Pakistani Flood Victims Cope Without Bridges, Aid Twenty-five percent of Swat's rich croplands were lost to floods. Five weeks into the disaster -- and with no government official in sight -- farmers say their faith in the government's promise to compensate for damages is evaporating. Meanwhile, the distribution of food aid is being held up by red tape.

Pakistani Flood Victims Cope Without Bridges, Aid

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Swat Valley in Pakistan's northwest corner has suffered debilitating setbacks: a Taliban insurgency, a military offensive, and now the country's worst floods on record. The deadly monsoons that swept the length of the country began in Swat Valley five weeks ago.

NPR's Julie McCarthy just returned from the region, and she reports now on how a population with so many problems is coping.

(Soundbite of water splashing)

JULIE McCARTHY: I'm standing here on the banks of the Swat River, and there is a taxi service that has developed over the past three weeks - a boat service of inner-tube boats carrying medicine and food and rations, everything people need for their daily lives and don't have because they've been cut off.

Fifty people have died on this stretch of the river trying to cross it. We're about to board one of the boats to see if we can make this run.

(Soundbite of water splashing)

McCARTHY: With more than 100 bridges out, these rickety rafts, in this land of mountain streams, are the only means to connect cutoff populations. Swirling currents carry us to the other side in less than three minutes.

(Soundbite of water splashing)

McCARTHY: Coming across the Swat River is like whitewater river rafting. It's fast, it's high on the water, and we're gliding along on an inner tube.

(Soundbite of water splashing)

McCARTHY: The first impression stepping from the boat is not of a river bank, but a New England coastline - boulders and rocks carried from the mountains above Swat lay deposited on white-beige sand. Gone are the rice paddies that swayed beside the river's edge.

Said Rehman(ph) is here with us. He is a farmer. He's a rice farmer. He says he's lost fields in three different places along the banks of this river.

So now you're saying you work as a driver.

Mr. SAID REHMAN (Rice Farmer): Yeah, yeah.

McCARTHY: Do you have any sense when you'll be able to plant rice again? How will you ever clear this boulder-ridden soil and sand beneath us?

Mr. REHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

McCARTHY: Clearing will take years, Rehman says. And he could only replant if the dikes are rebuilt, but he says that won't happen for a very long time.

Twenty-five percent of Swat's rich croplands are lost five weeks into the disaster. And with no government official in sight, farmers here say their faith in the government's promise to compensate for damages is evaporating.

Fateh Khan(ph) says he's become accustomed to losing things. He points to his false teeth and says he lost his real ones when a missile struck in the area here last fall, as the army fought Taliban militants.

For farmers living here, there is a litany of hardships and a range of emotions.

Omar Zeb(ph), you're standing here with us along the banks of the Swat River. You sound angry. Someone said they were sad. Are you angry?

Mr. OMAR ZEB (Farmer): (Through Translator) Whatever aid is coming here, it is channelized through the influential people of this area, like the chieftains and the maliks, and they are the landed gentry, and even the aid agencies approach them. So poor people are not getting anything out of this aid. It's just going through the chieftains. And might is right, this is the law here.

McCARTHY: Further inland, food is being distributed, but it is anything but a well-oiled machine. The United Nations says the sheer scale of the disaster makes speedy delivery impossible: 18 million affected, a landmass half the size of Italy inundated. But aid workers at this distribution center, a two-hour drive north of the main Swat city, Mingora, blame a bloated bureaucracy.

Faisal Mabood(ph) of the World Food Programme and Abu Bakr Siddique(ph) of Relief International say they've run out of food to give away here because someone hasn't signed the proper document.

A document hasn't been issued, and so people can't get food. Doesn't this strike you, Faisal, as a little strange five weeks into this disaster?

Mr. FAISAL MABOOD (World Food Programme): Of course, it does.

McCARTHY: Abu Bakr?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ABU BAKR SIDDIQUE (Relief International): Look, we've finished our work at 11:00, right? We are still sitting over here just in the hope that the food will come.

McCARTHY: Despite disorganization, the World Food Programme says countrywide it has supplied nearly 3 million people with emergency food rations - half of the 6 million in need.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News.

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