Photo: Peter Hovring/ACT

Sometime after 9pm, young Rizvan was at home in Badalai village, in the Swat district of Pakistan, with his parents and siblings. It was the second day of incessant rain the likes of which , so the elders said, they had never witnessed before. The word around his village was that this was the second deluge.

From the door of their single-room hut 100m from the river, 10-year-old Rizvan watched the level rise as the water took on the shape of a living, growling monster. Without warning, the door and a wall were sliced away as if by a giant knife. The foaming white torrent now roared past, leaving no room for them to escape.

With their gardening implements, Rizvan helped his father, Sanaullah, break open the opposite wall. Through this hole, they had barely escaped into the freezing downpour when the rest of their home was swept away.

Earlier, Sanaullah had watched the river swallow up, bit by bit, his plot of land measuring about 1,500m2. Like all past summers as far as he could remember, he had grown tomatoes and cucumbers for the market in the local town of Mingora. Only a week before the rains, he had sold some of the harvest and brought home a fortnight’s rations. But now, Sanaullah and his family were only able to escape with the clothes on their backs.

The family took refuge with a neighbour. However, such welcomes do not last very long, especially when the host, too, is under pressure. After a few days, Sanaullah got the first hint to look for alternative arrangements for his family. The rain had slackened off and as the river began to recede, Sanaullah was horrified to see that his vegetable plot was now a mass of boulders brought down by the torrent.

Sanaullah moved his family to nearby Madyan into the house of an acquaintance, hoping to find work in town. In the face of continual rain, however, Sanaullah was unable to find work and pay his keep. Soon, this hospitality wore off as well.

Promising to pay rent for the use of one room in the house, Sanaullah left young Rizvan to go to a town where he worked winters in a factory. He was fortunate the town was not hit by the flood and that there was work to be had.

At the ACT Alliance food aid distribution point run by Church World Service near Madyan, Rizvan, 10, looked lost and forlorn. His aid package – made up of wheat flour, sugar, rice, lentils, tea, and cooking oil – weighed just over 137kgs. This was more than a strong man can carry; it was simply too much for a child. Worse still, the road had been washed away. The kindness of a CWS volunteer meant he got the goods home by evening.

Rizvan and his family are not alone. Here, the disadvantage is that the person left to fend for his family is a child. In Punjab or Sindh, despite every restriction, women are still very much their own people. Under the harsh social restrictions of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, this is impossible. Since no woman will ever be permitted out of the courtyard in the absence of a man, these families are especially vulnerable.

If Sanaullah remains away at work, some money will come in but he must leave his family to fend for itself. If he returns home, the family will depend on charity. For the time being, this comes from organisations like ACT member CWS. But for how long is anyone’s guess.

In mountain villages, thousands of farmers have lost their entire arable land to the ferocity of the floods. The topsoil is gone and only rocks brought down by the river sit where crops and fruit trees once grew on terraced fields. The cost of rehabilitating terraced farmland will be huge. Farmers like Sanaullah depend on their land for survival. Families will suffer miserably if too much time is taken before recovery initiatives are in place. How long will the thousands of Sanaullahs have to wait before they can resume normal life? And has Rizvanullah’s childhood really been cut short so soon – or will he be able to return to school in the near future?