BILLIONAIRE PHILANTHROPIST TO FILL HUMANITARIAN VACUUM IN PAKISTAN

The number of Pakistanis left homeless and without means of making a living following the devastating monsoon floods of 2010 and 2011 is, quite simply, staggering.

According to the international charity Save the Children, there are 2.5 million such people just in the southern province of Sindh.

But that number only accounts for people still living in camps, mostly on the eastern bank of the Indus River, which was flooded in 2011 (the 2010 floods deluged west-bank areas of Sindh).

The international response to the floods was remarkable and certainly helped prevent many deaths from disease and starvation among the estimated 21 million people who were displaced by the floods during the 2010 deluge, which swept the length of Pakistan.

But the camps that served as their temporary homes were wound up within six months, leaving millions of men, women and children with nowhere to go.

The plight of these people is aggravated by the feudal structure of the area’s agricultural economy, where all farmland is owned by a handful of landlord-politicians. For instance, in the case of the homeless residents of the three villages of Jhahurd, Kalandar Imam Shah and Malkan, in Muzaffargarh, the landlord is Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister and a renowned fashionista.

Their situation was not merely one of homelessness. Most of the 3,000 acres of riverbank land – technically, the government’s – they had lived on and farmed has been rendered barren by soil salinity, caused by the inundation of the area’s aquifers by stagnant flood water.

Before the floods, farmers would harvest enough wheat to feed a family for a year and would sell on any surplus crop. Their diets were supplemented by the rearing of a couple of goats, which provided milk for the family, and kids to fatten for sale ahead of the annual Eid al-Adha festival.

Relocated by the authorities for their own safety, and only able to farm a fraction of the land they used to, these farmers are now only able to grow small quantities of wheat.

“We were very poor before but we’re much poorer now,” said Muslim Khan.

Understandably, most people have spent the money given to them by the government on food and medical treatment rather than on building homes.

Nevertheless, Khan considers himself very fortunate for having won, in a raffle, one of the 100 homes in the Rakhdile model village built by the Punjab provincial government.

The per-unit cost of construction put Ms Khar’s fashionista image into Pakistan’s social context: the Hermès Birkin handbags she carries retail for around Dh70,000, or enough to build homes for two families of six.

The neat little development of two-room homes, replete with urban utilities, and a functioning school and health clinic, was only completed in January, and inaugurated with fanfare by the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif.

That pretty picture was scarred, however, by dozens of reed huts outside its walls, where those families who didn’t win the raffle have now set up home.

They were anxiously awaiting the distribution of 5,000 bricks to each family, by Acted, the French relief agency, so they could replace the huts with a couple of rooms – although there won’t be any matching civic amenities such as running water, human waste disposal or electricity.

Even the lucky raffle winners fret that they’ve been housed in a desert of opportunity.

The planners of the model village have included kitchens and bathrooms in each home. To their impoverished owners these are mod cons. But these same planners failed to make any provision for the livestock that are at the heart of their economic reality.

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