DADU, Pakistan – The view from Muhammad Jafar’s small mud-brick home in southern Pakistan brought him a sense of relief. A rolling field of green cotton shrubs was right at his door, and its white flowers promised enough income to get his family through the year.
Now his fields, along with other vast areas of Pakistan, lie under green, rotten water. About two weeks ago, his land was completely submerged, including a well for drinking water, in one of the latest rounds of record-breaking flooding that has plagued the country since June.
“We live on an island now,” Jafar, 40, told a visiting New York Times journalist on Tuesday.
Devastating floods have inundated hundreds of villages across much of Pakistan’s fertile land. In the southern province of Sindh, flooding has effectively turned what was once farmland into two large lakes, engulfing entire villages and turning others into fragile islands.
Pakistani officials said the floods were the worst in recent history. They warn that it could take him three to six months for the floodwaters to recede.
About 1,500 people have died so far, nearly half of them children. More than 33 million people have been forced from their homes by floods caused by heavier-than-usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers.
Global warming from greenhouse gas emissions is sharply increasing the likelihood of extreme rainfall in South Asia, home to a quarter of humanity, scientists say. And there is little doubt that it has made this year’s monsoon season more destructive, they say.
In Dadu district, one of the worst-hit areas in southern Pakistan’s Sindh province, floods have completely submerged about 300 villages and left many others behind. Across the state, about 100,000 square kilometers of land — about the size of Virginia — is currently under water, officials said.
Where farmers once plowed fields of cotton and wheat, now wooden motorboats traverse rotting ponds, ferrying people between flood-stricken towns and stranded villages.
Scattered along the water’s edge are schoolchildren’s sandals, medicine bottles, and bright blue books spilling out of the flooded school windows.
Swarms of mosquitoes dance around the tops of trees sticking out of the water. Power lines hang precariously near its surface.
Tens of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed fled to neighboring towns and cities, finding refuge in schools, public buildings, roadsides and along canal embankments. They take refuge in cobblestone tents with spare tarps and rope beds that they have salvaged before the floods arrived.
Many of the lucky few whose villages were not completely submerged stayed in their homes and were effectively left behind.
stay away, it doesn’t matter
Pakistani authorities are urging people to leave isolated villages and if thousands remain, they will overwhelm already strained aid efforts, causing widespread food insecurity and posing a health crisis as the disease spreads. I warn you that it is possible.
But residents have reasons to stay, they say. Surviving livestock, refrigerators, tin roofs and other precious valuables need to be protected from thieves.
The cost of renting a boat and moving family and belongings is too high. The prospect of living in a tent camp is too bleak.
Yet their living conditions are miserable. Malaria, dengue fever and water-borne diseases are widespread. The area has been hit by monsoon rains and heat waves since it submerged.
The government cuts power to the area and plunges the village into darkness every night as a safety measure to prevent people from being electrocuted. Residents say most villages do not receive any assistance.
“We are abandoned. We have to survive on our own,” said Ali Nawaz, 59, a cotton farmer from Wad Hosa village in Dadu.
swim and survive
The village of Wado Khosa is home to about 150 people who cultivate cotton fields for large landowners. The cotton fields were almost ready for harvest one night about two weeks ago, residents said, when floodwaters swept through the fields.
Coming out of the house at dawn they were in awe. The village was completely surrounded by water that stretched to the horizon.
“My brain wasn’t working. I was wondering what to do. The kids were sobbing.”
Locals say the water has receded about a foot since that day.
But life on an island turned village is barely survivable. Both village wells were destroyed by flooding, so they have to drink salt water from a hand pump that they previously used only to wash their clothes and dishes.
Almost everyone in the village has malaria or typhoid fever, Nadia said.
Even just procuring food is a big deal. Vegetable prices have tripled since the flood began, and Nadia’s family can’t afford to hire a boat to pick them up in a remote village and take them to the market.
So every few days her cousin, 18-year-old Faiz Ali, swims along what used to be a road through rotting water for about 20 minutes to reach the embankment, where Johi survived the floods. Walking to the town market.
After buying small portions of potatoes, rice and vegetables, he straps a small bag of food to his back, jumps into the water and swims home. He raises his head above the stinking lake to try not to swallow the water and to keep an eye out for crawling snakes. NYTIMES
“It’s hard. I’m sorry, but I still get scared every time I go,” he said.
https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/in-pakistans-record-floods-villages-are-now-desperate-islands Pakistan’s record floods turn villages into desperate islands