Remona Aly
Sunday 29 August 2010 Al Jazeera

Pakistan floods: ‘The tears have dried up’

Hungry and thirsty, the survivors of the Pakistan floods wait in sodden tents for aid to get through, struggling to come to terms with the events of recent days.

In Nowshera, a culturally traditional part of Pakistan, women who do not normally mix with males outside their family must now share scant sanitation facilities with thousands of men.

Mothers rock their children to sleep on empty stomachs. Others wait to hear news of loved ones lost in the floods. Some men agree amongst themselves to go back to their homes, hoping to salvage some clothes, rice, anything they can find, but return empty handed and barely able to face their wives and children.

The Disasters Emergency Committee, which launched an appeal on August 4, faces the stark challenges of heavy rains, destroyed infrastructure and a race against time to get crucial aid to flood victims. Their member charities have provided food parcels, plastic sheets, water, and medical facilities to tens of thousands of people.

Hopes washed away

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British aid worker Habib Malik of Islamic Relief, looks sullenly at a watery graveyard, the resting places disturbed by the violent floods.

At the end of a 20 hour shift, he tells me how the water rose as high as trees.

Habib has met with scores of survivors and says “every person here has a story to tell”.

He tells the story of Roshan, an 18-year-old woman who became separated from her parents during the flood. Roshan was the only source of income for her family. She supported her parents and two younger brothers by working as a tailor.

In recent months she had been working even harder than usual in order to save money for her upcoming wedding. But now she cannot sleep at night and is plagued by concerns about her family and future.

Many people in this area used to have little, but now they have even less. What little life savings they had have been washed away with the waters.

‘No one came’

Jannat is a widow. Her two young sons, 13-year-old Kamran and 14-year-old Ajmal, work as scrap collectors to support the family. Unable to afford schooling, they spend their days collecting bits of paper and metal.

“We were sleeping in the house and the water rose to our bellies. We woke and climbed on top of the roof and stayed there for two days,” the boys explain.

“When no one came to rescue us, we left the house with our mother and walked for miles and miles. We don’t know how far we walked. We arrived at the college site feeling tired and very thirsty.”

Jannat and her two sons joined another 6,000 displaced people at a college on the outskirts of Nowshera. All those there must share just four latrines, while aid workers dig more sanitation facilities.

Jannat boils dirty water to offer to her sons – it is all they have to drink.

Habib’s voice is heavy: “What I’ve seen now is that the crying is beginning to cease. Tears have dried up. These people desperately need more help. Ramadan is around the corner for the people of Pakistan, a time of unity and giving. The world needs to show our neighbours that we care.”

This article originally appeared on Al on 29 August 2010. To view it click here.