Iftikhar Ali’s diary, Day 4
Early morning flight to Sukkur, we ventured into the heartland of the Sindh province. These are the agricultural flatlands of Pakistan producing vast quantities of rice wheat, corn and more recently an abundance of dates.
The waters of the Indus have flowed north to south and in sindh the levies have been broken to leave entire villages underwater. Despite being October it is still hot (about 35c) and the waters have started to dry however broken roads and standing pools in these flat parts still make many places inaccessible.
We met with the DCO (district co-ordination officer) who would provide a police escort for the day. The escort was for our security, but more importantly to do anything in these parts one must pay homage to the powers that be and gain their blessing to ensure smooth passage.
The DCO’s office like many buildings in Sindh was a throwback to colonial times and was in what we came to expect as a usual state of disrepair. We were eager to move on to the camps and villages but were told we must have tea first. The lack of urgency we have encountered is so frustrating but we went through the motions to not upset the protocol.
Late morning we arrived at the first camp, here we distributed winter packs and 1 month food packs. This was no easier than the first day with the same heart wrenching pleas from destitute people. We had also brought some colouring books and pencils which we gave to the children. All the smiles made us wish we had brought more. A box of Cadburys celebrations caused further squeals as the kids tucked in.
The IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) are being encouraged to return to their villages and those that can have started to go. Some of the other NGO’s have been distributing money or monthly rations to facilitate their return and are then closing the camps.
The last few days has made us realise that food packs and handouts despite being necessary are not a sustainable solution. MDAUK have been working on adopting a village which would be rebuilt with input from the villagers thus empowering them to be self reliant. We went to see two villages one of which would be rebuilt using our donors’ money.
The first village was surrounded by water and we had to cross a narrow walkway, part of which had been patched up a few hours earlier. These was a village of about 250 mud brick houses of which only 30 or so were still standing. The villagers were eager to tell their story however they seemed to be losing hope as one man said, “Lots of important people have been here taken notes and left, and we have seen nothing. We are far from the city, we have not been given rations, we have eaten what we have and now we forage for fish in the standing dirty water.” We saw many such makeshift fishermen standing waist deep in the burning sun.
The second village was no different in the level of devastation but was bigger in size. We were met by a similar throng of people each person recounting their losses. The legal rights to land can be complex so it is vital for MDAUK to select the village location carefully to avoid disputes in the future. The villagers of Sindh vary from owning scraps of land on which they live and farm to the ‘Hari’ people, landless folk who live in mud houses on the landowners land and work the land in return for a wage. Bonded labour in one form or another is still alive.
As we were leaving other villagers tugged at us, “Please come and look at our villages…” Fingers pointing this way and that, as we drove out a group from another village stood in front of our car begging us to see their village, men women and children all in a huddle, their pleas becoming more desperate as we moved on… One could sense the desperation turning to anger as our driver manoeuvred the car through.
Once again we felt desperate to help them all but now had the knowledge that we would in fact only be helping a tiny minority. We were supposed to take a boat to a stranded village but that was not possible as the boat was leaking. God only knows what state that village was in.
It was time to go, we’d had a long and arduous journey and as the shadows lengthened, all along the roadside we could smell wood burning as the tent people settled in for the night. Soon we would be in the comfort of Karachi but we owe it to the people to keep the story of their plight alive.
Tomorrow we head north.
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