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2008 Floods in Pakistan

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“These days, even the moon comes out late in Pakistan”

© UNICEF/PAKA01480D/Zaidi
Preparing food for the family in a camp for IDPs

By Javier Marroquin

Nisreen Bibi is a 20 year old mother who formerly lived in the village of Sachan Nadi, near Balakot, a town completely razed to the ground by the fury of earth on October 8.

First she tells me the story of how it was for her that day. “There was smoke everywhere, and heavy dust prevented me from seeing anything. I managed to grab my daughter from the floor and tried to run away from the house. I grabbed her from the back and I clutched her to my breast to protect her from the roof, which was cracking.”

“The walls, floor, furniture were shaking; my mind went blank. But my father and mother came into the house and pulled us out. As the dust slowly settled I realized I was alive, and my daughter too. At that moment, nothing else mattered to me.” She tells me how, two minutes after the quake, she suddenly realized her six year old daughter and her husband were in the village school, saying, “Panic and shock were everywhere, I was not able to think, and I just ran to the school. When we arrived we saw it had slipped down the hillside. I started shouting my daughter’s name, but she was not there…”

Nisreen continues, “I went on looking for my daughter and husband and I saw a woman saving a girl – she was trying to shift a concrete block where she was half trapped under the rubble. Then I saw my husband carrying my daughter. The school roof had fallen on him. He was bleeding all over, but together we helped six children escape from that place. When we arrived home, he fell down, concussed.”

Like millions of Pakistanis, Nisreen’s life has been irrevocably changed by the devastating earthquake. She and her family are now living in a tent at Jaba camp, near Mansehra, newly set up by the Pakistani military on a large open space. As survivors, they have seen their existence distorted and their futures darkened.

There is not much to do in Jaba camp, only to wait for a winter approaching like a white avalanche. Nisreen likes to meet visitors, anyone who wants to talk about the past, about the present. As we sit together Nisreen and her family cannot stop recalling what happened that day. She remembers, “People were agonizing in front of us. When the chaos decreased a bit, 25 surviving villagers found themselves together. But nobody cared about other people. There was no way we could help, surrounded by corpses, threatened by stones rolling from the mountains. Nobody dared to move.”

Nisreen listens to Silkina, 22, a young woman who lost her husband under the rubble, while he was trying to rescue her and her two children. “Later on, we tried to pull out the bodies, but they were putrefied. We had to tie on the arms and legs. It was constantly raining; we managed to make shelters from the bales of harvested crops. We laid out circles on the ground with our clothes to try and bring the attention of helicopters.”     Describing a typical day in her new camp life Nisreen tells me, “We wake up at five thirty for prayer, and then we send our children and elder to bring breakfast from the communal kitchen. Rations are barely enough - but we all eat”

UNICEF, together with the Government of Pakistan and partners, is striving to give over 1000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jaba as much sense of normal life as possible. For Nisreen and her camp friends, the aid provided to date by the government and the international community is not sufficient, and she notes, “So far, we don’t have any warm clothes for our children.”

But she comments, “Still I prefer to be here than in the first place we went. That was a spontaneous camp, which did not have tents - and there were only plastic sheets to cover us at night. It rained and the children were hungry for two consecutive days.”

Nisreen expresses worries too, “Winter is coming. “There are still people up there,” she says pointing in the direction of the mountains. “Last year we had 3 metres of snow, a long hard winter - and this one will be much worse,” she warns.

She dreams of going back to Sachan Nadi. Her main concern is to get her house back, but she needs security. “We had a piece of land and some animals, but it’s all vanished. Allah will help us. I am afraid of returning - somebody has to go there and ensure us that stones will not fall again from the mountainside.”

At twelve o’clock the children go to fetch lunch, “They tell us you have to be there at twelve, but we get food at three.” No school has yet been set up in Jaba camp, so Nisreen and her friends send their children to the Child Friendly Space provided by UNICEF, were they can play, sing, learn, read and relax, leaving their mothers some time to wash clothes and clean the tent.

As the sun crouches low over the horizon, Nisreen speaks of her concerns, “I am tired of being worried, of thinking about the future,” and adds, “At this time of day families gather and talk about what we had before - and how we’ve lost it all…”

Seven o’clock is dinner time, “Only rice, every day,” she says. “The children are not used to biscuits; they are used to chapatti (local bread). Before the earthquake we had rice only once a month. They are not used to cold milk but we have no way to heat it. And then the food is distributed at night; at times the children fall asleep before they have eaten.”

At day’s end Nisreen’s husband, returns from work. He has been lucky to get a temporary job at the registration point. “He lost three fingers, so he only has two left to write,” she says. Nisreen scans the sky as darkness covers Jaba camp and sighs, “We will talk and talk till the moon comes out, but these days, even the moon comes out late in Pakistan.”

 

 

 

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