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In Pakistan, villagers and Church officials struggle with floods

Heavy rains cause hundreds of deaths as region recovers from monsoon storms

In Pakistan, villagers and Church officials struggle with floods

The Caritas Pakistan office in Islamabad-Rawalpindi diocese has planned three medical camps in flood-affected villages of Mianwali district. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry)

Lucia Bibi and her children were sleeping when their world collapsed upon them. At one in the morning Aug. 3, on the third continuous day of torrential rainfall, her small house gave out.

"Everything came down on us with a thump. I clutched straw with my left hand but when I tried to raise my right arm, I just couldn’t move it," Bibi, 43, recalled, two weeks after much of her village was destroyed.

It took neighbors thirty minutes to pull out the widow. Her eldest daughter, who was trapped for almost an hour, still cannot walk due to an injured leg.

"I prayed for penance during all that time. I prayed for a miracle. Everything in our room was damaged; even the charpoys [wooden bed] on which we were sleeping were broken," she said. "But we are glad to be alive. My faith is stronger and I will give the testimony in our Church."

Bibi and her family now live under bamboo trees in front of their damaged home. The salvaged items are piled up in one of the roofless rooms and covered with a polyethylene sheet. Her house was among 40 buildings destroyed by lashing rains in Mariakhel village, Punjab province, earlier this month.

While floods hit the country every year, Pakistan has struggled with particularly devastating monsoon rains this season. Two hundred and eight people have died thus far and more than a million people have been forced to evacuate, according to the government's National Disaster Management Authority.

"The weather pattern has become very unpredictable. Continual showers are damaging the standing cotton crop. I had to temporarily settle a family in the store of our Marian Grotto after their house was flattened. They have five children and nowhere else to go," said Fr Anthon IIlyas who hosted an Aug. 13 medical camp at the parish house.

 

Regional effects

The monsoon rains have also devastated other parts of the region. In Myanmar, for example, authorities have confirmed the deaths of more than 100 people, particularly in its impoverished western states. Relief groups are now struggling to help affected families rebuild. In India, more than 180 people have died.

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Relief organizations, including local offices of Caritas, the Catholic Church’s social arm, have stepped in to help.

The Caritas Pakistan office in Islamabad-Rawalpindi diocese has planned three medical camps and relief distribution in the flood- and rain-affected villages of Mianwali district this month.

“The doctor has arrived, the free medical camp has started. Bring your identity cards if you wish to get medicine,” announced the catechist over a loudspeaker as Caritas workers arrived for their first intervention in the disaster this year.

A team of two nurses and a doctor treated 128 patients, including Bibi and her mother-in-law. The medical records showed flood-related disease like skin allergies, fever and diarrhea along with chronic illness. Elderly women placed their hands on worker’s heads and blessed them while leaving the Church premises.

Apart from medicine, Bibi requested a roof under which she can sleep safely with her children. All her savings were spent to treat her husband, who died in January.

The challenges remain numerous, said officials, who urged further assistance and donations.

“Many families are still without shelter and more rain is coming. I visited villages drowned in rivers and have seen people in difficult situations. I request all Caritas members and well-wishers to join hands with us in saving lives and people who have been affected,” said Amjad Gulzar, executive director of Caritas Pakistan.

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