Islamabad: On a day in September 2010, a group of white-bearded men left their mountaintop village in Pakistan and wended their way down 5,000 feet of steep, rocky slopes. None of them were young; one used a cane. At the base of the mammoth mountain, a river had burst its banks and destroyed the only bridge leading where they needed to go. The men waited hours to make a precarious journey across the water on a hastily-constructed rope trolley—a tiny open crate that swung and wobbled each of them over the river.
Crossing makeshift bridges and skirting landslide boulders that blocked their way, taking vehicles in places where the flood hadn’t damaged the roads too badly, the men finally reached their destination: a Catholic Relief Services office in the town of Besham. Getting from their village to Besham was normally a rough, bumpy two hours by car. But during the massive flooding of summer 2010, the journey took far longer.
The men were desperate to repair their village’s flood-destroyed water system, and had approached others with no success. They made the arduous trek because they knew CRS; it had built a school near their village and provided aid after an earthquake.
“CRS helped us before,” says Abdul Rahman, one of the group. “We hoped they would help us again.”
The men presented their case to CRS engineers, who came to the village and evaluated the damage. The water system had served not just their village, but a total of five thousand people. During torrential rains, “the pipes were washed away. Landslides also damaged some pipes,” says Muhammad Jan, another village elder.
With the pipe system gone, “poor people, especially women, had to go for water and carry it two or three miles,” says villager Awal Khan. People collected rainwater from their roofs, and tried to store water in cisterns. Saving the hard-to-get water only for drinking and cooking, the villagers could not bathe or wash their clothes.
Finding that 9,000 feet of the line was damaged, the CRS team took action. With funding from Caritas partners in Australia and Switzerland, it brought in pipes, cement and tools. The village men contributed their labour, agreeing to haul the pipes and machinery on terrain too rough for cars to navigate.
“We carried over 60 pounds of pipes for five hours,” remembers Awal Khan. “The tops of our shoulders would get red and swollen.”
“It was our intense need. Our women and children were suffering,” he continues.
Today, the lines are restored and water flows from tap stands within easy reach of villagers’ homes. Throughout northern Pakistan, CRS repaired dozens of systems, bringing clean water to over 200,000 people hit by the flood. “We felt happy. Our problem was solved,” says Awal Khan.
“Our women were so happy to be able to get water in their own place, not putting a pot on their heads,” he continues. “And our children are clean now.”
“We’re poor. We know how precious water is,” says Muhammad Jan. The villagers take care not to waste a drop.
Stooping over his cane, an elder named Haji Sawal Fakir looks on as village boys drink water from a tap stand. “We had a lot of problems after the flood,” he says. “God had mercy on us that you came here and responded to our intense need.”
Laura Sheahen is CRS’ regional information officer for Asia. She is based in Combodia.
For more information, contact:
Catholic Relief Services
228 W. Lexington St.
Baltimore, Maryland 21201-3413