This year Pakistan was hit by yet another wave of floods and, once again, millions of people in the country’s Sindh province saw a deluge the like of which they had not seen in living memory. The rains pounded the rich agricultural districts of the province and exposed the depth of the corruption that plagues this country. Many dubbed it as a man-made disaster rather than a natural one.
Despite the fact that there were ample warnings of an impending disaster, the authorities seemed ill-prepared to cope with the catastrophe. Entire villages were destroyed and people were forced to flee and seek refugee on the embankments of the roads where they used their quilts and cotton sheets to set up shelters.
Three months on, and despite the fact that some people have been rescued from the floods, thousands remain without adequate shelter. And most of the rich farmers have made for the cities to live in their villas.
As I arrived in Mirpur Khas, I saw thousands of women begging for food outside the home of a political leader from the ruling party. He was nowhere to be seen, and after waiting for hours, they went back to their makeshift shelters on small islands surrounded by stagnant water that engulfed graveyards and public parks.
The large mango trees growing by the roadside were already drying up because of the stagnant water and the cotton crop was completely destroyed. The excessive water still inundating the fields made it virtually impossible to plant the wheat, which is the country’s staple diet.
When the poor farmers left their villages, they took whatever wheat they had with them. It seems this year there will be acute wheat shortages and that could lead to a famine-like situation in a province ruled by feudal lords. It is not hard to imagine that a famine would also lead to political upheaval and perhaps more crime.
Everywhere I looked I saw thousands of people still waiting for help. These proud farmers worked on the large land holdings owned by the Vadera, or the feudal landed aristocracy. Now they had no work and were begging for food and clean drinking water.
While the country begged for aid from the outside world, the rich and well-to-do were preparing to celebrate Halloween. Just a few days earlier, my team and I were in Peshawar where we saw a huge billboard inviting people to the Halloween party at a local four-star hotel. If you asked everyone there what Halloween meant, most would not give an answer except to say that the Americans love it.
Society had seen a transformation of sorts, with its rich eager to look horrible and scare as many people as possible on Halloween night. One school boy wanted to be the Pharaoh who fought Moses and another wanted to be a blood sucker with long teeth to revive the spirit of Dracula.
But for the children of Sindh province living on the roadside camps, there was no such ‘luxury’. They were sad that this year they would be deprived of their second Eid. The poor were complaining about the rising prices of bread, but the rich rulers did not mind if they had to pay more for a bottle of Scotch imbibed away from public eyes, inside the confines of the large perimeter walls – guarded by dozens of armed men who are ready to fend off intruders.