"Children and their mothers were in deep sleep. It was quiet and dark. There was still some time before dawn. Instantly, we heard strong tides of water. There were screams of young and the old. Soon the screams disappeared, not because people went silent, but the noise of heavy waves of water absorbed those screams. It was water coming from the mountains in the form of flash floods and people started running away from the river. Some were able to run away, others who were asleep, the river water flooded them away with it," this is how the people of Kohistan told the story of the floods to me.
It was early in April when I first heard the reports of floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The areas affected were mostly those located in mountains of Shangla and Kohistan districts, with no easy access. Therefore for days there were hardly any confirmed reports about the magnitude of floods and the loss.
My colleagues and I didn’t wait.
We started the journey to the areas to do an assessment and see what people really needed. We visited two tehsils (sub-districts) of Kohistan: Pattan and Dassu. We even had to walk for miles to reach the affected areas, because the roads were blocked. We met district authorities, health officers, community elders and affected people too.
In Kohistan, the water destroyed about 1,000-1,200 houses, meaning 1,000-1,200 families lost their homes. Roads were blocked due to landslides, mobile services were cut off, two bridges had collapsed, a school was devastated, a madrassa was almost rooted from the earth, and so on…
The people told me it was the biggest flood seen in this area in 100 years.
The local management told me that about 70 young children were struck in the madrassa building, and the flow was so powerful that they were afraid that the building could be washed away. Fortunately a timely rescue operation by local authorities saved the children.
It is mostly people living near the river who are affected. It’s a risk to live near the river, but they need water for their crops and animals, so have no other option.
Many families have moved into their relatives’ houses. A typical family size in KPK is around 10, and one can imagine the misery if a new family of 10 joins a house which is already small for the family living there.
The floods also damaged three basic health units. In an area where healthcare facilities are already limited, the destruction of those medical facilities could cause more trouble for the residents of flood-hit areas. At the moment the biggest need has been for shelter, but we are prepared to help provide healthcare and medicines if needed.
MSF provided people with shelter and other relief items such as fabric, buckets, utensils, soap, washing powder and other non-food items. The first supply of 825 kits has been disseminated in Kohistan District.
Negative perceptions about international organizations here can make it challenging for us to work in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Our approach of involving community elders and local authorities has helped us manage a rapid distribution without any problems to people in need.
We held numerous meetings with community leaders, briefing them on MSF’s principles and how we work. In the end, all the local elders and district administration authorities gave us their support so we could work.
I am hoping that people can go back to their normal lives very soon. Children will go back to school in good health. The river will start flowing with its normal pace. The people will start living a normal life again. This will happen very soon, and my colleagues and I were able to contribute to this.
It gives me satisfaction to help people. This is what MSF is for, in Pakistan and around the world.
Image shows distribution of essential items © MSF