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 Behind the photograph: the human face of Pakistan's deadly flood

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Bài gửiTiêu đề: Behind the photograph: the human face of Pakistan's deadly flood   Tue Nov 29, 2011 2:32 am

Behind the photograph: the human face of Pakistan's deadly flood



Mother of the child in image that went around the world tells of her family's struggle


















































The photograph that went round the world.
The Guardian tracked down the child with the bottle, two-year-old Reza
Khan, and spoke with his mother about her family's struggles.
Photograph: Mohammad Sajjad/AP





It was an image that conveyed the human cost of the Pakistani
floods – and the failure to deliver aid to those affected – more
powerfully than any statistic: four young children lying on a filthy
patchwork quilt, one of them sucking on an empty yellow bottle, all of
them covered by flies.
The photograph by Associated Press's Mohammad Sajjad went around the world and featured in the Guardian's Eyewitness
slot last week. The Guardian identified the child with the bottle as
two-year-old Reza Khan and tracked him down to a makeshift camp at a
roadside in Azakhel, some 19 miles from Peshawar, the capital of the
insurgency-plagued province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan.
The
camp is a hotchpotch of about two dozen tents donated by various aid
organisations, but it is run by none. Its residents must fend for
themselves, and rely on the charity of passersby. There are 19 families
here, all of them Afghan refugees: people who were displaced once by
conflict in their homeland have now been displaced again by the
month-long deluge.
Reza's family is from Butkhak, near the Afghan
capital, Kabul. His father fled the area as a young boy, some 30 years
ago, to escape the cycle of foreign occupation and internecine battles
plaguing his homeland.
When we found him, Reza was in a tent with
his mother, Fatima, who, like most Afghans, has only one name, and six
of his seven siblings, all huddled on a blue blanket extended over the
muddy floor. He was still clutching the same bottle. It was still empty.
Fatima
tried to calm the boy, who cries in a constant, low whimper, as well as
his twin brother, Mahmoud. She covered three of her other children –
she has eight, all under the age of nine – with a dirty mosquito net
somebody in a passing car gave her, but it has several gaping holes. Her
eldest child, a nine-year-old girl called Sayma, is mute and seems
dissociated from her surroundings. Her green eyes stare blankly ahead,
seemingly oblivious to her brothers' wails. Flies carpet the few
blankets arranged on the floor, and swarm all over the children. There
is precious little in the tent – one cooking pot, a few cushions and two
or three items of children's clothing. The stench of human and animal
waste is overwhelming in the hot, humid air. There is no sanitation,
just shallow, open ditches of raw sewage that attract flies and
mosquitoes.
"They have had nothing to eat today. I have no food,"
Fatima says as she tries to swat the flies away from her children with a
bamboo fan. "He's crying with hunger," she says, pointing to Reza.
"It's been a month since he had any milk."



Two-year-old twins Reza and Mahmoud Khan sit with their mother
Fatima and six other siblings in a roadside tent. Photograph: Jason
Tanner for the Guardian


On this day, Reza's father, Aslam, was in a nearby hospital with his
seven-year-old daughter, who has a skin infection caused by the
unsanitary living conditions. Reza and several of his siblings also bear
red spots, and appear malnourished. Their thin hair is coming out in
clumps, their mother says. "We have been here for a month, a month!"
Fatima says. "We are tired of these flies and of being without food.
Before the waters came, my husband worked. We were poor before, but we
had full stomachs."
The family of 10 used to live among the 23,000
residents of the Azakhel Afghan refugee camp, about 20 minutes' walk
from their current roadside location. Aslam sold chickens for a living,
travelling from door to door on a rickety bicycle, one of the family's
prized possessions. He made about $2 a day.
Their mud-brick home
was small, Fatima says, but it was enough for her. They lived among her
husband's clan, about six families in all. "I had a kitchen, and there
was a water tap close by," she says as her youngest child, one-year-old
Ayad, tugs on her lilac dupatta, the scarf Pakistani women
drape over their heads, arms and chest, pulling it away from her hair.
She quickly readjusts the worn, holed fabric. "These clothes are all
that we have now," she says, almost apologetically.
The loose mud
bricks of their home were no match for the raging waters of the nearby
swollen Kabul River. The floodwaters gushed into the house in the
morning. She and her husband snatched several of the children in their
arms, while extended family members helped bundle the others out of the
house.
The clan of some 60 people walked toward the main road
linking the town of Nowshera to Peshawar. They spent five days out in an
open field, eating whatever scraps they could forage.
Aslam's
older brother, Taykadar, set out on foot to find help, stopping at
several of the dozen or so organized relief camps nearby. "They would
ask us for our Pakistani identification cards in order to register us,
but we are Afghans," he says. "And we are too many, that's the problem.
We don't want to be split from each other. We've already lost our homes,
we don't want to lose our families."
The men managed to obtain
several tents from various organisations. Fatima's, for example, was
donated by the Saudi government while others bear the logos of UNHCR.
The Afghans say they have nothing to return to. Taykadar says they
haven't received any help from a government he knows is overwhelmed by
the destitution of its own people. The busy road that they have camped
alongside is now their lifeline. Men, women and children rush out
towards any car that appears to slow down alongside them. Hundreds of
hands stretch out, hoping for food, water or clothing.
"We have to
run after the food, it isn't given by some organisation in the tents,"
Fatima says bitterly. Her children eat once a day, usually in the
evenings, thanks to charity organisations that provide iftar meals
during Ramadan. But Ramadan ends this week. "I just want to say to the
world, isn't there any way they can get us food?" she pleads. "Look,"
she says, pointing to the twins in her lap. "Please, our children are
dying of hunger."
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