A free medical camp was also established to provide assistance to the neglected. Ration distribution and medical camp were organized by an NGO, Riverside Development Organization (RD0), with the active cooperation of some residents of village Zawar Abdul Razzaq Shar. Zaheer Abbas Shar and Muneer Ahmed, after a thorough assessment, had identified the poorest villagers for ration distribution. The medical facility, open to all, was run by a male and female doctor for about five hours.
It is worth mentioning that in the last two months, RDO is the first organization to reach the remote villages of Thari Mir Wah taluka. As soon as we reached our destination equipped with ration bags and medicines, a large number of women, men and children assembled, as from out of nowhere. Though the officials of RDO and volunteers had taken all possible measures to avoid mismanagement, at one point we thought it might be difficult to keep things in order so that everyone could receive a rations bag, but with the help of some villagers who took control of the situation, everything went smoothly.
While talking to The Express Tribune, Zaheer Abbas Shar says, “Dozens of mud and brick houses have either been partially or completely damaged. A large number of cattle has died or flushed away in the strong currents of water.” Rowing through rainwater, Zaheer tells me, “Right now we are passing over a fish farm that is no more. During the super flood of 2010, our area remained safe, but this year torrential rains and flood have caused extensive damage to properties, crops, stocks of grain and cattle head. No loss of human life in all these villages, but stocks of grains and cattle are gone.” Naming some high-ranking government officials, who hail from that area, he says, “Although they are powerful bureaucrats and can do so much, they have done nothing for their own villages.”
Shar, along with some of his friends, have installed two dewatering pumps to drain water, but it has proven to be a futile exercise as they require at least ten to twelve dewatering pumps to drain the water in the Mirwah canal. He says the residents of the villages are facing multiple challenges, and the only way to bring them back to normal life is to drain water from the villages. Talking about the scarcity of potable water, Shar says that the underground water contains arsenic, and is thus unfit for human and animal consumption. “We are forced to fetch water from the Mirwah canal, which after boiling becomes consumable.”
RDO’s medical team is comprised of a male and a female doctor, a staff nurse, and paramedics to cater to the residents’ health issues. Talking to The Express Tribune, Dr Agha Muneer, head of the medical team, says that most of the patients, including children and adults, are suffering from various waterborne disease, and cases of skin rashes and malaria are quite common. Those people need proper medical care on a daily basis because a day-long medical camp is utterly insufficient for the endless health issues of the victims of flood devastation.
Dr Aisha Muneer, talking to The Express Tribune, says: “Most of the women I have examined are suffering from acute malnourishment as they keep working from dawn to dusk and that too without proper meals. Most of them are totally neglected and treated like machines by their male family members.”
Munawwar Gill, Founder and Chairperson of the Riverside Development Organization (Trust) Sukkur, says that the RDO started its work in 2008 as a simple and small project with the vision “to serve humanity is to serve God” in order to fulfil God’s commandment of serving the poorest of the poor. It was founded by a group of development activists and social workers. The RDO initially started to work for slum dwellers residing along the riverbank of Indus at Katcha Bandar and implemented its three-year pilot project “The Riverside Slum Children Project (RSCP)”. According to Gill, those were neglected people who were not socially recognized by the mainstream communities. The Sindh government ejected them from the riverbank, and that destroyed their professions of fishing and transportation through boats. When modern transport systems were developed, their means of income were lost and finished. That was not all, Gil says; government also prohibited them from fishing in the Indus River. They had very little business and consequently, almost no income, and therefore many of them became beggars. Children in the slums were living in extreme poverty, and without any opportunities for their education and well-being. Their parents made them work as rag pickers and porters, and in hotels, garages, fisheries, and industries. Most of them were begging in main markets and on roads of cities, and many were abused.
Gill explains that the district Sukkur is one of the cities of Sindh that do not have clean drinking water. Almost ninety-nine percent of the residents drink water from the Indus River that is untreated and is directly supplied to the city. Slum dwellers also drink water that comes directly from the river, putting their health at the risk of many diseases. He adds that those people are living in very unhygienic conditions and are unaware of hygienic practices.
Violence against women and children is common in those areas. People have strong roots to feudalism and harmful, traditionally regressive practices that deny rights to women and children. Killings in the name of family honour, murder, rape, kidnapping, suicide, immolation, and domestic violence are major forms of violence against women in the targeted areas. Women and children are living in a very miserable situation.
Mr. Munawar Gill says that the RDO is committed to bringing hope and light in the lives of the most marginalized communities, especially children and women, by empowering them socially, economically and politically. The aims of his organization include mobilization and organization of rural neglected communities; capacity building; sensitizing and raising of awareness; linkage development and networking; information dissemination; and facilitation for provision of essential services, particularly in sectors of health, education and human rights.
Munawwar Gill says, “Our valuable partners include the Sindh government, Kindernothilfe (Germany), Community World Service Asia, Centre for Sustainable Development, Community Organized Relief Effort, and The Church of Scotland.”
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 23, 2022