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Page last updated at 14:22 GMT, Tuesday, 14 September 2010 15:22 UK
Pakistan floods: Surviving Swat
By Helen Burchell
BBC Cambridgeshire

Flooding at Mingora in Pakistan
This bridge connected Saidu Sharif with Mingora, Swat's capital city

Every year Janet Anwar and her family leave their home in Cambridge to spend Ramadan with relatives in Pakistan.

But this year they faced disaster when three days after their arrival in the northern Swat Valley, the worst monsoon in 80 years began.

Their relations' houses have held up, but all of their crops were ruined.

The Anwars had already raised funds for Swat's orphans before leaving England, and decided to use this aid to help people in the stricken villages.

Janet and Mohammed Anwar's 22-year-old daughter, Zarina, was unable to accompany the family on their trip this year.

Instead, she watched helplessly from her home in Cambridge, as pictures filtered through from a country devastated by the monsoon.

Janet Anwar on bank of River Swat
Janet Anwar on the banks of the flooded River Swat

'Really frightening'

The Swat Valley flooded when the River Swat burst its banks, destroying everything in its path.

For a week, Zarina was unable to contact her family in Gharshin, a small village near Madyan, about an hour away from the region's capital city, Mingora.

Without electricity, Janet and her family could not even charge their mobile phones to let Zarina know that they were well.

"It was really frightening," said Zarina.

"My whole family was out there - my mum, dad, brother, my two married sisters, their husbands and their children.

"Only myself and my other sister were left in Cambridge, and we were worried about what we would do if anything had happened to them."

Zarina's uncles live in what she described as "well-built concrete houses" and the village of Gharshin, which means green mountain, sits well above the river.

Their homes were unaffected, but their crops were completely destroyed. Most of the villagers rely on crops for their livelihood, but everything was washed away during the torrential rains.

"Crops - wheat and apples - are their only source of income," explained Zarina. "Obviously there are no insurance policies, so they're not covered for this.

"So that's it. It's all been lost in the floods. They will get nothing."

Polluted water

One week after the floods hit the region, electricity supplies were restored - albeit intermittently - and the Anwars were able to get in touch with their daughters in Cambridge.

Speaking from Gharshin, Janet told BBC Cambridgeshire what conditions were like in Swat.

So that's it. It's all been lost in the floods. They will get nothing
Zarina Anwar

"At the beginning it was terrible," she said. "We didn't have water or electricity and everything was just washed away.

"But gradually and slowly it has been getting a little bit better."

She continued: "The main problem is that the people who need the aid the most aren't getting it.

"The conditions are really, really horrible. You couldn't imagine it - that people are living like this.

"The water is bad because it's all polluted and children are having to pick food up off the streets.

"If you saw the children you'd be really shocked, but there is no other way.

"The charities are trying to help and get food in by helicopter, but really, how many people can you help?

"The roads are so bad and the bridges are destroyed, so it's really difficult to get anything to some of these places. Mostly you have to go by foot."

Forgotten orphans

Janet raises money each year before leaving Cambridge for her family's trip to Swat. She cooks, sells food at fetes and runs bring-and-buy sales.

Flood damage in the village of Qandil
Remains of a well-built concrete house in the village of Qandil

Usually, she takes the money to Pakistan and uses it to help the orphaned children in the nearby villages.

But this year she had sent clothes and basic toiletry and medical supplies ahead - before the monsoon had even started - so she was able to help those affected immediately.

"I want to stay behind here," she said. "I want my family to go back to Cambridge, but I want to stay behind to help these people because they are not getting what they need."

Zarina explained further: "The thing is, if you're poor, you're basically forgotten about.

"Orphans come in from the surrounding villages and in the evenings they go to people's houses asking for food. Sometimes mum gets them all together and cooks for them.

"At night they come to the mosque to sleep, as they have nowhere else to go."

Taliban stronghold

The area around Gharshin and Madyan, very close to Afghanistan, was a Taliban stronghold for two years. Zarina said that its troubled history could be one reason why aid was not getting to Swat's flood victims.

"This was an easy place for the Taliban to hide in because it is so mountainous," said Zarina.

"They would take advantage of the hospitality of the local people. They began by trying to gain their trust, and then they totally changed, you know?

"They became what you see on the news.

"Normally it is such a peaceful and beautiful area - welcoming to all tourists. But this was such a change.

"It is still a problem. There are army checkpoints around and that means it takes longer to get to places.

"And now of course, the flooding has made the problems even worse. It is even more difficult to get around," she explained.

"People like my mother do their best to look after the orphans from the villages.

"The children rely on the mosque as a safe place to sleep, but there's always the fear that the Taliban will get to the them before other people can help them.

"They take these children without parents and recruit them."

Zarina Anwar
Zarina says she intends to go to Swat to help the flood victims

Return to Swat

In Cambridge, Zarina managed to raise £1,000 from family and friends, which she sent to her mother in Gharshin.

Janet told her daughter that she intended to use some of that to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle which she would use to drop food parcels to villagers, providing them with the basics.

"A lot of people donate to charities rather than individuals, because of trust issues, I guess," said Zarina. "But I wanted to raise money and send it direct to my mum because I knew that she could do things there, and I could see for myself that she was able to help."

According to the UN, around 20 million people have been affected by the floods in Pakistan, and six million are in desperate need of food aid.

When the Anwar family returns home to Cambridge, Janet and Zarina intend to continue raising funds for flood victims in Swat.

They say that they will both return to the family's village and continue to distribute aid to help those less fortunate than the residents of Gharshin.


If you would like to make a donation to help people affected by the floods in Pakistan, you can do so through the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee at www.dec.org.uk or by telephone on 0370 60 60 900.

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• Zarina and her family doing a great job there. I am from the North West Pakistan and I have a very clear idea of this catastrophe. My village was under the water for a whole week, and even many very well off families had no choice but to live on the roads for many days without food or access to drinking water. The disaster was bigger than Tsunami in South East Asia. I request all readers to contribute to the cause, your single pound can feed a family for one day.
M W Ali, Stevenage

Cambridge charities aid Pakistan
17 Aug 10 |  People & Places
Country profile: Pakistan
14 May 11 |  Country profiles




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