Dhe ground vibrated as the torrent came. The current dragged huge stones across the riverbed. A deafening roar filled the air, as if the entire mountain were about to collapse. Just half an hour earlier, people had run away from the river, crying and screaming, into the higher-lying residential areas. Among them were Saeedullah, his sons and their family. His house was destroyed within minutes.
Now he stands in front of the ruins and manages a small smile. In 2010 he lost a house in the flood, he reports. “You can’t just build a house like this from scratch, we’d managed to do it in the ten years since then. But now it was ripped away in just one night. Now we’re homeless,” says the 56-year-old former elementary school teacher.
“We were told at the time that such a flood only occurs every 100 years”
It looks like an earthquake shook the house. A complete wall hangs down from the upper floor. A bathroom is open, the fittings are still there. Scraps of carpet can be seen and a few personal items buried in the rubble.
The family could only save the shoes and the clothes they were wearing. There is now no money for reconstruction. Three out of four sons are studying. Son Saifuddin is an aspiring electrical engineer. He says climate change must be behind this flood of the century, which came just 12 years after the last. Before that, it rained continuously for two days and nights. The river water changed color, became darker, earthier, and began to stink. “We thought it was not normal, there will be a flood,” says the father.
People here have lived with floods and flash floods for centuries. But they used to be a rare event nonetheless. “We were told at the time that a flood like this only occurs every 100 years,” says the son of the decision to build again on the banks of the Daral despite the flood in 2010. In addition, the family had little choice. “We only have this one piece of land.” The family lives in the village of Jheel in the Swat Valley.
Like a third of the entire country, this region was hit by devastating floods at the end of August. According to the government, a third of the country is now under water. The government now counts 1,391 dead, 33 million affected and more than half a million homeless. This includes the flood victims from Jheel, who first slept in a school and now live with relatives.
No clean drinking water, high food prices
People don’t have to starve here, but there are villages a little further up the mountains that are cut off from the outside world and are supplied by helicopter. And food prices are now even higher than they already were. There is a lack of clean drinking water and many people suffer from diarrhea.
Here in the Swat Valley, Pakistan shows itself from its most beautiful side. Because of the impressive panorama with green mountains, it is also known as “Pakistan’s Switzerland”. It has gained greater notoriety because the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala hails from this area. Prior to 2009, the Taliban had controlled the valley for a period. “At least now there’s no one to shoot us,” says Zubair Torwali, a writer who lives in the town of Bahrain just below Jheel.
In the place the Daral flows into the Swat River. The geography became the place’s undoing. Because where the watercourses meet, the water suddenly rose several meters high with the flash flood. Tons of mud, rubble and tree trunks had been dragged along. The riverside buildings now look like they were hit by a tsunami.