'We didn't have time to take anything': People speak of loss as Pakistan floods devastate homes

The monsoon rains may have stopped, with the floodwaters that swamped large parts of Pakistan starting at last to recede - but only now is the full extent of the devastation becoming clear. ITV News International Affairs Editor Rageh Omaar reports

Rubina Bibi was busy cooking food for her family in her mud-brick home in a village in northwest Pakistan when the nearby mosque blared a warning from its loudspeaker.

Flood waters were coming, it announced. Everyone should move to safer ground.

She and her family didn’t take it seriously. There had been flooding in their village of Majooki more than a decade ago, and they hadn’t needed to flee.

This time, however, it was on a different scale entirely. Days of torrential rains had sent a massive surge of water down the nearby Swat River - so powerful that on that day, last Friday, it broke through a reservoir that usually controls the river’s flow and flooded her family home.

In an instant, her sleeping, five-month-old grandchild Dua Humayun was swept away by the rushing waters. It was too fast for anyone to even think of saving her. She was gone.

“The floodwaters entered our house suddenly. We didn’t have time to take anything as we were leaving,” Bibi said. 

More than 1,160 people have been killed in flooding across Pakistan since mid-June, hundreds of them in the major surge that began last week.

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Sohbat Pur city, a district of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province, August 30 2022. Credit: AP

More than 33 million people in the country of 220 million have been affected, including those left homeless by the destruction of more than one million homes.

Pakistani officials have put the economic damage at some $10 billion, including everything from collapsed bridges and roads to destroyed crops.

They say the flooding that has hit across the country over the past weeks is like nothing they have seen before.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To know

The floods’ devastation has hit Pakistan as it is already struggling to keep its crisis-stricken economy from collapse. The government is severely strapped for cash, and inflation has been spiralling.

The International Monetary Fund gave a boost this week by releasing a long-awaited, $1.17 billion tranche of a bailout negotiated in 2019, but only after the government promised painful austerity measures.

The United Nations on Tuesday launched an emergency appeal for $160 million in aid to help flood victims. Planeloads of food, medical supplies and other aid have arrived in recent days. But Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif warned on Tuesday that any delay in the provision of help would be disastrous.

Residents in the town of Bahrain manoeuvre across the river, surveying the damage as they go

The raging floods been caused by unprecedented heavy and unrelenting monsoon rains, fuelled they say by the world’s changing climate.

Millions in villages, towns and cities around Pakistan were caught off guard by the swiftness and power of the waters.

Residents whose homes still stood took out their soggy blankets and furniture and other possessions to dry. Others surveyed wrecked mud-brick or shoddy cinder-block homes with collapsed walls and roofs. Deep, thick mud coated everything.

Bibi’s home village of Majooki, once home to 2,500 people, remains under waist-deep water. The rice and wheat that residents stored in their homes to meet the year’s need have been ruined. Hundreds of thousands of villages across Pakistan lost crops.

Many of Majooki’s residents are now at the tent camp in Charsadda’s Abdul Wali Khan Sports Complex. Hundreds of tents stood in rows, and children lay inside on plastic mats with what few belongings they took with them piled nearby. Some eat rice or other staples being distributed by the government.

“We are facing a lot of difficulties. We want more help so that we can start our life again,” Bibi said.