A Flood in the Valley
An old man, made homeless by the floods, collects firewood in Pakistan’s Swat valley. Photo: Peter Biro/The IRC.
Story at a glance:
- Already battered by a brutal counter-insurgency war, the people of Pakistan’s Swat Valley are now watching their lives and livelihoods washed away by flood waters. See photos.
- As families returned after military operations ended last year, the IRC repaired war-damaged water systems and distributed blankets, cooking ware and other relief supplies. We are now providing aid to flood victims and working to prevent the spread of waterborne disease.
- To Help: Make a gift to support our emergency efforts helping flood survivors in Pakistan.
One year ago the Pakistani military launched an offensive to drive Taliban militants from Pakistan’s Swat Valley. More than two million people fled the fighting, provoking a massive humanitarian crisis. Now, the worst floods in Pakistan’s history have created even greater destruction and displacement.
I am travelling with a team of IRC aid workers who are helping to clear 12 miles (20km) of dirt track south of Kahlan, a village that has been cut off from the outside world since flood waters submerged all roads in the area.
As we set off from Mingora, Swat’s largest city, the signs of devastation are everywhere. Concrete bridges have toppled into the fast-flowing and swollen Swat River while buildings that were inundated when the river crested have been reduced to piles of cracked concrete and twisted metal bars. The simple mud hut dwellings that are home to most people in this region have simply disappeared, swept away by the ferocious flood waters.
On the way out of Mingora, we pass Green Square, an intersection choked with donkey carts and pedestrians. The Taliban staged public executions in the square recalls one my one of my Pakistani colleagues. Decapitated bodies were put on display as a warning to others.
Swat remains a dangerous place; few Westerners travel here and tensions remain high. Soldiers at heavily guarded checkpoints stop vehicles along the way. Men, children and women are searched for weapons and explosives.
After a bone -jarring two hour drive the main road abruptly ends, the asphalt swallowed by a muddy torrent of water. From here, my colleagues and I must walk.
Amjad Ali (with his neighbor Muhammad Aqil, right) has been forced to flee twice in little over a year. Photo: Peter Biro/The IRC.
Sitting in the grass under a peach tree I strike up a conversation with Amjad Ali, 20, who has trekked three hours from his hometown of Madyan to pick up clothing donated by the local community.
“I lost my house and my business,” he says, half-shouting to make his voice heard over the whirr of low-flying Pakistani and U.S. military helicopters crisscrossing the valley in their quest to deliver aid. “Everything was taken by the river. I don’t know what to do now.”
Like so many in Swat, this is the second disaster to strike Ali in little over a year. He had already been forced to turn over his fish farming business to the Taliban when they arrived in the area in 2008.
“We had trout ponds,” Ali says. “The Taliban said that if we didn’t give them our fish they would kill us. Eventually, they murdered two of my relatives. We decided to flee in May 2009.”
Ali and his family ended up in a hot and overcrowded camp near the city of Mardan, 125 miles (200 km) south. When military operations against the Taliban ended, Ali and his family returned home.
“Our village was completely destroyed,” Ali recalls. “Houses had collapsed, shops had been looted.”
Shortly afterward, the IRC arrived to help the people of Madyan. Aid workers repaired war-damaged water systems and distributed blankets, cooking ware and other relief supplies. Over the last year the IRC has offered similar assistance to over 200 villages in Swat and elsewhere. Slowly, life returned to normal. Then the floods came.
“Twenty-one members of my family are homeless,” Ali says, shaking his head. “I cannot stop thinking about all the trouble we have had recently. Sometimes I think it’s a bad dream.”