An eye-witness account of destruction at Athara Hazari Tehsil

September 26, 2014

Nisar(Nisar Ahmad)

Destruction all around with a swath of area still under water, Athara Hazari Tehsil in southern Punjab at the first glance literally numbed me. Not even like a shadow of itself, it looked like a proverbial boat broken into pieces amidst a maddening storm. For a while, the magnitude of destruction simply dwarfed my determination to look at such calamities as a perfect opportunity to start things afresh; leaving back archaic approaches to life and social development.

The area is certainly the worst affected part of the country in the wake of ongoing floods. Along with my team at the Human Appeal Int’l (Pak), when I reached the area to assess the ground realities before launching a relief and rehabilitation operation, I immediately realized that years it must take to get things back on even kneel. From scratches the reconstruction journey has to be started and it can be done only by men of unflinching determination and unquestioned credentials.

Officially speaking, more than 385,000 people are directly affected by the flood while well over 25,000 houses are damaged, either partially or completely. Added to it, crops spreading over 337, 000 acre land stand destroyed.

“As you can see for yourself, the destruction is so massive and wide spread that nothing is left untouched; even my pets like parrots and pigeons nursing their nests also could not escape the calamity”, recalled a resident of the areas before adding that “the most depressing moment was to witness animals drowning in the flood while bleating ceaselessly”.

Though official figures are still not available, but it is believed that thousands of animals were killed in the floods. Unfortunately, many more are apprehended to die because of viral diseases and starvation. This has for sure broken the economic backbone of a large number of people associated with livestock sector.

Rehabilitation of the Tehsil would for sure be a Herculean task given the scale of the damage done to the area. To begin with, private and public sector organizations working in health sector need to spring into action sooner than later as a large number of health issues are bound to surface in the Tehsil in coming days. Disposal of dead animals alone appears to be a huge task at the moment and any delay in it could only fan the health problems.

The health professionals in my team warned that complaints related to dengue fever, respiratory and skin infections, gastroenteritis may become quite common in the days ahead. Similarly, they also believed that Emergency Health Kits, Diarrhea kits, water purification

(aquapura) tablets, anti-snake venom, anti-rabies vaccine, Primaqueen tablets for malaria treatment and Rapid Diagnostic Kits for early diagnosis should be the immediate priority of the organizations planning to serve in the area.

Exaggeration aside, health issues have already started raising their head but the concerned authorities do not appear alive to this situation. This may only pile up agonies for the affectees, to say the least.

Reconstruction of more than 20 thousands houses and a large number of educational institutions would be yet another big challenge for the concerned quarters. Since the winter season is just round the corner, the arrangements have to be made at the earliest, lest the children in particular fall an easy prey to it.

Closely associated with it is the issue of rehabilitation of farmers in particular. Since they already have lost their ripen crops and are faced with a precarious situation, they need to be compensated on priority basis. Besides writing off agricultural loans, the provincial government must come up with a comprehensive plan of providing seed and related stuff to them to help them face this calamity.

Lastly, the scale of devastation leaves no doubt behind that Pakistan will once again has to seek international support and aid to cope with the challenge at hand. To many, it might be unavoidable but as a dignified nation we badly need to devise a mechanism to escape such tragedies in future. Such easily avoidable calamities contribute only to make us a laughing stock before the comity of nations almost every other year.

(The writer is the Country Director of Human Appeal Int’l (Pak) and is based at Islamabad. He can be reached at: nisar@humanappeal.org.pk)