“We have lost everything,” says Bilhuda Ibrahim. “Our house is ruined, our livestock is dead.”
Ibrahim and her family of six are from Mardan, in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Four weeks after they were forced from their home by rising waters, they are living in a tent in an overcrowded camp with four thousand other flood survivors.
She knows they are among the lucky ones. Since the Ibrahims arrived at the camp in the town of Nowshera on 4 August, they have had a tent for shelter and access to clean water and food. But she’s worried about what the future holds for her family
“Before the floods came, life was hard but good,” says Ibrahim. “We had our own home. My husband worked as a watchman for a local company, and we had some livestock that brought us some extra money.
“Then the rains started and the river began rising. We had never seen anything like it. We got up for prayers at 5AM, and the water level was higher than we’d ever seen it before. Then it started coming into the house. By 12PM, we knew we had to leave.
“Now, even the office where my husband worked was washed away, so he has lost his job. There is nothing we can do but stay in the camp and wait. We are thankful for help, but it is very hot here all the time. We have tea and bread in the morning and curry in the evening. But at home, we all ate three times a day and we had tea 24 hours a day. At night, we only have two camp beds and some plastic mats for the eight of us.”
The Ibrahims’ story is typical of many of those affected by the floods. Some are living in government-run camps; others are making do by the side of the road.
“We can rebuild our home but it will take time,” says Ibrahim. “There’s no water or electricity, and all the rooms are filled with mud. Every day, we go to clean and to make sure no one has taken whatever has been left.
“I am scared about the winter. We think it will take two or three months at least to make our house so we can live in it again. We need to go home before winter comes. We have no winter clothing or bedding. What will we do if we have to live in a tent? We need to be back in our home.”
“These people don’t want handouts,” says Neva Khan, Oxfam’s country director in Pakistan. They want to return to their villages, rebuild their homes, and recreate their lives. Oxfam is among the agencies working to provide them not just with emergency short-term help but with the resources they will need over the long term.
In order to do this, she adds, we need much more help from supporters.
For those living in the camps, uncertainty is a constant companion. “I don’t know when we will be able to go home,” says Ibrahim.
Today, she is speaking for millions.