Flood Affected Communities Forced To Live In Tents In Balochistan's Freezing Winter

Flood Affected Communities Forced To Live In Tents In Balochistan's Freezing Winter
Four months since the monsoon floods wreaked havoc across the country, Shafiullah is still living in a tent with his wife and children. Winter is in full swing in Urak, a valley east of Quetta, with the mercury keeping steadily below freezing.

The tent is no match for the cold winds at 8,350 feet above sea level, the estimated elevation of Urak, a union council of Quetta known for its fruit orchards. He stays in most of the time, sitting covered with his wife and children in blankets they received from an NGO.

There is nothing much for Shafiullah to do now that his house is rubble and the apple orchard, his only source of income, is completely destroyed.

"Four months have passed and no roads have been rebuilt, no aid sent and no one has come to help us rebuild the house," he said. "The little aid that makes it to this place is claimed by a few influential people. I don't understand whose door to knock on for help.”

The monsoon rains and floods late last year have left a long trail of devastation across Balochistan. According to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, 336 people died and 187 were injured in Balochistan due to rains and floods between June and August last year, while 240,000 houses were destroyed.

The incessant rains had kept Shafiullah and others in his village in a state of anxiety for days before the flood came. He had sat in the corner of a room for several days and nights, looking nervously out of window, waiting for the rain to stop. The mud walls of this two-room house were showing signs of strain, no longer able to bear the load. If the rain did not stop, he feared, the roof would collapse anytime.

A small fruit garden and a dilapidated house were the only assets that Shafiullah, 52, had to support his wife and 7 children. A sole breadwinner of this family- his children are between the ages of 8 to 17 years - Shafiullah is now dependent on help from the community and aid organizations.

The night the flood entered Killi Karaiz Ali, the housing scheme where Shafiullah lives, he took his family and fled to a nearby hill. On this way, he saw others who were forced to take shelter on the high ground as floodwater suddenly inundated their houses.

More than 40 houses of this neighbourhood in the Urak area were affected by flood water, displacing 500 people living here. The flood leveled the entire housing scheme, leaving its residents without shelter.

Shafiullah's worries are multiplying with the passage of time. “Nothing to feed the children; there is no roof to protect from the cold and no other facilities," he said. "Since the flood, the gas and electricity supply has been disconnected in the area. With winter, our suffering has increased."

He said his biggest worry after the house is that the flood destroyed his garden. “Dozens of apple trees were washed away by floodwater. The few that survived, their fruit was wasted.”

Shafiullah used to earn 10 to 12 lakh rupees annually from selling apples grown in his orchard. Lakh, a South Asian unit of currency, equals one hundred thousand. The money helped him take care of the needs of his family and his apple trees. This year, he could only make one lakh rupees.

Killi Shamozai, another housing scheme in Urak three kilometers away from Karzaiz Ali, was also devastated by the flood. Bacha Khan, a resident here, is rebuilding his house on his own because he cannot afford to hire help.

Dozens of houses were affected by the floodwaters in Killi Shamozai, whose residents are either living with relatives or have pitched tents on the ruins of their houses.

'I waited a long time for authorities to help us rebuild the house but none came so I decided to rebuild my house by taking a loan from relatives and others in the community. But I still don't have enough money to build the roof of the house,” said Bacha Khan.

Bacha said it was hard for the children and women of his family to live in tents in the harsh winter. “Children are not able to bear the severity of cold and are sick. I just want to build one room so that they can spend the rest of the winter under a roof.”

According to the Post-Disaster Need Assessment 2022 report of the Federal Ministry of Planning and Development, Balochistan province faced a loss of 890 billion rupees due to the floods, while at least 490 billion rupees are required for the rehabilitation phase.

According to the report, 31 billion rupees have been estimated for the reconstruction of two and a half lakh flood-affected houses in Balochistan and 21 billion rupees for repairs. The Balochistan Cabinet has approved the Flood Emergency Assistance Program in the province.

Balochistan Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo has said that the federal and provincial governments are using all resources to restore normal life in the flood-affected areas of the province and ensure the supply of health, education and clean drinking water to the victims. The Chief Minister said that the provincial government has started a program at a cost of 16 billion rupees for the rehabilitation of farmers in the affected areas, under which farmers will be provided subsidies for solar energy, seeds and fertilizers, so that they can be self-sufficient again. He said that the provincial government had also requested the federal government to cooperate in the program to ensure relief to the flood victims, on which the prime minister directed the provincial government to do everything possible to alleviate the losses, including the agriculture rehabilitation program.

According to the PDMA Balochistan, more than 8 thousand houses have been completely damaged and more than 10 thousand houses have been partially damaged due to rain and flood in Quetta

Bizenjo said that although the provincial government is not financially able to deal with the scale of this calamity, the funds required for recovery and rehabilitation will be arranged at all costs

The survey of the provincial government has been completed for the flood damage and rehabilitation, but the victims are not seeing any steps being taken.

According to Shabir Ahmed, who belongs to Quetta's Nawan Kali area, the government team came to conduct a survey two months ago, but so far no one had come to help. "People are tired of waiting for government agencies to come and help them rebuild their homes."

He said that the government team had not given any time frame for the resettlement, so they did not know how long they would be forced to live in tents in extreme cold. "In our area, only a few affected families got tents, while others are still living under the rubble."

Several housing schemes in Cheshma Achuzai area of Quetta have also suffered a lot due to rains and floods. Now, the big test for them are the severe winters.

Shahabuddin is a resident of a housing scheme where houses were washed away by the rains. To this day, he is confined to a tent with his family in the freezing cold. He said that the rains caused a lot of damage to these houses. "My house had four rooms and they all became a pile of rubble.” “Now we have pitched a tent near the ruins of the house where I am living with my wife and children,” Shahab said. The story of a39-year-old Shahabuddin is no different from the other victims. Shahabuddin, a father of four, runs a retail shop for his livelihood. "I built this house with twenty years of hard work, which has now become a pile of mud. Now, I am worried about how I will rebuild it again," he said.

According to Shahab, no assistance has been given to him by the government. However, from an NGO, they have received two girders and eight bamboos which, he says, are insufficient to build a house.

According to the PDMA Balochistan, more than 8 thousand houses have been completely damaged and more than 10 thousand houses have been partially damaged due to rain and flood in Quetta

After the recent floods, there have been no efforts to reduce risk in case of a natural calamity and not much is being done to help build capacities of local communities to tackle such disasters in future, Shahid Ali, an expert on Disaster Risk Management says.

“The government and NGOs are focusing on relief and rehabilitation but no one is working to create awareness among local communities about Disaster Risk Reduction,” said Shahid.

"How could they prepare for such disasters in future, then? It is necessary to plan, get help from technical experts and hold awareness campaigns on community-based disasters risk reduction in these affected housing schemes, as soon housing reconstruction will begin here,” he added.

Mujeeb Kakar, a social worker from Quetta, says that some 350 families live in Chashma Achuzai and the rains have damaged 95% of the houses in the said area. He said that a survey had been conducted for the reconstruction of their houses.

“They have started the rehabilitation work but disaster risk management is not being taken into account in the reconstruction of these houses,” Mujeeb said.

Government institutions are not providing any awareness regarding disaster risk management, nor are any steps taken by non-governmental organizations to reduce future risks in the construction of these houses, says Mujeeb.

Mujeebullah said: “Since I live in this area, I know that there are people here who do not have two meals to eat; some do not even eat one meal. What would they know of disaster risk reduction, or to rebuild their homes keeping the risk in mind.”

The administration of Quetta does not have enough resources to help the flood victims on its own and in this regard, Assistant Commissioner of Quetta Nisar Ahmad Langau said that the survey report on the damage caused by the flood has been sent to the federal government, but up till now, they have not received any response from the federal government.

He further said that administration is in touch with the PDMA to provide support to the affected families with awareness to ensure disaster risk reduction in rebuilding their houses, but he said that they are yet to receive such kind of support.

Director PDMA Faisal Panezai said the government of Balochistan had hired MICON Engineering Consultants, an expert firm, to conduct a study and devise a disaster risk management plan that would be adopted by the province. "The ongoing development projects, and risk management in case of any future disaster, will be effectively planned," he said.