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Rain & Flood Damage in Pakistan (The Situation in the Diocese of Faisalabad)

Loretto Sister Nasreen Daniel, October 8, 2010

From mid-July 2010 till the end of August 2010 Pakistan was devastated by monster floods that swept through the length of the country, from the mountains of the northwest to the Arabian Sea in the south. Rivers overflowed, levees were breached, houses and cattle were swept away and tens of thousands of acres of farmland ruined.

The province of Punjab (where Faisalabad is situated) is the agricultural heartland of Pakistan. It is the “Land of the Five Rivers”, a flat plain with a vast network of irrigation canals, levees and embankments to conserve the river water and to channel it for irrigation. Mercifully, the area of the Diocese of Faisalabad was spared from the massive destruction caused by the floods surging through the river Indus and the River Jhelum. Only a few villages in the south of the diocese, near the city of Jhang, have been inundated and are still under water. The situation of the people of these villages is pathetic as their houses and fields are still under 2 to 3 feet of water. They need food, clean drinking water, and medical care. Tents have been provided by Caritas as temporary shelter.

However, quite apart from the flood waters, the unprecedented rains which started in mid-July and continued till yesterday, have also caused widespread damage. Many poor people in the villages, and also in the city slum areas, build simple houses with roofs made of light wooden beams covered with reed mats and spread over with mud plaster. Such simple houses can withstand normal occasional rain and wind and are fairly sturdy. But these houses could not withstand the heavy and incessant rains this year. Hundreds of roofs have caved in, and many houses have collapsed completely. These are the people who need help, so that they made have a roof over their heads. Autumn will set in next month, followed by winter.

Farmers are also badly hit. In Khushpur, a Catholic village founded in 1901, and 9 other surrounding villages, the rain water is stagnant in the fields and there is no way of draining it out. After three weeks the standing crops of rice, sugar cane, cotton and corn are beginning to rot. Farmers fear that, if the rains continue, there will be no possibility of the water drying up to enables them to plant the next crop, wheat, which is the staple food of the people of Pakistan. Farmers are desperate, as some of them have also lost livestock in addition to their crops.

The fourth category of people that need help is the brick kiln workers. Most of the buildings in Pakistan are built with baked bricks made from clay. Making bricks is hard labour, all done by hand. The workers are paid a pittance according to the number of bricks they can make per day. There are dozens of brick kilns in the diocese employing hundreds of workers, most of whom are Christian.

As some of the brick kilns are under water, the workers have no employment and thus a way of earning a living. Since over a month they have not been able to earn their daily wages. It will take another month or more for the water to dry up, so that production of bricks can begin again. These people need temporary help with food rations and money to enable them to survive until they can earn their living again.

Many Religious Congregations in the Diocese, as well as parish groups, have joined hands to help in any way possible. Recently the Bishop, Msgr. Joseph Coutts, called a meeting of all Christians NGOs (about 40 in number) and Caritas Pakistan. He stressed that it was necessary to work in a spirit of co-operation rather than that of competition as this was a disaster that needed all the help we could muster.

The Catholic Bishops of Pakistan called for a day of prayer and solidarity in all churches throughout Pakistan on 24th August 2010 (the same day as Earth Healing Day for Pakistan). It was also a way of making aware those who had not been affected, of their Christian duty to reach out to their needy brothers and sisters in this massive disaster. Sisters of Loretto have been very active in assisting the relief efforts in the diocese.