SHIKARPUR, Pakistan – The water came in the morning, quietly sweeping across the rice paddies and into the village. Within hours, it was as high as a man’s shoulder and Abdul Nabi had lost his harvest, his mud home and all 10 of his buffalo.

It had barely been raining at all.

Weeks after massive downpours first battered northern Pakistan, submerging tens of thousands of square miles, killing about 1,500 people and leaving millions homeless, those floodwaters are still sweeping downriver and through the south, adding one more layer of misery to people long accustomed to hardship.

“This is the fate of the country,” said another flood victim, a bitterly angry man named Habib Ullah. “It is the bad luck of Pakistan.”

Pakistanis have lived through a deeply corrupt political establishment, a long history of military coups, a bloody Islamist insurgency and widespread poverty. Up to a third of its 170 million people live in poverty. Six years ago, entire towns in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir were leveled by an earthquake that killed 80,000 people.

Now, after years of low rainfall that had left many farmers struggling at the edge of financial survival, they face the worst floods in generations.

“It’s not just the scale (of the floods), it’s the depth as well,” said Arif Jabbar Khan, the humanitarian operations manager for the aid group Oxfam Pakistan. “People have lost most, if not all, of their assets. People save all their life, and now it’s all gone.”

Nabi understands that kind of loss.

“I have seen floods before. We had them in the 1970s. But I have never seen anything like this,” said Nabi, 63, a thin, bearded man whose wrinkled face reflects his many years working in his fields.

Behind him, nearly 50 members of his extended family — with their mattresses, bicycles, battered metal trunks, cooking pots, plastic buckets and a couple of electric fans — were piled onto a trailer pulled by a farm tractor. The family had spent the past three days sleeping in the open in Shikarpur, a town now inundated with people who had fled the floods. Now, they were headed to a larger city hoping for help.

He’d been lucky that day — he’d managed to grab a 22-pound bag of flour when an aid group drove through town throwing bags of food to a seething crowd — but he seemed stunned at how little help he’d received.

“Nothing. I got nothing from the government. We saw these big vehicles with officials driving past, but they didn’t stop. They didn’t even give us a hand,” he said.

More than anything, though, he was worried most about his buffalo. He supports dozens of people with his small rice farm. The buffalo are — were — his most valuable possession.

“Maybe they swam, maybe they drowned. I don’t know. But either way they are gone,” he said, looking as if he was about to cry.

It’s a look that has become commonplace across the flood zone, an area larger than England. Seen from the air, a huge swath of Pakistan has become an archipelago of misery.


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