Pakistanis stay in flooded village despite hardship

By Robert Birsel

SULTAN KOT, Pakistan (BestGrowthStock) – Pakistani shopkeeper Khalil Ahmed Khan strapped a pistol in a leather holster around his waist before setting out to look around his village marooned in flood water.

“This is the season for thieves,” said the burly Khan, standing outside his small shop, just above the flood line, in Sultan Kot village in the heart of Sindh province’s rice belt.

“We keep arms because the government is not providing security, so we have to protect ourselves,” he said.

More than three weeks after devastating floods hit Pakistan’s Indus river basin, the water is still spreading through Sindh.

More than four million people are homeless and billions of dollars worth of damage to homes, infrastructure and agriculture has been caused.

Relief camps are springing up around cities such as Sukkur and supplies of food and shelter are pouring in but many people are choosing to remain in their villages almost invariably to look after their homes and possessions, and protect them from thieves.

“There’s no other reason to stay,” said Khan.

The floods have cut all road links to Sultan Kot, which is normally home to about 2,000 people, and getting there means taking a boat from the end of the road across an expanse of water to a railway line, which has also been severed by the floods.

After a walk of a kilometer (half a mile) or so, villagers cross an embankment back on to the partly flooded road and head two kilometers (mile) to the village, the last stretch through waist-deep water still running with considerable force.

From a flat roof, Khan pointed to the village graveyard, now under six feet (two meters) of water. A snake swam through the silty flood, escaping several stones hurled its way, before reaching a half-submerged brick building and disappearing.

At the edge of the water two scrawny dogs tugged at the carcass of a sheep.

POLITICIAN SENDING FOOD

A surprising number of people have stayed in Sultan Kot, perhaps several hundred, but they are fortunate in that they are being supplied with food by the district’s representative in the Sindh provincial assembly, a member of President Asif Ali Zardari’s ruling party.

The politician, Agha Taimur Khan, is sending in staples such as flour, lentils and sugar by boat to Sultan Kot and other areas of his constituency, villagers said.

“He takes care of everything for us,” said Jeejal, an elderly woman sitting on a rope bed in the village girls’ school, where dozens of people have sought shelter.

Desks were stacked in one corner of the classroom while people’s bundles of clothes and tin trunks were stacked in another. Posters showing parts of the body and fruit and vegetables were tacked up on the wall.

“We had no choice but to come here with our children for safety,” said Jeejal, who has only one name. “We’ve lost everything. Our homes are washed away and our fields are damaged. We might have to stay here for another year.”

But in more remote villages, food is running out, said two exhausted-looking men wading along the flooded road in search of supplies. They said they had walked for three days from their flooded village of Mubarak.

One of the men, Daim, was carrying a sick-looking chicken and two nearly lifeless large chicks in a basket on his head. There had been a third chick but he and his hungry companion had roasted it the night before, he said.

“People are eating their supplies but now everyone has a problem,” Daim said of his village where he said many people remained.

The U.S.-backed government is under fire for what many survivors saw as its slow response to the disaster and will face more outrage if people in outlying areas go hungry for too long.

But in Sultan Kot they will remain loyal to the ruling party because of the help provided by their provincial assembly member, shopkeeper Khan said.

“Food keeps people calm. For sure, the people will support him.”

Pakistanis stay in flooded village despite hardship