Bereaved Pakistanis speak of flood horrors

Image caption, The rail track in the Azakhel area is one of the few places free of water

The flood waters in north-west Pakistan rose so quickly and were so strong that people were swept off their feet as they scrambled for higher ground. The BBC's M Ilyas Khan spoke to some of the bereaved as they struggle to cope in the aftermath.

Deedar Gul did not expect the flood to rise so suddenly.

"When the water came, we moved our women and children to high ground. Three of my daughters stayed behind to help the men pack up whatever belongings we could carry with us," he said in a calm voice, describing events in Sardaryab village, Charsadda district of north-western Pakistan.

"Within minutes, the current got too strong and the waters rose head high."

Taken by surprise, he was only able to save his youngest daughter. The other two girls, aged 16 and 17, were swept away.

"Their bodies were found three days later, dumped on the bank by receding waters about 6km down the river."

Deaths and displacements

In neighbouring Nowshera district, Mohammad Omar, a resident of an Afghan refugee village, suffered a similar tragedy.

Image caption, People are forced to rummage for usable household goods

"We could see the water rising across the entire area between my village and the river. At first we thought it was rain water, but it continued to rise," he says.

Everybody rushed to the nearby railway track which is on high ground. But Mr Omar was slightly late.

"Three of our women were swept off their feet. We saved two of them, but the third, my brother's wife, was lost. We found her body two days later."

According to the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - formerly known as North West Frontier Province - nearly 800 people have been killed in the rains and floods that hit the region last week.

It says more than 70,000 people have lost their homes.

Aid agencies say at least two million people have been affected in the province. Some are left with damaged houses, others have lost cattle and nearly all have lost their crops and food stocks.

Kabul and Indus rivers

Many deaths and displacements have taken place in the northern mountain region of Malakand and Kohistan, but the bulk of the displacement took place in the plains of Peshawar valley region.

The region, which includes both Nowshera and Charsadda, is heavily populated. It is home to two major rivers, the Kabul and the Indus.

The flooding of these rivers in the monsoon season is not unusual, but only once has it inundated the town of Nowshera before.

That was in 1929.

The population then was less than one-fifth of the current population and flood channels were not as extensively inhabited.

Ziauddinabad village near Nowshera town is built near one such flood channel.

The flash floods from the southern hills filled up the channel, but the swelling river in the north blocked its exit.

At least two women died when a boat that rescued them from their flooded house capsized.

Many more people are missing.

The water has now receded, revealing mud-filled ruins in which residents rummage for usable household goods.

Like the flood-ravaged people all over Nowshera and Charsadda districts, people here are extremely frustrated.

Food and water is supplied by people from the surrounding villages and it comes in small quantities.

There is no government aid, no tents to protect them from the July sun and no machinery to clear pathways.

"We have lost our cattle, our crops and our food stocks. Our women and children have been taken in by people in neighbouring villages, and there is no hope we can set up our kitchens any time soon," says local resident Fazal Karim.

"I've been asking people to take off their shirts and hold a [shirtless] protest on the road. Maybe then our leaders will listen to us."

But many say the government simply does not have the capacity to deal with a disaster of this scale.

"We have an atom bomb, but we have no helicopters and boats for rescue, no machinery to clear the roads and build temporary bridges quickly. We are just not geared to enable people in a crisis," says Mohammad Haroon, a lawyer in Nowshera.

Too little aid

Humiliation and anger are apparent from the faces of the people who have gathered to receive aid outside a politician's house in the northern parts of Peshawar district.

Image caption, Many wheat stores are waterlogged

There are too many people and too little aid.

So the politician's personal aides and some policemen on the scene arbitrarily decide who should get aid and who should not.

And there are widespread accusations that many people have been receiving more than their share by repeatedly sneaking into the queue.

"For three days I have waited here from dawn till dusk, but haven't received a single grain of wheat. They only give it to their potential voters," says Karim Khan.

In the absence of any meaningful government response, it is everyone for themselves.

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