Floods drown hope in Pakistan’s impoverished Punjab villages

Rescue personnel evacuate people on a boat from a flooded village in the Okara district of Punjab province on August 28, 2023. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 30 August 2023

Floods drown hope in Pakistan’s impoverished Punjab villages

  • Pakistan’s Sutlej river burst its banks to spill over hundreds of villages this month
  • Authorities said they had to evacuate at least 130,000 people from vulnerable areas

OKARA:The coursing floods in eastern Pakistan first swallowed Nasreen Bibi’s corn crop, then the cattle that fed on it, and finally her family home.

They retreated to the roof to escape the rising water, before fleeing for their lives by boat.

“We didn’t bring any of our belongings with us, everything we own is abandoned back there,” said Bibi, who guesses her age in the 30s, from a relief camp inside a school in Mandi Ahmedabad, a village in eastern Punjab province.

“There is nothing left back home,” she said, wiping away tears in a tent she shares with three young daughters.

“Fear plays on my children’s minds.”

Swaths of Pakistan’s breadbasket were inundated this month, with at least 130,000 people evacuated, after the Sutlej river burst its banks and spilled over hundreds of villages and thousands of acres.

The head of Punjab’s government, Mohsin Naqvi, said the flooding was caused by India releasing excess reservoir water into the Sutlej river, causing flooding downstream on the Pakistani side of the border.

With the water slowly receding, a ramshackle armada of 40 boats makes twice-daily food and aid deliveries to 80 water-bound villages where men perch on roofs guarding sodden possessions.

The floodwaters are still some eight feet (2.4 meters) deep, and the boats skim past the tops of waterlogged corn stalks blanched by the sun.

A family’s financial security depends on agriculture in this largely impoverished corner of Pakistan.

Mud houses lie in ruins, with tumbled walls pooled in stagnant water, in Falak De Bheni, a village of 100 homes surrounded by drowned fields of sesame and rice.

“I don’t want to plant a crop here next year, my heart can’t bear it,” Muhammad Tufail, 38, said as he stood at his ruined door surveying the damage.

“I don’t even know how much money I spent, how many troubles I went through, to plant these crops. But the flood has left nothing in its wake.”

More than 175 people were killed in Pakistan in rain-related incidents since the monsoon season began in late June, mainly due to electrocution and buildings collapsing, emergency services have reported.

Large tracts of rural Pakistan were ruined by record monsoon floods last summer that scientists linked to climate change and from which it is still recovering.

A third of the country was submerged and 1,700 people were killed, while eight million were displaced.

The villages along the Sutlej River were spared in that deluge but are now battling the highest water levels in 35 years, authorities have said.

The assistant commissioner of Dipalpur — the hardest-hit area in this year’s flood — said 11 rescue centers and five relief camps had been set up, with 4,600 emergency boat trips made since the floods came in mid-August.

The flooded villages of Dipalpur remain without electricity two weeks after the floods started.

Most of the cattle have been evacuated but those left behind have nothing left to feed on.

“Fodder has washed away,” said 50-year-old Taj Bibi, struggling to keep a buffalo, a cow and a calf alive on leaves chopped from trees.

“Our cattle are begging us for food but we have nothing to give them,” she said. “We are dying of hunger and so are our animals.”

At Bashir De Bheni, a small hamlet of 15 houses built on the submerged river bank, rescue workers dropped off antibiotics and rehydration medicine for a toddler suffering diarrhea and high fever.

“Every problem imaginable has befallen us,” said 60-year-old villager Muhammad Yasin.

For deaf children in Pakistan, school is life

Updated 28 May 2024

For deaf children in Pakistan, school is life

  • Of more than a million deaf school-age children in Pakistan, less than five percent go to school
  • According to World Federation of the Deaf, 80 percent of world’s 70 million deaf people have no access to education

LAHORE: At a school for the deaf in Pakistan, the faces of students are animated, their smiles mischievous, as their hands twirl in tandem with their sign language teacher.
The quiet classes exude joy, led often by teachers who are also deaf.
“I have friends, I communicate with them, joke with them, we share our stories with each other about what we have done and not done, we support each other,” said Qurat-ul-Ain, an 18-year-old deaf woman who joined the school a year ago.
More than 200 pupils, children and adults mostly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are among the few given a new fervor for life at this inner-city school in historic Lahore.
Of more than a million deaf school-age children in Pakistan, less than five percent go to school.
The figure is even lower for girls and, without a language to express themselves, many children are marginalized by society and even their families.
“Life is a little difficult. There is a huge communication gap here where people generally don’t know sign language,” said Qurat-ul-Ain.
At the school run by charity Deaf Reach, pupils learn sign language in English and Urdu before progressing on to the national curriculum.
Everyone has a name in sign language, which often has to do with a physical characteristic.
Younger children learn with visuals: a word and a sign are associated with an image.
Their peers turn their thumbs down for a wrong answer and make the applause sign — twisting hands — for a correct one.
Founded in 1998 by an American and funded with donations, Deaf Reach now has eight schools across the country, educating 2,000 students on a “pay what you can afford” basis, with 98 percent of children on scholarships.
The vast majority of students at the school come from hearing families, who are also offered the chance to learn how to sign and break the language barrier with their son or daughter.
Adeela Ejaz explained how she struggled to come to terms with her first born son — now 10 years old — being deaf.
“When I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say he would bang his head against the wall and floor,” the 35-year-old told AFP.
“It was tough for everyone because no-one knew how to communicate with him. Everyone would tell us he is deaf but I wasn’t prepared to accept that.”
The mother and son pair are now both learning to sign.
“I am getting better at signing and I am able to communicate with my son. He’s now become so attached to me.”


The program makes extensive use of technology, and offers an online dictionary and a phone app.
It has also found employment for more than 2,000 deaf people with around 50 Pakistani companies.
Huzaifa, 26, who became deaf after contracting a fever at a young age, was given a stitching apprenticeship at Deaf Reach to help him into the skilled workforce.
“Teachers in the government school didn’t know any sign language. They would just write notes on the board and tell us to copy it. We used to get really disheartened, and I would be extremely worried for my future,” he told AFP.
His family pushed for him to become educated, helping him to learn the basics of sign language before he received formal coaching.
“My parents never threw me away. They spared no effort in ensuring I was able to continue my education,” he said.
Without their dedication, he said: “I’d be working as a day laborer somewhere, cutting leaves or cementing walls.”
 Sign language varies from one country to another, with its own associated culture, and regional variations sometimes exist.
According to World Federation of the Deaf, 80 percent of the approximately 70 million deaf people in the world have no access to education.
“I used to sit idly at home, use the mobile or play outside. I never had a clue about what people were saying,” said Faizan, 21, who has been at Deaf Reach for 11 years and dreams of working abroad.
“Before learning how to sign I used to feel very weak mentally and had an inferiority complex and fear. But thankfully there is none of that anymore.”
Attitudes toward people with disabilities are slowly improving in Pakistan, which has introduced laws against discrimination.
“We have seen over the years the mentality change tremendously. From many people hiding their deaf children, feeling embarrassed, ashamed,” noted Daniel Marc Lanthier, director of operations of the foundation behind Deaf Reach.
Nowadays families are “coming out in the open, asking for education for their children, asking to find employment for them,” he said, though much work remains.
“With a million deaf children who don’t have access to school, it’s a huge challenge, it’s a huge goal to be met.”

Pakistan says severe heat wave conditions likely to subside from today in parts of country 

Updated 31 min 49 sec ago

Pakistan says severe heat wave conditions likely to subside from today in parts of country 

  • Dust and thunderstorms as well as isolated rain in upper parts of the country from today, Tuesday, until June 1
  • Pakistan in the grips of an intense heat wave since last week, temperatures soared past 52°C in Sindh this week

ISLAMABAD: The National Disaster Management Authority has predicted dust and thunderstorms as well as isolated rain in upper parts of the country from today, Tuesday, until June 1, saying an ongoing “severe” heat wave would likely subside in some parts of the country.

Pakistan’s disaster management authority warned earlier this month temperatures in certain areas of Pakistan’s southern Sindh and eastern Punjab provinces could surge to 40 degrees Celsius between May 15-30. The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) warned of an “intense” heat wave in the southern districts of Punjab, with severe risk identified in Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan districts from May 21 to May 27.

Temperatures rose above 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh, the highest reading of the summer and close to the country’s record high amid an ongoing heat wave, the met office said on Monday.

“Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) has forecasted that a westerly wave is likely to enter western parts of the country from 28th May 2024 and likely to grip upper parts on 1st June 2024,” the NDMA said in an advisory released on Monday, listing districts in the country where thunder and dust storms and rains were expected this week.

In the northern regions of the country like the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province as well as Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, the NDMA predicted that heavy rainfall and thunderstorms could disrupt roads, electricity and other utilities between May 28 and June 1. 

“Heavy Rainfall may generate flash flooding in local nullahs / streams and river tributaries. Landslides, mudslides, may lead to potential road blockages in Upper Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Galiyat, Murree, Gilgit Baltistan and State of AJ&K,” the NDMA said. “Windstorms / Hailstorms may damage crops, loose structures, etc. Thunderstorms to increase risk of lightning strikes.”

The authority advised farmers and tourists to remain cautious during the spell.

The NDMA also predicted that heavy rainfall could cause flash floods in the southwestern Balochistan province, as well as land and mudslides that could block roads and disrupt power, and wind and hailstorms that could damage crops and loose structures. 

In the provinces of Punjab and Sindh as well as the Islamabad Capital Territory, hill torrents are expected in DG Khan and Rajanpur.

“Heavy Rainfall may generate flash flooding in local nullahs / streams and river tributaries. Windstorms / Hailstorms may damage crops, loose structures, etc,” the NDMA said. “Thunderstorms to increase risk of lightning strikes. Electricity / other utility services may get disrupted.”

 Addressing a press conference last week, the Prime Minister’s Coordinator on Climate Change Romina Khurshid Alam said 26 districts of the country were in the grips of a heat wave since May 21. 

Alam said the first wave would last till May 30, the second would begin from June 7-8 and the third one in the last week of June. May and June were recorded as the “hottest and driest” with higher monthly average temperatures, she added, appealing to the masses, especially children and elderly, to adopt preventive measures.

She noted that the severity of heat waves had increased rapidly during the past few months with 13 districts of Sindh, nine of Punjab and four districts of Balochistan experiencing “severe heat.”

“Harsh weather is likely to persist at least till June 3. There is no possibility for respite, at least for Sindh. The heat spell may break in parts of Punjab but that, too, after June 4,” the chief meteorologist said last week.

Increased exposure to heat, and more heat waves, have been identified as one of the key impacts of climate change in Pakistan, with people experiencing extreme heat and seeing some of the highest temperatures in the world in recent years. The South Asian country of more than 241 million, one of the ten most vulnerable nations to climate change impacts, has also recently witnessed untimely downpours, flash floods and droughts.

Climate change-induced extreme heat can cause illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. It can make certain chronic conditions worse, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions, and can also result in acute incidents, such as hospitalizations due to strokes or renal disease.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index, nearly 10,000 Pakistanis died while the country has suffered economic losses worth $3.8 billion due to climate change impacts between 1999 and 2018. A deadly heat wave that hit Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, claimed 120 lives in 2015.

In 2022, torrential monsoon rains triggered the most devastating floods in Pakistan’s history, killing around 1,700 people and affecting over 33 million, a staggering number close to the population of Canada. Millions of homes, tens of thousands of schools and thousands of kilometers of roads and railways are yet to be rebuilt.

Over 70,000 intending pilgrims register to use Pak Hajj App

Updated 28 May 2024

Over 70,000 intending pilgrims register to use Pak Hajj App

  • Around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under government, private schemes this year
  • Hajj app launched last year by IT ministry and National Information Technology Board 

ISLAMABAD: Over 70,000 intending Pakistani Hajj pilgrims have registered so far for the ‘Pak Hajj App’ launched last year to facilitate Pakistanis in all stages of the spiritual journey, state news agency APP reported on Tuesday.

Pakistan’s IT ministry last December announced the launch of the app for both Android and iPhone, developed jointly with the National Information Technology Board (NITB).

Around 179,210 Pakistanis will perform Hajj under both the government and private schemes, with this year’s pilgrimage expected to run from June 14-19.

“Pak Hajj App, through which online monitoring of all Hajj-related activities is performed, has received an overwhelming response in a short span of time, with over 70,000 active intending Pakistani Hajj pilgrims registered so far,” APP reported. 

“Through this online service, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has received more than 20,000 suggestions/queries/complaints, which have been responded/resolved and disposed of in an efficient manner.”

The app provides all required information, including personal details of pilgrims and their groups as well as information about volunteers and additional facilities, Hajj dues, nominee information and bank account details.

Pilgrims can view their Hajj training schedules, including dates, times, and locations, through the app, which also displays flight details with flight numbers, departure cities, dates, and times for both departure and return flights. The app also presents information about Makkah and Madinah accommodations, including sector, building, and room details, and about the Maktab (camp) location.

The multilingual application allows pilgrims to check their Hajj dues and refund statuses as well as submit complaints, requests and general inquiries. At first two languages, English and Urdu were added, although the system has the provision to add more languages.

“It was established for improved coordination among all wings and departments of the Pakistan Hajj Mission to extend maximum facilities to intending Pakistani pilgrims,” DG Facilitation Cell and Complaint Management System in-charge Muhammad Ahmed Usmani told APP.

“It is greatly helping in the timely redressal of complaints of pilgrims and their proper guidance to minimize any inconvenience to them.”

The Facilitation Cell has a three-member National Information Technology Board (NITB) team of software engineers, mandated with removing technical glitches faced at the Hajj portal and improving system efficiency and quality. A five-member team is available at a call center to deal with complaints received on the portal.

Complaints could be lodged through the Pak Hajj App and WhatsApp, or by calling the Pakistan Hajj Mission’s helpline toll-free numbers: 00923376510003, 00923376510004, 00923376510005, and 00923063332555.

The nature of complaints, Usmani said, mostly related to accommodation, split families, room maintenance, lack of amenities, misplaced luggage and general lost and found services. 

“As soon as a complaint is lodged, it appears on the dashboard/mobile phone screen within no time, with the proper zone officer concerned monitoring it live,” Deputy Director and In-charge NITB Development Team Makkah, Muhammad Awais, told APP.

He said the two ministries had also introduced an online app called ‘Hajj Moavineen’ under which real-time monitoring of support staff was performed from their place of deployment, “with visibility to all high-ups.”

It had multiple features including searching for a ‘Hajji,’ lost and found luggage or pilgrims, gifts distribution, and medical treatment, Awais said.

“All the features are run by scanning the QR code of the Hajji’s identity card, which contains all the required details of the pilgrims.

“We are getting great feedback from the Hujjaj about the online applications, which is a source of great satisfaction and motivation for us. All the information is available on a single platform where notifications are sent to them. All maps are integrated, which greatly helps in finding missing Hajji.”

Speaking to Arab News at the launch event of the Hajj app last year, then IT Minister Dr. Umar Saif said there were “so many little” moving parts to Hajj that one constantly needed a maulim, the Arabic word for teacher, for advice and guidance.

“In this day and age, we have replaced this human interface with an application ... designed to be a virtual mualim who is always with you,” the IT minister said.

“The app learns your behavior. It loads the schedule. It loads the events that take place. It loads the current location, the time and the day, and continuously advises you what to do next.”

He said the app would be able to provide guidance on everything from bus schedules and meals to flights and luggage.

“It is designed for low literacy users because a lot of people going for Hajj, of course, can’t be taught to use an application in English and Urdu,” Said explained. 

“So, the app is designed specifically such that it continues to advise you, whether you are able to use the app or not, prompts you, advises you, proactively so that we make it easy for you to go through the entire process in steps of performing a Hajj.”

Baber Majid Bhatti, CEO of the National Information Technology Board, told Arab News the app also had an offline maps feature to facilitate pilgrims.

Pakistani charities prepare to dispatch sacrificial meat to Gaza ahead of Eid Al-Adha

Updated 46 min 17 sec ago

Pakistani charities prepare to dispatch sacrificial meat to Gaza ahead of Eid Al-Adha

  • A global hunger monitor has warned of imminent famine in parts of Gaza, home to 2.3 million people
  • This Eid will be second in Gaza since Israel launched a war on Hamas, killing over 35,000 Palestinians

KARACHI: Ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, a number of major Pakistani charity organizations say they are preparing to dispatch sacrificial meat to the people of Gaza amid a dire humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory.

A global hunger monitor has warned of imminent famine in parts of Gaza, home to 2.3 million people. This Eid will be the second in the besieged enclave since Israel launched a war on Hamas that has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians. 

Aid access into southern Gaza has been disrupted since Israel stepped up military operations in Rafah, a move that the UN says has forced 900,000 people to flee. Rafah was a main entry point for humanitarian relief as well as some commercial supplies between Egypt and the Gaza Strip before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gazan side of the border on May 6 and took control of the crossing from the Palestinian side.

Al-Khidmat Foundation (AKF), one of the largest humanitarian organizations in Pakistan with an international footprint, said it would sacrifice animals ahead of Eid Al-Adha both in Pakistan and Egypt, and collaborate with Turkish non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ship the meat to Gaza.

“We will sacrifice [animals] in Egypt in large numbers so that it is easy to deliver meat from Egypt and we are also arranging for sacrifice in Pakistan as this year a lot of Turkish NGOs have come to Pakistan and they want the sacrifice to be done in Pakistan,” Qazi Sadaruddin, a director at AKF, told Arab News, adding that there was an “overwhelming” demand among Pakistanis that their meat be dispatched to victims of Israel’s war on Gaza “who deserve it the most.”

“The meat from Pakistan will be converted into ready-to-eat form before dispatching it, because sending raw meat is very difficult,” Sadaruddin said.

“We have booked the whole slaughterhouse, we have got an idea that 3,000 to 4,000 animals will be slaughtered at Al-Khidmat platform and will be converted into ready-to-eat meat and sent there [Gaza].” 

He said queries were continuously pouring in from Pakistani clients on how they could send meat to the Palestinian people.

“They wish for a significant portion of the meat to reach Palestine,” Sadaruddin said. 

“We have received numerous inquiries from people in the UK, many from Saudi Arabia, and other countries as well and their funds will also start transferring.”

Other charities have also seen a rise in people wanting to send meat to Gaza. 

“As the time for [Eid] sacrifice is approaching, people are turning to us and demanding we make a sacrifice in Gaza,” Muhammad Fayyaz, CEO of the Khadija-tul-Kubra Welfare Trust (KKWT), told Arab News.

As it was not possible to offer the sacrifice in Gaza in view of the Israeli air and ground strikes, KKWT plans to slaughter animals in Pakistan and dispatch their ready-to-eat meat to Gaza in tin packs with a long shelf life, Fayyaz explained. 

“We have thought of an alternate way to make a sacrifice in Karachi on the theme of Gaza,” he told Arab News. “The animals will be slaughtered and their meat will go to catering companies. They will dry the meat and pack it in a tin. The cooked meat will be packed in a tin in ready-to-eat form.”

“I have booked my share for the people of Gaza and I would request my friends and the people who come to mosque and those who can afford to donate as much as they can to the people of Gaza,” Muhammad Azhar Khan, a resident of Karachi’s upscale Defense Housing Authority (DHA) area, told Arab News. “They are in a dire need of food right now.”

Public holiday across Pakistan on 26th anniversary of 1998 nuclear tests

Updated 28 May 2024

Public holiday across Pakistan on 26th anniversary of 1998 nuclear tests

  • Pakistan began program to obtain nuclear weapons after its war with India in 1971 war that led to creation of Bangladesh
  • Army sees its nuclear weapons as essential to offset the conventional superiority of its much bigger neighbor India

ISLAMABAD: A public holiday was announced across Pakistan today, Tuesday, on the 26th anniversary of the South Asian nation conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, shortly after neighboring archrival India conducted similar tests.
Pakistan began a program to obtain nuclear weapons after its war with India in 1971 war that led to the division of the country and the creation of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan. The army sees its nuclear weapons as essential to offset the conventional superiority of its much bigger neighbor.
India sees its own nuclear weapons as a deterrent against Pakistan and China, which defeated it in a border war in 1962.
Pakistan tested nuclear weapons on May 28, 1998, shortly after India announced it had done so. Both countries faced international sanctions as a result, although India has since won effective recognition as a nuclear power following an accord negotiated with the United States. Neither Pakistan nor India have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“The nation is observing Youm-e-Takbeer today with national zeal and fervor in remembrance of successful nuclear tests conducted on this day in 1998 that made the defense of the country invincible,” state broadcaster Radio Pakistan said. 
“The day made Pakistan the seventh nuclear nation of the world and the first Muslim state having the nuclear arsenal in its defense stockpile to exercise deterrence for peaceful purposes.”
Radio Pakistan said Prime Minister Shehnaz Sharif had announced a public holiday today “for making Pakistan’s defense impregnable.”
India has much stronger conventional armed forces than Pakistan, but it is widely believed that both countries have comparable nuclear arsenals.
Pakistan has 140-150 nuclear warheads compared to India’s 130-140 warheads, according to a 2018 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
They are comparable in the sense that both have the capability to strike each other’s territories and cause immense damage and massive loss of life.
In a 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, US Director of National Intelligence Daniel R. Coats said, Pakistan “continues to develop new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer-range ballistic missiles,” noting that “the new types of nuclear weapons will introduce new risks for escalation dynamics and security in the region” 
The Defense Intelligence Agency appeared to tone down its language slightly in its 2021 and 2022 Worldwide Threat Assessments, stating that “Pakistan very likely will continue to modernize and expand its nuclear capabilities by conducting training with its deployed weapons and developing new delivery systems…” but not explicitly noting inherent escalation risks.
At a Democratic congressional campaign committee reception in 2022, US President Joe Biden said Pakistan may be “one of the most dangerous nations in the world” as the country has “nuclear weapons without any cohesion.”
Sharif, then serving his first term as PM, rejected the comments as “factually incorrect and misleading” and said Pakistan had proven to be a “most responsible nuclear state” over the past decades, with its nuclear program managed through a “technically sound and foolproof command and control system.”

“Pakistan has also consistently demonstrated responsible stewardship of its nuclear-weapons capability, marked by a very strong commitment to global standards, including those of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) on non-proliferation, safety, and security,” a press release from Sharif’s office said.