Livelihoods / Pakistan / South Asia

A lifetime’s work and livestock swept away in Pakistan

Flood Rajanpur

The flooding in Rajanpur, in Pakistan’s Punjab region, 14 August 2010. A man stranded with his remaining animals on a bit of unflooded ground waves for help (photo by Mudassir Ejaz Khan).

An Op-Ed in today’s New York Times, written by Daniyal Mueenuddin, a Pakistani mango farmer and writer (author of the story collection ‘In Other Rooms, Other Wonders’), offers the following heartbreaking slice of life ‘washed away’ in the Pakistani floods. (Note that the image above and below are unrelated to the story of the family and cow told below by Mueenuddin. For more images of the flooding by Mudassir Ejaz Khan, go to Mud$i’s Photostream on Flickr.)

‘The hundreds of people camped on the levee were those who had no biraderi [clan] outside the flooded area, or who couldn’t afford to make the journey to them. Each family had claimed a little spot, made it home, rigged up some sort of shelter like a blanket on a frame of branches. Many had rescued a bag or two of grain, and they sat combing this out in the dirt, trying to dry it. As I walked past, I could smell that much of the grain had spoiled, a bitter loamy odor.

‘These families’ poverty and loss shone in the little piles of their belongings, the things they had carried with them when the water came: two or three cheap tin plates, a kettle. In one family’s encampment, discordantly, sat a dresser with a mirrored door — how did the man who had brought that through the floodwater think it would be useful?

‘I found most pitiful a family gathered around a prostrate brown-and-white brindled cow. The father told me that the cow had been lost in the water for four days, and the previous night it had clambered up on another section of the levee, a mile away. The people of this area recognize their cattle as easily as you or I recognize a cousin or neighbor — they sleep with their animals around them at night, and graze them all day; their animals are born and die near them. Someone passing by told the family that their cow had been found, and the father went and got it and led it to their little encampment.

‘In the early morning the cow had collapsed, and I could see it would soon be dead. Its eyes were beginning to dull, as the owner squatted next to it, sprinkling water into its mouth, as if it were possible to revive it. Its legs were swollen from standing in water, and its chest and torso were covered with deep cuts and scrapes, sheets of raw flesh where branches rushing past must have hit it.

‘The rest of the family sat nearby on a string bed, resigned, waiting for the end. This was their wealth, but when it died they would tip it into the water and let it float away to the south. Through the past few days they had seen it all, houses collapsed, trees uprooted, grain spoiled, and this was just one more blow.

‘Driving back to my farm, which has (so far) been spared from the flood, an image of the cow’s ordeal kept coming to me: splashing through the flood for hours and hours, at dusk or in the blank overcast night, with nothing around it but a vast expanse of water stretching away, an image of perfect loneliness. It must have found high ground, waited there as the water rose, then set off again, driven by hunger. In the immensity of the unfolding tragedy, this littler one, this moment of its death, seemed comprehensible to me, significant.

Flood Sukkur

People with their dead and surviving livestock assets in the flooded waters of Sukkur, in Pakistan’s Punjab (photo by Mudassir Ejaz Khan).

Below continued from the New York Times Op-Ed:

‘. . . The generosity of these people’s relatives, their biraderi, cannot possibly carry them through. They are ruined, and there are millions of them.

‘This disaster is not like an earthquake or a tsunami. In the 2005 earthquake in northern Pakistan, 80,000 people died more or less at one blow; whereas the immediate death toll from this flood is likely to be in the low thousands. The loss of property, however, is catastrophic. It is as if a neutron bomb exploded overhead, but instead of killing the people and leaving their houses intact, it piled trees upon the houses and swept away the villages and crops and animals, leaving the people alive. . . .’

Read Mueenuddin’s whole opinion piece at the New York Times, A lifetime, washed away, 18 August 2010

2 thoughts on “A lifetime’s work and livestock swept away in Pakistan

  1. From FAO:

    ‘Hundreds of thousands of livestock – cared for primarily by women and kept for milk, meat and draught power – have died in the floods. Animals that have survived lack feed and urgent veterinary support. Livestock deaths are a crippling loss for poor households as the cost to replace them is equivalent to years of earnings.

    ‘FAO and its partners in the Agriculture Cluster are working to scale up response plans and funding requirements to meet the urgent needs of Pakistani farmers on time. It is essential that every effort is made to avert further livestock losses and support the upcoming Rabi wheat planting season, beginning in September/October 2010.’

  2. And this, also from FAO, on 17 August:

    Click to access Pakistan_ExecutiveBrief__17082010.pdf

    • Preventing livestock losses is a time-sensitive challenge. Without emergency feed and veterinary support, tens of thousands more will perish.
    • Keeping surviving livestock alive will enable herds to be rebuilt through a programme of natural herd increase during the next calving season. The additional young animals are necessary to rebuild livestock numbers, while milk production will contribute as an indispensable source of food security for vulnerable families.
    • Time-critical needs: (i) distribution of emergency feed and essential veterinary supplies; (ii) provision of emergency animal shelter material.

    ‘More than 200 000 livestock have died throughout the country, in addition to 100 percent poultry losses in many districts. Green and dry fodder was either washed away while drying in the fields or in storage, or damaged due to dirt and silt deposits and therefore no longer suitable for consumption.

    ‘Reports from Balochistan indicate that 15 percent of all livestock, potentially over a million small and large animals, have been affected. Over 725 000 medium and large animals in KPK alone require emergency feed and veterinary support. Field reports from Sindh highlight that people are arriving at concentration points with large numbers of animals. There is high risk of disease spreading among weakened animals. Thousands of poultry farms and aquaculture businesses have also been destroyed.

    ‘The loss of livestock not only represents a loss of immediate income, food (milk and meat) and draught power, but also family savings and investment over many years (sometimes generations).’

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