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As Floodwaters Recede, Anger Grows in Northwest Pakistan

by Saaed Shah

CHARSADDA, Pakistan - In the village of Drab Korona in northwest Pakistan, Sirajuddin returned to where his house had stood to salvage what he could. What he found was just a shallow muddy pool.

A boy walks into his family house which was destroyed by floodwaters in Mehmood Kod village in Pakistan's Muzaffargarh district of Punjab province August 23, 2010. (REUTERS/Reinhard Krause) "This was our house," the 30-year-old Sirajuddin, who goes by only one name as is common in the region, said as he pointed to the puddle.

In northwest Pakistan, some villagers are returning home after the massive flooding only to find destruction and an absence of government help.

The northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the first hit by the deluge created by monsoon rains at the end of July. The region, bordering Afghanistan, is also in the front line of the battle against the Pakistani Taliban.

Anger is growing at the lack of aid, a fury directed at the provincial government and the national administration, both run by secular, pro-Western political parties, raising fears that the crisis will build support for Islamist forces.

Kamran Rehman Khan, a senior official in the Charsadda administration, said the floods affected 74,000 families in the district, roughly 500,000 people, with 54,000 of those families now housed in schools or tents.

"The whole catastrophe is overwhelming," said Khan. "Whatever we do is not enough."

While further south in the country the floods continue to the eat up more land, in the northwest, the waters have receded, removing the danger of drowning but leaving behind the threat of disease and a population that's homeless and hungry. Pakistan's Federal Flood Commission reports that 178,484 homes were destroyed or damaged in this province alone.

Before the great flood came, there were some 120 homes in the village of Drab Korona, in the Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Today, only a mosque, two schools and the odd brick wall of other buildings survived. The rest of the buildings were made mostly of mud. A torrent of freezing water, which eventually went roof-high, had come in the dead of night. By the next afternoon, almost everything was washed away.

With the floodwaters gone, Drab Korona looks like a muddy garbage site, a jumble of battered ruins encased in thick sludge. Strewn around is broken furniture, trucks, rafters that had been used to support houses, evidence that homes once stood there.

Under a baking sun and sapping humidity, the village air is heavy with the gut-churning smell of rotting flesh, a stench that seems to come in waves. Most of the buffalos and other animals were drowned. Their carcasses lie putrefying somewhere under the slushy mess. Villagers who've returned to search for belongings complain of skin problems. The stagnant water and animal remains have turned places like Drab Korona into breeding colonies for germs, medical aid groups warn.

Sirajuddin's home and belongings were swept clean away. He had lived there with his wife and four children, and the families of his two brothers, in a little three-room mud dwelling set in a modest compound. Some bricks that had made up his one solid wall are all that remain, piled at one end of his plot.

They had bought the house six years ago for 140,000 rupees ($1,650), with money loaned and gifted from relatives. Before the floods, Sirajuddin used to make 4,000 to 5,000 rupees ($47 to $59) per month as a laborer.

"We don't have anything now, even to feed ourselves, so how can we remake this house?" said Sirajuddin, who's now living in a tent in another part of Charsadda district. "Our relatives are giving us food, but how long can they do that?"

Most of the village is now in a makeshift tent camp that has sprung up on the main road nearby. A dozen or so people are crowded into each tent, on a site in the blazing sun that appears to receive little or no help from the authorities or aid organizations. There, they rely on the charity of townsfolk, who arrive by car with supplies of food to hand out.

Next to Drab Korona, the village of Fakirabad Majoki had been a marginally more prosperous settlement of around 1,000 houses, set on higher ground, many of the homes were made from brick. But to save money, locals had used mud rather than cement to bind the bricks. The homes simply dissolved in the flood, leaving mounds of bricks were walls had once stood.

Unlike, Drab Korona, now a wasteland, a few residents have come back to live in Fakirabad Majoki.

Farman Ali's home has a surviving but badly bowed compound wall. But inside, the walls are gone. He's pitched a tent on his plot, where he and his seven children now live. It's better than sleeping on the side of the main road, where they had been staying. Over the last 25 years, Ali had slowly converted the original mud-built rooms into brick. Earlier this year, he took early retirement from a lowly job at the state electricity company. Now, the home is wiped out and has hasn't started to receive his pension.

"We got out when the water had reached over our heads," said Ali. "At least we're alive. How we'll live, I don't know. We have faith in God. He will do something. Send some angel, perhaps."

Amid the fatalism of some, there is also burning anger, at the authorities, in particular the provincial government, which is run by the secular Awami National Party. Charsadda district was the party's base, but in Fakirabad Majoki, residents spat expletives at the ANP, praising instead the mildly Islamist party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, which they said had come to their aid or at least shown concern.

"The ANP is not here, it doesn't exist for us," said Hameedullah, a 55-year-old villager. "Asfandyar (Wali Khan, the ANP leader) hasn't come here, even to his own area. If I saw him, I would become a suicide bomber against him myself."

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