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.
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