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By Abdullah Jan
PESHAWAR – “There was a heavy downpour on the mountains last night, and floods are expected anytime. Secure your belongings and valuables, and move your families to safer places.”
Shahnaz Begum heard the nearby mosque's announcement July 28 at her house in the suburbs of Peshawar.
Shahnaz phoned her brother, who arrived to help her secure her household belongings amid the pouring rain.
“My brother brought the errand boys. They cleared the ground floor and shifted everything upstairs in no time,” she said.
The 50-year-old housewife still remembers how flood waters in the 2008 monsoon season badly damaged her house and valuables. The Bundi Nullah rainwater channel near her house overflows during heavy rains, pouring over crops and nearby residences.
"This time we were quick to secure our stuff in time," Shahnaz said. Water levels climbed five feet over the next three hours. Tens of thousands of families lost their life savings in the floods, which ravaged at least 13 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The swelling waters killed 797 people, affected 600,000 families and left more than 700,000 homeless in 468 cities, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government said. Floods soaked standing crops on more than 1,000 acres, damaged 55,587 houses and washed away 92 bridges.
They destroyed 85 educational institutions and 32 health centres. About 4.5m Pakistanis have been affected by the flooding, the UN reported.
“These floods have reversed development in the province for at least 50 years,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti said.
The government plans to divert its developmental budget to aid flood-hit families, he said. "I am left with nothing," said Mohammad Jehanzeb, 30, sitting in the ruins of his three-bedroom house.
The father of six lost everything. His house collapsed as water ravaged his village in Charsadda. “The water level surged very fast.”
Jehanzeb's family has moved in with relatives in nearby Khazana. He is waiting for the water to recede so he can retrieve whatever is left in the ankle-high mud.
Shazia, of Charsadda, and her family lost their house and are in a relief camp. "My two sisters' dowries were swept away in the flood waters -- their marriages will be delayed," she said.
Their marriages were scheduled for September. The floods destroyed dowry items worth 80,000 rupees (US $950) that the family had gathered during the past three years.
Farzana Bibi, 28, asks every new entrant to the relief camp in Peshawar about her missing parents and four brothers.
“Nobody knows anything about them,” said a crying Farzana, whom rescuers plucked from flood waters in Nowshera and brought to the Peshawar camp July 29.
Floods ravaged Farzana’s village, Banda Sheikh Ismail, and knocked down her house. Her father and brothers had gone to work and her mother was visiting relatives, while she was at home with a sister and a brother.
“Water came so fast we didn’t have time to inform our parents and brothers,” said Farzana. She suspects that her missing family members died in the floods, she said.
This week's flooding is the second natural disaster in two years for Salma Bibi, 50, of Peshawar. Her house was badly damaged in 2008, when torrential rains caused limited suburban flooding.
The latest flood destroyed Salma's house. Her family now lives with relatives.
“We are still paying off the loan my husband obtained from the bank to repair the damage (from the last flood),” Salma said.
Her family has no idea how to cope with the recent disaster, she said.
Ghulam Mohammad of Nowshera and his family live in a tent on the side of the road. Flood waters swept away their house, leaving behind only rubble and mud.
“One child is very sick, and I have no money,” said Ghulam, 50. His two elder sons are in Peshawar looking for work to feed their family.
Habibullah Shah, 45, lost his house in Chamkani and a kiosk, his only source of livelihood.
“I’m totally ruined; my house, valuables and only source of income are gone,” he said. Habibullah brought his wife and five children to a relief camp in Peshawar.
Government officials and philanthropists distribute three daily meals to the camp's residents.
Shahnaz and her family live with relatives. They cleared their house of mud the third day after the calamity, but two additional days of rain that overflowed the Bundi Nullah undid their work. Like many, Shahnaz prays for an end to the flooding – but weather forecasters predict continued rain during August.