Image: Villagers cross the Swat River
B.K.Bangash  /  AP
Villagers cross the Swat River on a makeshift bridge in Kalam in Pakistan's Swat Valley on Nov. 1. The floods that swept through the country began in the northwestern Swat Valley and were at their most ferocious. Only one of 51 bridges survived. Hundreds of homes and businesses were swept away in hours. The floods that hit Pakistan in the summer of 2010 took 2,000 lives and affected 20 million people, of whom 7 million remain homeless.
updated 11/7/2010 12:22:57 PM ET 2010-11-07T17:22:57

The floods that hammered Pakistan this summer took 2,000 lives and affected 20 million people, of whom 7 million remain homeless. At their peak, one-fifth of Pakistan was under water, more than 3 meters (10 feet) deep in some places.

As the disaster slowly unfolded, a world that had just opened its wallets for Haiti's earthquake victims was called upon to respond again. The militaries of the U.S., Japan and Australia joined the rescue effort, while other nations sent tents, medicines and relief goods.

The U.N. says just over $760 million has so far been donated — less than half of what it says is needed to help all those affected.

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Three months later, Associated Press correspondents visited towns and villages in the four hardest hit regions along the 4,000-km (2,500-mile) trail of destruction to witness a nation struggling to recover — with varying degrees of success.


SWAT VALLEY, north Pakistan — The upper reaches of this valley are again passable — on a road hacked out of hillsides and over creaky bridges by villagers using shovels, pickaxes or their bare hands.

The road stands as a tribute to their resolve to rebuild what was lost when the worst floods in memory hit the remote and scenic valley.

But it takes 14 hours to drive its 50 kilometers (30 miles) of boulder-strewn dirt and bridges made of salvaged timber. And journey's end — a holiday resort-turned-ghost town — shows the challenges that remain.

"It is a test given by God," said Abdul Wadood, who crammed with 15 dusty and exhausted members of his family into a jeep headed down the valley. As he spoke an explosion echoed through the valley. Army engineers were trying to widen the track.

The floods that swept through the country began in the northwestern Swat Valley and were at their most ferocious. Only one of 51 bridges survived. Hundreds of homes and businesses were swept away in hours. Electricity plants were destroyed, along with hotels for the tourists who frequent Swat's beauty spots.

American army Chinook helicopters still crisscross the valley, ferrying food, building materials and passengers. But for now, a handmade road is the only route for travelers heading to warmer areas as winter approaches.

Commanders of the army force, which is still in the valley after last year's anti-Taliban offensive, say the civilians did 90 percent of the road work.

"Rely on the government?" said Abul Razaq, a 70-year-old man shoring up a bridge with sand and stones. "We have to solve our problems on our own."

The road reaches Kalam, a mountain-ringed holiday town at the top of the valley that was ravaged by the floods. Even before the flooding, Taliban violence had scared away most of visitors. Now, there is no chance of them returning anytime soon.



ZAKHI KONA, north Pakistan — Kalam Khan fills a sling with wheat seeds and sets off behind his oxen and plow, sowing land that two months ago was under 1.5 meters (five feet) of water. In the next field, children bounce on the back of a tractor turning soil.

Many farmers in northwest Pakistan couldn't imagine growing a winter wheat crop this year, yet thousands are doing so, and others farther south will begin soon, easing fears of shortages in the country's staple food.

Yet, nationwide the outlook remains bleak for many farmers, who account for most of the 20 million affected by the floods. Large areas of Sindh province in the south remain under water. Irrigation channels across the country have silted up, and over a million farm animals died in the devastation.

Some officials see a comforting irony: They predict some bumper harvests because the floods dumped fresh nutrients on the soil.

Farmers are less sure. "The old people around here say sometimes it has a good effect, sometimes bad," said Mohammed Tariq, who owns about a hectare (two acres) of land by the River Bara, which burst its banks in late July. "We will have to wait and see what nature does."

The U.N. is distributing sacks of wheat seeds and fertilizer to 150,000 households in the northwest. Families also receive a smaller amount of peas, spinach, turnip and tomato seeds. The wheat seeds are paid for by the U.S., and come in sacks stamped "A gift from the American people."

At a nearby village warehouse, farmers line up to pick up their bags of seeds and take them back to their homes in wheelbarrows or on donkey-drawn carts along streets where flood waters were once 10 feet high.

"This is good, hard seed," said Khan as he dropped the red wheat seeds down a chute into a furrow cut by the wooden plow — a technique thousands of years old. "It is the best we have seen around here. Let's hope for a good crop."



KOT ADDU, central Pakistan — One son cried in her arms, while another pulled her scarf in agitation. A daughter sat doubled over in pain, while a younger girl stood nearby, listless.

Of Zubaida Bibi's five children, only one has escaped illness following the floods. Two boys and a girl have skin infections and the oldest daughter shows signs of malaria.

"I try to soothe them," the mother said while waiting in a field hospital. "It doesn't help."

When the scale of the disaster became apparent, the government and international aid groups sent medical teams into the crowded camps and flooded villages. Fields were sprayed to ward off malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and clean drinking water was distributed.

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Nearly a million cases of acute diarrhea have been recorded, the U.N. says. Suspected cases of malaria are approaching 400,000, while cases of skin disease and respiratory infections have topped 1.2 million each.

Despite initial criticism that the government's response was too slow and patchy, authorities say the health intervention was widespread and prompt enough to prevent any massive wave of fatal disease. And in many areas — places where poverty is rife and health care was poor to nonexistent — people are getting rare medical attention.

Bibi spent weeks trying her own remedies — a massage, a soapy bath — because the family couldn't afford a doctor.

When she heard about the Ehsas hospital in Kot Addu, she rushed her children there for the free treatment. They spent hours waiting for doctors working in clinics made of shipping containers. They returned to their damaged home in Daera Din Panah village with free skin and fever medication.

Among donors financing the hospital are British-based Muslim groups, the Pakistani government and Pakistani charities. Officials say they hope to run it for a few more months. Already, it is so popular that an increasing number of the 1,500 people it treats daily have problems unrelated to the floods.



HAMZA LUND, southern Pakistan — Khadija Hashim and her 12 children are the only people living in this village-turned-island. They survive on milk from their lone cow, occasional handouts and fish caught in the waters that cover their fields.

While the floods have receded in much of Pakistan, it has taken longer in the south, where the land flattens as it approaches the Arabian Sea and the floodwaters drain slowly.

Lakes 20 kilometers (12 miles) wide still cut off thousands of communities and complicate efforts to deliver food, clean water and medical help. In these dirt-poor villages, most can only dream of rebuilding.

"Our reliance is on God," Hashim said, taking a break from picking lice from a child's hair.

She said her husband was away looking for the cash grants the government has promised the victims. But many people complain of being unable to get the money.

Hashim;s village of about 20 homes is only reachable by boat past other marooned or deserted communities. Trees and rooftops poke out of the water.

In terms of numbers of population affected, the south was the hardest hit, and not everyone is likely to restore their lives to what they were before the flood.

Anger at politicians is widespread, but there has been none of the social unrest that many had predicted in the immediate aftermath of the downpour. Instead the mood seems to be one of patience and resilience. Every day, hundreds of people get on boats and tractor-pulled trailers and head off, still hoping for those promised grants.


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Data: Flooding in Pakistan


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