Displaced by the river
Children and families uprooted by the floods struggle to survive Pakistan’s harsh winters
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan - 10-year-old Noorullah grew up by the banks of Panjkora river in the tranquil Upper Dir District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The river has always served as a lifeline for Noorullah’s and thousands of families’ living alongside the meandering river.
“I used to catch plenty of fish in this river with my grandfather during the summers”, reminisces Noorullah. I always felt blessed to be living next to the river.”
He cautiously stands on the snow covered banks and watches the icy cold river flowing. “The sound of the flowing water used to feel soothing. Now I fear it.”
Six months back, torrential monsoon rains dumped nearly 10 years equivalent of rains causing the most catastrophic floods in Pakistan’s history. The once calm Panjkora river swelled to mammoth proportions and swallowed Noorullah’s and surrounding villages.
The river used to give so much. That day, it took everything.
“The sound of the flowing water used to feel soothing. Now I fear it.”
The 4th grader vividly recalls the fateful morning. It was a school day. Noorullah and his family were enjoying their breakfast when the phone rang. A frantic voice on the other end, his father’s friend, urged them to immediately evacuate and head for higher grounds. “The river has washed away several houses located upstream. We were next!,” says Noorullah. The family hastily grabbed anything they could from the house and left for a relative’s house in Dir city.
The raging river swept away Noorullah’s house and many of their belongings. The only thing left was the remnants of 2 rooms. “The rest of the house vanished as if it never existed. The family - 6 siblings, parents and grandparents – lived with Noorullah’s relative in the city for the next 3 months before finally returning to what was left of their house.
“It was hurtful to come back to nothing. My family would often help others in my village. Now we have nothing left and needed help. A few relatives chipped in and helped us to build three makeshift rooms to live in.”
The family of 10 had barely squeezed into their tiny abode when the frigid sub-zero winters engulfed the village. Winters in Upper Dir are notably harsher than other parts of Pakistan with heavy snowfalls and temperatures dropping as low as -10 degrees Celsius.
The derelict shelters offered little protection for Noorullah, his siblings, and other children living in Upper Dir. The threat to children's well-being and survival increased with every drop in the mercury. To make matters worse, most lost all their warm clothes and blankets in the floods.
Acting urgently, UNICEF dispatched warm clothes, shoes, gloves, hats, blankets and quilts to flood-affected children and families in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Working in partnership with the government, UNICEF distributed over 48,000 winter kits, directly benefiting over 2,000 families in eight critical flood-affected districts.
“Winter in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is extremely cold. We knew we needed to respond immediately to make sure all children and families affected by the flood are able to survive the winter months,” says Zaheer Ahmed Durrani, UNICEF’s Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and Emergency Focal Person in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “With the help of the provincial government, we have reached the most vulnerable children and families in remote areas. It will take families several more months, if not years to rebuild what they lost in the floods but with our assistance, they know that they are not alone in their struggle,” he adds.