Pakistan: Poverty in the beauty of Swat valley

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

by Saskia Bolt, ICCO

Swat is one of the most well-known regions of Pakistan, a region of splendid, hilly scenery which in spring is even more lovely. Then, everything is green and the trees are filled with fruit. This region should be known for its tourism, as it was until 2008 when the fighting started between the army and the Taliban.

But today, January 2011, mention of Swat symbolises something else: flood recovery. Bags of wheat, tomato seeds and of fertilizer are being distributed to nearly 280 families by ACT Alliance member Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe. Dozens of men, dressed in beige and brown tunics with long sleeves and wide trousers, stand neatly in line in front of a small office. Among them is Sher Muhammed, in his fifties (“My age? My hair is grey and I have a beard”), he smiles.

During the floods, his house was damaged but then temporarily repaired. What remains of this land is strewn with boulders. But Muhammed knows how to deal with the 50kg of wheat seeds he has received. He has every hope of harvesting wheat in March, at least, if the rains come soon. Fortunately, his wife is a seamstress who also earns an income for their family of 10.

The distribution of relief goods takes a whole day. The men show their identity cards, sign for the goods or make thumbprints and have their names are ticked off a list. Often, they turn up with members of their family or neighbours to transport the bags on a lorry or in a car.

Ibrahim, who is about 40, is working with a pickaxe to make his road passable to cars and so pedestrians will no longer stumble over the rocks strewn across the place. He receives money from DKH, as well as tools to do the job. Work as an agricultural worker is non-existent at the moment. Isn’t this labour too heavy? “I am used to work hard. I have to sustain 10 family members,” he says. He is worried most about the children. The girls have to marry soon. And the boys - will they find a job?

A bit further down the road is Guljana, 28, who works through DKH, talking to a group of women from the neighbourhood on hygiene in and around the house. Afterwards, they receive a hygiene kit of soap, washing powder, a tub, shampoo, a water filter, a nail clipper, toothbrushes and toothpaste, towels and a mirror.

Nasrien, 14, is among those waiting. The eldest daughter of a family of 11 children, her mother sent her here, partly to hear the information but particularly to get a hygiene kit. Nasrien has already suffered the consequences of dirty drinking water. Her baby sister has an eye infection and other family members have stomach problems. The water filter is more than welcome as the quality of the drinking water has decreased since the floods.