Sixty-seven-year-old Haji Khatol has lived in Pakistan for more than four decades. He was born in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, but he and his wife left when life became too dangerous during the Soviet–Afghan war – travelling mainly on foot through the mountains until they reached the Pakistani region of Balochistan.
There, they settled, like so many others in their situation. This part of Pakistan now hosts one of the country’s largest populations of Afghan refugees – driven from their homes by waves of conflict. So Haji Khatol and his wife found themselves a new community and started to rebuild their lives, raising eight sons and now seeing them raise their own families.
But last summer, disaster struck when Pakistan suffered weeks of torrential rain, followed by devastating flash floods that tore through communities and swept aside everything in their path. Walls of the family’s home were washed away and all their possessions soaked and ruined.
“I’ve never seen such floods in my whole life,” remembers Haji Khatol. “It was scary. Water was coming from all different directions. It came in through our front door, two feet deep. The only thing left standing was a door – the rest of our walls collapsed.”
In the days that followed, the family did what they could to salvage their belongings, using whatever they had to empty water from the wreckage of their home. The children were sick with coughs, chest infections and diarrhoea from the dirty water and Haji Khatol’s wife had developed a skin infection that isn’t healing.
Luckily, help was at hand. UNHCR teams were able to support the family with essentials like warm blankets, pots and pans, jerry cans and buckets, as well as plastic sheeting to protect them from the wind and rain. They were also given emergency cash assistance, which they used to buy cement and pay for labourers to rebuild their home with sturdy concrete walls.
For Haji Khatol, this building work is bringing a sense of security, progress and hope for the future.
“Now we feel secure,” he says. “Concrete walls can protect us, whereas mud walls just melt in the water. We’re very happy and thankful for this.”