Swat is bent and broken

For residents of the

    The Swat I saw last is not the same anymore.

    Pakistan's north-bound motorway, the M1, that links Peshawar and others parts of the north west looks like a calamity zone as thousands of villagers who fled the ferocity of the floods now live on both sides without a roof over their heads.

    They have lost everything.

    A wailing woman said she had lost whatever little she had, her gold she got for her wedding and her buffaloes.

    Asked what she wanted most, she replied "my home". Despite her ordeal, she was still lucky to be alive as others were swept away by the waters.

    The city of Nowshera - also a military garrison and home to the country's cavalry units on the banks of the river Kabul - was completely inundated. For many it was the race to the top of their second-story home and eventually on the water tanks located above that. Some people even stood for hours submerged in up to waist-level waters before help arrived.

    Even though the death toll is still being tallied, there are fears that thousands were swept away in the city and confines of Nowshera alone. A chilling reminder of what nature can do.

    Even the Pakistani army admitted the situation was critical and the task was to evacuate tens of thousands of people marooned and stuck on the rooftops or cut off in the narrow valleys of the Hindukush mountains.

    There is already a forecast of more rain and that will indeed make the present recovery and relief effort a race against time.

    Reports are already filtering in that people are now dying of starvation and have no drinking water. Children are swallowing the first pieces of dry bread they get as they are airlifted out, many have not eaten for days and are too frail to make an attempt to leave on their own  to safer grounds.

    But while they are perhaps fortunate, others have still to endure more and wait for help to arrive.

    The scale of the devastation is unimaginable in the low lands. Entire villages have been wiped out without a trace.

    Everything they had now lies buried under heaps of mud including their ancestral graveyards. The stench of death and the hot and humid conditions pose a serious threat of epidemics and diseases.

    It was just bad news in the plains but an even bigger disaster that struck the Swat Valley and beyond that in Dir, Chitral and Kohistan.  Just a few weeks ago the province's information minister was dancing at Kalam in Upper Swat. Known for its fresh water lakes, snow-capped mountains and pine forests in what was dubbed as the peace festival. 

    A few months earlier, my team and I had gone to Kalam with the military that had just cleared this area from the Swati Taliban. I remember taking pictures all along the route fascinated by God's creation. But now it is gone - at least the human habitats I saw clinging on the embankments of the river Swat.

    Our producer Hameedullah - now on deployment to Swat - told me communications are very poor but please tell the world Swat is bent and broken.

    He said it was not easy to describe what he saw. I found later that the peach orchards he showed me just below his home were all gone, taken away by a river.

    Matta and many other towns are now cut off as bridges that linked them were swept away.

    Local television networks showed pictures of hotels and entire buildings caving into the brown and muddy waters before disappearing from view forever.

    Days later people were complaining that they did not know what to do and where to start rebuilding their lives. I remember driving past Bahrain and Madyan - all tourists havens. They were also the first to be swept away and thousands of tourists who had gone to beat the summer heat were now praying to get out alive. In the past two years the people of this valley have seen their valley taken over by the Taliban and then by the army.

    Very few people could have imagined that Mother Nature would take a heavier toll than the flames of conflict.


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