By Laura Sheahen, Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member from the USA)
When floodwaters rose in his village in southern Pakistan, Muhammad Idrees spent the long, hot days floating. Sleeping on a raft built from tree branches, watching over his waterlogged house, Muhammad battled mosquitoes and snakes. His wheat crop was gone; so was some of his livestock. He piled household goods in the middle of the raft, determined to keep what he could.
Muhammad’s wife Sharifa had already fled their village by boat with their three children. “I was shouting because the boat seemed unbalanced,” remembers Sharifa, 30. With other women and children, they stayed away almost a month.
Now the family of five is back in their village, a small hamlet of 60 families. Cut off from the mainland by a water-breached road, the entire village is covered in thick mud and dotted with shallow pools.
Like hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis, Muhammad and Sharifa will have to start over. Their home is still standing, but they’re worried about staying in it because of the flood damage. “We sleep under a tree,” says Muhammad.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas US member) is distributing emergency aid to families throughout Pakistan. In Muhammad’s region, the CRS kits include tarps, poles and mosquito nets for temporary shelter, along with soap, towels, sleeping mats, buckets, and water purification tablets. “We really need the shelter materials and the sleeping mats,” says Muhammad. “And the soap, too.”
In a dusty schoolyard near crops of banana and rice, fathers who have walked from local villages wait their turn for the aid and talk about the flood. “The water was four feet high in our house,” says one man who lost his livestock and four acres of cotton. “The water’s still there. We can’t go home.”
CRS has already given kits to 6,000 families and will continue until 19,000 families have been reached. Netting and hygiene items will help villagers fight the threat of diarrhea, skin diseases, and mosquito-borne illnesses that so often appear after severe flooding. Shelters made from poles and tarps will shield them from the blistering 110-degree sun–or against more rain if it comes.
With a bucket and other goods in hand, Muhammad Idrees sets off for home, where his raft now rests on soft mud. It will take time to rebuild what he has lost, but at least his family will be more protected with the kit items: “Everything will really help.”
Laura Sheahen is CRS’ Regional Information Officer for Asia. This article was edited by Caritas staff.