The European network Alliance2015 is facing the flood emergency in Sindh, Southern Pakistan, with the support of the European Commission.
by Nicoletta Ianniello
A golden veil disappears with a rustle behind a school door. We are in Tandoo Soomro, a remote village in the countryside of Sindh, the poorest region of Pakistan, near the border with India, which was severely hit by the floods at the beginning of September 2011. 260 people died, 5 million people lost everything. But the figures are uncertain, and the IDPs could be up to 8 million.
The veil belongs to a beautiful child who came with her family to receive the humanitarian kits provided by Welthungerhilfe and distributed by People in Need. The Alliance2015 programme in Pakistan also involves Acted, Concern Worldwide and Cesvi, and it is financed by ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department.
Today 600 families will get a non-food items kit: jerry cans, carpets, blankets, kitchen tools. The queue is colourful under the warm sun, and it gets longer and longer as the beneficiaries join it after signing the identification form with their fingerprint. Nothing can be neglected: the distribution needs to be managed with extreme professionalism. It is the last step of a long assessment effort in the villages to collect all the data on the most vulnerable people.
Children are the same all over the world, lively and eager to play. But the Pakistani children are less lucky than others. Dahi, 7 years old, lives in a worn-out tent near the village of Judho with her grandmother, two sisters and a little brother. She was crying in a corner when Magalie, the Cesvi person responsible for logistics, met her for the first time. One day her mum left, without saying anything. Dahi has never seen her again since then. «The name of this village comes from my son, the father of my grandchildren - explains the old lady - He was an important man once, but he is disable now. His wife ran away, and so I look after the children by myself. We are very poor, and we survive thanks to international aid. I can give you nothing in return, but I want you to know that I pray for you everyday». Dahi wraps a blue veil around her head like a pirate. She has something special in her sparking eyes. She looks like a little woman when she takes her baby brother in her arms and gives a hand to her sister not to leave her alone.
The landed estate is still the centre of the rural economy in Sindh. The landlords rent their land to the tenants, who are extremely poor and with no rights. The tenants are expected to pay a rent which is 50% of the crops.
Janu and her husband are tenants and Hindu, like 70% of the population in this area. They lost two children in the flood, and they live in a shelter they built with the branches of a tree. They are both beautiful, and I can’t help thinking they would have a different destiny if they were born elsewhere. But they live here, and in spite of all they keep on smiling.
«Water came during the night - says Jagra, a woman from the village of Morio Saandh who has just received the NFI kit - It was everywhere. We ran away, but we lost the crop and the cattle». Her baby, Nayla, doesn’t go to school anymore, as almost all children here. Families live in shelters, tents or under plastic sheets, in the bush or along the roads, which is very dangerous. The hygienic and sanitary conditions are beyond the grasp of the imagination. There are no latrines, no wells, no hand pumps to get drinkable water, and the animals - cows, goats, donkeys, chickens - live together with the human beings. «People drink the water which has been stagnant for months - underlines Magalie from Cesvi - the same water they use to wash themselves and their stuff. We urgently need to intervene: if someone gets cholera, an epidemic will break out. We will go on working, we can count on the support of the European Commission».
Diarrhoea and skin problems are the most common diseases, especially among children. Parmee, 2, is so tiny that she looks like an eight-month-old baby. «The doctor didn’t understand the problem - say her parents - We don’t know what to do».
Later on I meet a group of little students - Naseema, Asma, Faiza, Hiderayat Ullah, Arbabzadi - the only ones since the beginning of my trip. They are coming back from school with the bag on their back. They are shy, but they tell me that they study Urdu, English, social sciences, religion and that they don’t like maths. Yes, children are the same all over the world.
I am sure that one day Shaista’s daughter will be a good student, too. Shaista is one of the local mobilizers of Acted. She has just finished to assess the situation in the villages around Mirpur Khas.
«I feel very lucky for two reasons - she confesses to me - First of all, I got married with the man I love. As is the custom, in Pakistan marriages are arranged within the family, such as between cousins. But my father let me marry a man from another district just because I loved him. Secondly, I had the possibility to study and I got my University degree. I am proud to be a good example for my village community. Many families have decided to let their daughters go to school after seeing my achievements».
Being a woman is not easy in this part of the world. Some families have had 12 daughters trying to conceive a son. «The reason is simple - explains Shaista - If you are a woman, you have no access to work, study, land or property. In a word, you are not a source of income». «But the future of my daughter will be different - adds the Acted mobilizer with steady voice - because I will teach her to be a free woman».
The working day is over. The local staff of People in Need - Anthony, Kashir, Arshad, Shafqat - is ready to go back to the HQs before it gets dark. Along the road a group of men want to thank us. They have dyed their hair, beards and moustaches red. Their teeth are red too, since they are used to chewing nasuuar, a mix of tobacco and Indian leaves which gives a mild sense of excitement. Their glances are full of gratitude and curiosity. At the end of the day, I keep in my mind the faces of these people, their smiles, the brilliant colours of the women’s veils and bracelets, the sweetness of children. And I keep in my heart a surprising sense of spirituality, the strength of the very poor who never lost their God.