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Villages tell different tales of Pakistan flood recovery

MOR JANGI, Residents of this Pakistani village whose lives were washed away by last year’s floods complain that they have been largely forgotten.

Sewage runs through the street. Some people still live in tents under the searing summer sun. Others had to sell their cattle and take on heavy debt to rebuild their homes.

Not far away, in Wairar Sibra village, locals are getting ready to move into new houses, complete with electricity and courtyards, thanks to the largess of a wealthy man who owns the power plant looming over the settlement. The villagers are excited because the new homes are even better than the ones they had before the floods.

The contrasting fates of the two villages in central Punjab province are a testament to the uneven response to Pakistan’s worst-ever floods, which hit a year ago and inundated a chunk of the country the size of New England.

Often the deciding factor between success and failure in Pakistan  is how much access people have to the rich and powerful, a rule that seems true even in the wake of a natural disaster.

Many of the 18 million people affected by the floods, which were triggered by heavy monsoon rains, were among the country’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Islamabad and international donors, millions of people are still in dire need of help. The disaster has left them even more susceptible to flooding

Nazir Ahmed 35, is still living with his family in tents set up amid the ruins of his home in Mor Jangi. The brick kiln worker has little hope of rebuilding his house because his daily wage of less than $3 is barely enough to feed his family and pay to treat their frequent bouts of malaria and diarrhea.

“I haven’t been able to save money, and I don’t have any land or cattle to sell,” said Mr. Ahmed , as his five young daughters and two young sons gathered around him. “Only God can help us rebuild our house.”

Mor Jangi’s 3,000 residents had no warning last year that floodwaters, which originated in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, were rushing toward their village on the banks of a branch of the Indus River. For seven hours on July 28, the water level rose 15 feet, damaging hundreds of houses in the village and destroying acres of crops, farmer Abdel Latif , 28, said.

Many of the villagers fled to relief camps and returned two months later after the water receded, said Ishfaq Ahmed , 26, a highway patrolman.

They were counting on receiving about $1,160 promised by the government through its “Watan” cash card program - the minimum needed to rebuild one room of a house, he said.

However the government has distributed only about $232 per family, and the Watan card program has been plagued by allegations of corruption.

Some families in Mor Jangi did not receive Watan cards, which are meant to be used at local ATMs. They complained that a local landowner asked for about $14 to get them a card and then pocketed the money. Similar allegations have surfaced throughout Pakistan.

Residents did receive seed and fertilizer from an aid organization in November, allowing them to grow a good crop of wheat they harvested in May. However many villagers had to sell their cattle and take out loans of up to $1,160 to rebuild their houses, Mr. Ahmed said.

Even some international aid ended up doing more harm than good.

A Czech aid group, People in Need, hired a local engineer to build a sewage system, but villagers accused him of using only a fraction of the materials needed and keeping the rest for himself.

The engineer, Bashir Nadr, denied the charges. But several streets in the village are now awash in sewage.

The villagers are worried about what they will do if the rains again transform the river into a force of destruction. Monsoon rains already have started lashing parts of Pakistan and could continue through September.

It’s a different story in Wairar Sibra, about 70 miles away.

Floodwaters swept through Wairar Sibra on Aug. 4 last year destroying all 168 houses in the village and sending the 1,250 residents fleeing to relief camps, farmer Malik Mureed , 35, said.

The village is next to a power plant owned by one of the richest men in Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Mansha, and several villagers work there.

Mr. Mansha’s company and the Punjab government have agreed to rebuild 107 of the houses at a cost of nearly $700,000, said Mr Mureed, who is helping with the project. The houses, 101 of which are already complete, are even better than those that were destroyed since they are constructed with bricks instead of mud, he said.

“We are very happy,” Mr. Murad said. “The power plant always takes care of us and meets our needs.”

Residents in many other villages across Pakistan are far less fortunate. At least 8 million flood victims remain in dire need of basic health care, food or shelter, said Islamic Relief, a British-based aid group.

“Twelve months on, a largely unnoticed humanitarian crisis is continuing in the flood-affected areas,” the group said in a report released this month called “Flooded and Forgotten.”

Last year’s response saved lives, especially from disease, and alleviated suffering, but the scope of the crisis was overwhelming.

The floods killed about 2,000 people, damaged or destroyed some 1.6 million homes and thousands of acres of crops, the international aid group Oxfam said. More than 800,000 families remain without permanent shelter, and more than 1 million still need food assistance, it said.

Reconstruction is predicted to cost up to $10.9 billion - almost one-quarter of Pakistan’s national budget.

The problem could get worse this year because Pakistan’s threshold for coping with flooding is lower. Many of last year’s victims are extremely vulnerable, and much of the flood infrastructure that was damaged, such as dikes, has not been repaired.

“As Pakistan faces another monsoon season and the likelihood of more disasters, the country is not prepared,” Oxfam said.