I arrived in Saidu Sharif, Swat, Pakistan last Sunday to conduct a training for local organizations. Just two days later, unprecedented monsoon rains caused widespread destruction here.
The beautiful tourist areas of Kalam, Bahrain, and Miandam, as well as other parts of Swat, have been severely damaged, with entire villages being swept away. Most villages and even cities have had no electricity for four days, ATMs are offline, and only one cellular network is working. None of the water pumping stations is functioning so nearly everyone is without running water.
I went with some colleagues to Upper Swat yesterday to help assess the damage. When we reached Fatehpur, the road suddenly ended in a 100 meter drop off to the River Swat below. It seemed like an entire part of the road, as well as houses, had been scooped out with a gigantic cup.
This is the only road leading to Miandam, Bahrain and Kalam, where thousands of residents and tourists from all over Pakistan are stranded.
We left our car and climbed a small hill and walked through the tight lanes of a village. There were large groups of families coming back from Madyan, warning us of the terrible situation ahead. We were delighted to find children with coolers and buckets full of natural spring water providing free drinks to the travelers crossing their village.
Food stocks running low
Entering Madyan city we saw relief camps established by the army. Some men mentioned that nearly all the houses in Chel, Shanko and other villages had been destroyed.
We learned that food prices had increased dramatically in the past two days, since new supplies were not reaching the markets. Survivors said they couldn’t afford to purchase enough food for their families, and shopkeepers said they were afraid their stocks might run out in the next three to four days.
The only health facility in Madyan, along with five primary schools, a high school, and a college have been completely destroyed by the flood. The remains of these buildings are nothing more than a few walls jutting out from the raging waves of the River Swat.
Our long journey back to our vehicle in Saidu Sharif involved two treks and two bartered rides till we reached the first break in the road where our car was parked. On the last hill, we helped a middle-aged man carrying a large bundle of food supplies, his aged mother, and his blind son, walk through the village and climb down to the road.
He had lost all of his livestock in the flood. He was taking his family to a relative’s house, but hoped to return soon to salvage whatever was left of his home.
Near Fizaghat, where we stopped in the morning, there was a never ending line of cars. We learned that a small pothole in the road had widened into a large crevasse which was being filled by army trucks. Since it would have taken the entire night to complete the work, we began walking back towards Saidu Sharif.
Using our mobile phones to light the pitch black road, we walked for more than an hour to reach Saidu Sharif.
I felt strangely relieved to return to the safety and comfort of Save the Children’s office, but was saddened to witness the flood’s devastation, which had displaced so many children and families from their homes.