A year after Pakistan’s devastating floods, challenges drag on for most, but signs of hope for some


Islamabad (AP) — Last summer’s flooding in Pakistan killed at least 1,700 people, destroyed millions of homes, wiped out swathes of farmland, and caused billions of dollars in economic losses. All in a matter of months. At one point, a third of the country was underwater. Pakistani leaders and many scientists worldwide blame climate change for the unusually early and heavy monsoon rains.

A year on, the country hasn’t fully recovered. The aftermath runs the length of the country; survivors living in makeshift huts where their homes used to be, millions of children out of school, damaged infrastructure waiting to be repaired.

Pakistan’s national disaster authority said most people have returned to their towns or villages, but its flood records stop in November 2022. Almost 8 million people were displaced at the height of the crisis. But there is no information on how many people remain homeless or live in temporary shelters. Aid agencies and charities provide up-to-date pictures of life, saying millions remain deprived of clean drinking water and that child malnutrition rates have increased in flood-affected areas.

And the impact of recent heavy rainfall augurs ill for Pakistan should there be more flooding this year. Torrents have caused rivers to overflow, flash floods, fatalities, infrastructure damage, landslides, livestock loss, ruined crops, and property damage in parts of the country.

UNICEF estimates around 20 million people, including 9 million children, still need humanitarian aid in flood-affected areas. Many of the hardest-hit districts were already among the most impoverished and vulnerable places in Pakistan. What little people had was washed away, forcing them to start their lives over again.

This journey through Pakistan looks at how the unprecedented flooding of 2022 affected everyday life – and future generations.

Restoring Water

The high altitudes and sharp peaks of the Hindu Kush Mountains mean that heavy rains barrel down through the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That’s good because the waters quickly drain to lower lying areas. But it’s bad because of the damage they wreak along the way.

Last summer’s raging floods were so powerful that some rivers changed course. They wrecked more than 800 drinking water supply systems across nearly half of the province’s 34 districts, damaging pipelines, supply mains, storage tanks and wells.

The impact on residents living by stagnant water and forced to rely on contaminated water for drinking was seen around two weeks after the flooding. Health care teams started receiving thousands of patients with diseases like dengue, malaria, acute diarrhea, cholera and skin infections.

Villagers often had to walk several kilometers to find water. With access more difficult, water consumption dropped drastically, from 30 liters (8 gallons) per person per day before the floods to as low as 10 liters (2.6 gallons) after, according to the UK-based charity WaterAid.

The use of unprotected water sources and poor sanitation were the primary causes of morbidity in some areas, it said, especially among infants and children. Damage to health facilities and disruptions to vaccination campaigns compounded the crisis.

Rizwan Khan, 48, said last August was a nightmare for him and his family. He lost his home, belongings and crops. He was moved to a camp in the town of Charsadda, but it didn’t offer enough medical services. It wasn’t long before he and others were suffering stomach illnesses, skin infections and fevers.

WaterAid said the scale and scope of the 2022 floods would have challenged any government’s capacity in every field. But over the past year, residents with the help of local government have succeeded in repairing most of the wells and water supply systems, and the situation has improved in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

But last year’s floods won’t be the last or the worst disaster the province could face in the future.

The province is “burdened with an alarming and diverse portfolio” of potential weather and water disasters because of its geography, said Taimur Khan, spokesman for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has eight major rivers running through it, as well as mountain ranges, hills, flat green plains and arid plateaus. That makes it vulnerable to earthquakes, landslides, flash flooding, glacial lake outburst floods and melting glaciers.

Climate change, global warming and shifting monsoon patterns increase the frequency and impact of such disasters.

Authorities are taking some steps to prepare. They have installed an early warning system on seven of the major rivers to monitor water levels, and a monsoon contingency plan is being put in place to minimize loss of life and damage to property. Embankments were strengthened last year ahead of the flooding, helping to avert a bigger disaster, and riverbanks breached by floods have been repaired and reinforced.

Lucky Break For Agriculture

It wasn’t the flooding that nearly killed 80-year-old Razia Bibi and her family, it was the hunger.

They used to donate wheat to needy people, but the floods washed away the wheat they’d stored for the whole year in their home in Rojhan, Rajanpur district. Then they had to wait for weeks, scrounging for food, before food supplies arrived from the government and aid groups.

“The government did not give us enough rations and no relief team could reach our village because of a dam breaking,” she said. A $175 cash give-out from the government helped ease their ordeal, she said, adding that it was thanks to God that none of her family became sick.

Last year’s images of vast stretches of farmland underwater in Punjab province raised alarm over potential massive food shortages. Punjab is Pakistan’s biggest agricultural producer and its most populated province. Millions of acres of crops nationwide were destroyed by the waters, and a major international aid agency warned that the loss could be felt for years.

In the end, Punjab was spared, largely by luck rather than preparation. Authorities installed pumps that got rid of some of the standing water on farmland, but most of the waters drained on their own, some flowing down into Sindh province, some spreading into deserted, open areas.

Waters receded in time for Punjab farmers to do the October sowing season and the result was a bumper crop. In fact, the crop was boosted because the floods also brought with them good quality soil, a blessing in disguise, and enabled expanded planting in usually barren areas.

Still, the relief came after months of real food scarcity that followed the floods – and that risks being repeated in future disasters.

Across Punjab, stores of grain were wiped out along with at least a half-million acres of crops and orchards. Irrigation channels and roads connected farms to markets were wrecked. At the peak of the crisis, food prices rose sharply, as did those of everyday items like tea and sugar, which doubled. Vegetables were scarce.

The government scrambled to help the agricultural industry, a key driver of national growth and a major employer, through the distribution of seeds and fertilizer.

But infrastructure like roads and bridges remain unrepaired in the Punjab, which contributes more than half of the national GDP.

Ghulam Nabi, 42, lost everything when the floods swept through his town of Fazilpur. At first, he, his wife and five children moved into a school that had been turned into a public shelter for the homeless. But when it became overcrowded, they moved to a tent.

“Me and my pregnant wife were just living on water with no food available to us. It wasn’t even enough for our four children,” he said. “Living anywhere after being displaced is not easy. I pray that no one faces this situation.”

Left Without Schools

Situated downstream from Pakistan’s other provinces, Sindh suffered a heavy blow from last year’s flooding and has been slow to recover. One impact that residents fear will be long-lasting is the destruction of the province’s schools.

Around half of Sindh’s 40,356 schools were either fully or partially damaged, affecting 2.3 million of its 4.5 million students, according to local education official Abdul Qadeer Ansari. One reason for the scale of the damage was the age of the school buildings, between 25 to 30 years old, he said. Another is that they weren’t climate resistant or built to withstand flooding, despite the province suffering from some of the most extreme weather conditions in Pakistan.

So far, only around 2,000 schools are being rebuilt, with hefty contributions from the Chinese government and the Asian Development Bank. Ansari estimates reconstruction will take at least two years, with the new schools intended to be climate resistant.

In the village of Maskran Brohi, 115 students take classes in a temporary learning center in a tent. The 72-square-meter tent has no electricity, so it has neither lights nor fans. There are also no toilets and no clean water.

The only teacher, Zarina Bibi, worries what the summer will bring, when temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), and the heat inside the tent will become unbearable.

UNICEF has supplied some books, but most students must make do with old books – if they have them. Many lost their books in the deluge.

At first after the floods, Bibi held classes under the shade of a tree. She doesn’t see most of the 87 kids she taught before the flooding_families scattered when the floods came_and rain flattened the roof and walls of the single-room primary school she used to teach in. Her only colleague quit last January, months before the monsoon season, in protest at the lack of facilities.

Even before the floods, primary education in Sindh was below par, said Noorul Huda Shah, an activist and writer. Government schools could only accommodate around half of the province’s school-age children, and there was already a high dropout rate among girls after grade 5 as middle schools couldn’t take all students. Now after the damage, it’s even worse.

“The long-term impact of this loss on future generations is a critical concern,” Shah said.

Starved For Energy

Pakistan’s biggest province is also its most energy-starved.

Much of Baluchistan’s population relies on solar panels, not because of their green credentials but because they are the only way to power fans, lights and cell phones.

Outside cities like Quetta and Gwadar, there is almost no central electricity. The largely rural population is scattered over the mountainous landscape, crippled by an entrenched feudal system, under-development and neglect by the local and central government.

They faced losing what little they had in last year’s flooding. Last year was the wettest in Baluchistan since 1961, and August alone saw a 590% jump in its average rainfall for that month. Even those fortunate enough to have access to central electricity suffered as the floods destroyed 81 grid stations and downed power lines.

Many who lost their homes also lost their solar panels, and local authorities haven’t distributed replacements. Flood survivors living in temporary shelters repeatedly cited a lack of electricity or light as a major concern, the U.N.’s migration agency said in a report late last year, months after the rains stopped. It affected people’s safety, privacy, and comfort. Some of those interviewed for the report said electricity had never existed in their area.

“Even now, more than 4.5 million people (nationwide) are forced to drink dirty water while the limited supply of electricity and gas in these areas has increased the feeling of deprivation or neglect,” said Syed Waqas Jafri, the secretary-general of Pakistani charity Al-Khidmat Foundation.

Some made rescuing their solar panel a priority as they fled their homes in the face of the rising floods, wading with their panel through stagnant water.

Muhammad Ibrahim, a 32-year-old father of five, managed to save his panel from his roof. Still homeless a year later, he uses it in the tent camp where he lives in Sohbat Pur district.

“It is so hot. We use solar panels to run fans to get some cool air,” he said. “Otherwise living in these tents is not possible.”

He doesn’t feel prepared for the next major flood. “We’re scared of what will happen. But if it comes, we will run far away.”

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