Submitted by Richard Zack Taylor
Bhan, Pakistan: As the eldest of five siblings with a father working overseas, 10-year-old Olfata had a lot of responsibility helping to look after her four younger brothers and sisters, while lending a hand on her extended family’s potato farm and apple orchard in mountainous north of the country.
One day in late July, she heard shouting and yelling coming from neighbors up the river: her village was directly in the path of a flash flood just minutes away. She tried to remain calm, and helped gather up her brothers and sisters and a basket full of apples, the first objects of value she could find.
Amid a great tumult in the village, Olfata was shepherding the little ones to higher ground when a panicked stray dog lunged toward her, toppling the apples and sending her siblings Seema, 9, Fozia, 7, and five-year-old Faisal in various directions while she clung to 16-month-old Sadiqa with her free hand.
To her horror, little Fozia sought refuge in the wrong direction – in a deserted house by the river. Moments later there was a great rumbling preceded a raging wall of water that swept away all in its path down the river, including the house Fozia in it.
Despite their horror and grief, the family had no choice but to start walking to seek refuge with their closest relative near the city of Kalam. After four hours in the freezing rain, scaling dangerous mountain passes, they arrived.
But the house was hardly the respite they envisaged. Olfata’s uncle, a father of seven, was already hosting five other displaced families were living. Kalam, once a tourist destination, had lost all 48 of its hotels and guesthouses, 300 private homes, and 320 shops.
Wearily, the uncle invited the haggard, decimated family into the house, pointing to an already-full room.
“During the first few days, we ate only once a day,” Olfata said, adjusting her red dupatta across her tiny head and wrapping it once around her neck.
Ajmer Khan, her grandfather, said he owns several acres of potato farms in Bhan as well as a dozen large apple trees, and had earned a comfortable living as a farmer. “Now it’s razed to the ground,” the grizzled, gray-bearded Khan said. All the farms, houses and the main market are replaced by mud, dirt and rocks.”
In about a week, Khan was visited by a team from a nongovernmental organization supported by the United States assessing damages and needs from residents of the union councils of Kalam and Ushu. After hearing Khan’s story, the NGO gave the family first priority and soon provided them 80 kilos of wheat, high protein biscuits, and special ready-to-use supplementary food for the youngest.
“I do not feel hungry anymore,” said sister Seema, clutching a packet of the biscuits. “We are having meals three times a day, and can eat these as snacks.” Although still grieving the loss Fozia, Olfata’s family will now able to eat regularly for at least another two weeks. Her family has also been selected to receive shelter support in the form of tents with bamboos and a shelter kit for setting up temporary housing structure.
As they waited, Khan heard the news that the body of an unidentified girl was found in the city of Bahrain, 40 kilometers to the south. Two of his sons made the grim trek by foot to Bahrain to identify Fozia’s body and bring it back to Kalam.
“I heard the grownups crying outside the house that day,” Olfata recalled. “They were burying Fozia.”
Khan said he doesn’t know how he long he could have held out without the food supplies, and how long he could have depended on the kindness of his nephew for housing.
“I am very old to start life over,” Khan sighed. “But now I have a chance. I have no choice in the matter.”