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'Dying once is better than dying every day'

People stand outside their tents at a camp for those displaced by floods in Sukkur, southern Pakistan.
People stand outside their tents at a camp for those displaced by floods in Sukkur, southern Pakistan. Aaron Favila / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The call to prayer echoes through the tent village at dawn.

Muhammad Mosa wakes up and checks on Tikry and Baghee, his buffalo and goat. They are prized possessions, one of the few reminders of the home he fled more than seven weeks ago when floods swamped his village in southern Pakistan.

About 8 million remain homeless following the country's worst flooding in living memory, many staying in hundreds of relief camps.

Mosa, his wife Shali and their children live in an 8-by-10-foot canvas tent, one of 500 families in a dusty camp set up by a Pakistani charity. Relatives live in neighboring tents. Shali is due to give birth next month.

Two straw mats are spread across the uneven floor, and donated blankets cover the family's food rations. Kitchen utensils and clean clothes are kept padlocked in a metal trunk.

Mosa has only two sets of clothes. His young children wander around half-naked.

"It is like dying here," he says. "Dying once is better than dying every day. This is not life."

The 40-year-old rice farmer fondly remembers his two-room mud house 55 miles away, in a village now head-high in water. He misses morning tea with friends and family. "A half sip of tea over there is better than having a full cup over here," he says.

A truck delivers drinking water to the camp in the morning. At lunchtime, another brings food — a thick lentil soup and bread one recent day — and the homeless line up with pots and large metal plates. A dinner of rice and potatoes arrives at around 6 p.m.

Throughout the day, people take turns filling buckets at water pumps. Manure is gathered and dried beside the tents for cooking fuel. Later, the ash from the fires is used to scour dishes.

After nightfall, Mosa lies in the darkness outside his tent, wondering about the future and what he may have to sell. His goat and buffalo are tethered to the tent ."Tikry and Baghee are the only things I have left," he says. "I love them very much, but when the time comes, I will need to sacrifice them for my family."