For Abdul Noor, the beauty of Pakistan’s Swat district, where he grew up, is unmatched. The snow-capped mountains, bustling tourist sites, and mom-and-pop restaurants hold a special place in the Brighton gas station owner’s heart.
But those memories are now replaced with terrifying scenes as devastating floods course through the region, leaving one third of the country under water, according to Pakistani officials. More than 1,300 lives have been claimed since the monsoon season began in June, while hundreds of thousands more have been forced to evacuate their homes.
In Swat, in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, locals depend on tourism and agriculture. The recent floods have decimated their livelihoods, leaving behind no trace of quaint hotels, shops, or roads. Noor’s longtime family friend Anwar Khan, a Lyft driver who lives in Watertown, told the Globe his peach and tomato farms back home were flooded, and shared videos taken by friends and family showing the destruction and coursing water down the streets of his town. Noor’s own home suffered some flood damage too.
“It’s going to be almost impossible to visit for the next couple of years at least,” Noor said. “Getting those calls and seeing footage of the floods flushing through people’s houses and their livestock ... it’s been very devastating being away from home.”
Noor and Khan are among many members of Greater Boston’s Pakistani community mobilizing to provide financial and moral support to victims back home, running fundraisers and campaigns to spread awareness about a nation in crisis.
But Noor said living a privileged life in Massachusetts while friends and family members send videos of Swat drowning has festered a deep sense of guilt.
“It’s really hard living here in Boston, living the best life. ... I have some friends that live off of $5 or $6 a day [in Pakistan],” said Noor, 28. “So things were already extremely bad, and the flood has made it probably 10 times worse.”
Pakistan contributes less than 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but is among the most vulnerable to climate change. Thirty-three million Pakistanis are facing relentless monsoon rains, surging glacier meltwater, and swelling rivers without the infrastructure or resources to survive. Worst hit are the southern districts of Balochistan and Sindh provinces.
The catastrophic flooding has spurred charities and other organizations in Massachusestts to launch local fund-raising efforts. Adil Najam, the dean of Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, is working through The Citizens Foundation ― a nonprofit supporting the education of underprivileged Pakistani children ― to provide support to the communities most acutely impacted by the flooding, while raising awareness of the crisis among non-Pakistanis.
“The extent of the floods is such that there is no one in Pakistan who doesn’t have someone affected by it,” said Najam, a member of TCF’s board of directors. “[TCF] is focusing on providing immediate relief and then long-term rehabilitation for the poorest and most vulnerable communities.”
Madyan bridge,KP. Communications ministry informs us that it was built 5 metres above the level of the bridge that went down in the 2010 superflood. Now the water is inundating the bridge. They thought they were building back better by raising it much higher. #PakistanFloods pic.twitter.com/MqQMQsebUE— SenatorSherryRehman (@sherryrehman) August 27, 2022
Pakistan hasn’t faced floods of this magnitude since 2010, when monsoon rains and the swelling Indus River resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 people, destruction of nearly 2 million homes, and displacement of 6 million people, according to a Yale Climate Connections report. The current floods serve as a haunting reminder of Pakistan’s increasing vulnerability to climate change.
Najam hopes TCF’s efforts to spread awareness of the flooding will help non-Pakistanis understand the gravity of the problem: This is not a Pakistan issue, it is a global climate crisis.
“It is my fault. I caused it. You caused it. We caused it by our [greenhouse gas] emissions,” said Najam, a leading author of two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. “Those who are suffering most immediately are the ones whose emissions are nearly zero. ... Those of us who thought this was something that the future produces, the future is now. And it’s ugly.”
This year’s floods have left millions homeless. The Citizens Foundation is working to address their most pertinent needs like food, shelter, and medicine. Mahwash Khan, TCF’s director of marketing and communications, said the organization plans to execute a three-step relief plan in Pakistan.
TCF will provide 1 million meals to displaced families, reconstruct 5,000 homes damaged by floods, and rehabilitate flooded schools and convert in-tact schools into shelter homes, Khan said.
Mariam Vadria, a Canton resident, spent much of her life in Karachi, Pakistan’s most populated city.
She fears that Karachi’s infrastructure, not equipped to handle such intense monsoon rains and floods, could render the bustling metropolis inhabitable in coming years.
“My kids will basically never be able to see the city that I grew up in,” said Vadria, mother to two young girls. “It’s the city that I call home.”
While Vadria is donating to flood relief efforts and spreading awareness of the crisis within her social circle here in Massachusetts, her father is managing flood damage within schools and homes in Karachi’s underprivileged areas.
Saud Javed, of Shrewsbury, is another leader in local efforts to support Pakistanis. As president of the Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England, Javed hosted a fund-raiser Saturday, at the Islamic Center of Boston, Wayland with other local groups. He said the fund-raiser exceeded expectations, raising $60,000.
Like many Pakistani Americans, Javed wishes he could offer support to his loved ones on the ground, especially after the trauma they’ve experienced.
“They’ve seen dead bodies in the rivers passing by,” Javed said. “People don’t have a place to bury the people because there’s no place to even dig.”
Pakistani students at colleges across Massachusetts are also gathering in support of their home country.
Asmer Asrar Safi, with the Harvard College Pakistani Students Association, and the club’s other board members are working alongside climate advocacy groups on campus to educate Harvard students about the crisis through banners, posters, and social media campaigns.
Safi said, above all, he wants his peers to understand that Pakistan needs the help of other countries because its government isn’t currently equipped to help its own people as relief efforts are often bogged down by bureaucracy. As a result, Safi said Pakistanis and citizens of other countries end up leading relief efforts on their own.
“Relief management issues become very, very partisan and then therefore very, very ineffective,” said Safi, who grew up in Karachi and Lahore. “[The floods are] not something that the Pakistani government or the state has been prepared for.”
Just one American dollar can go a long way to support a flood victim, Safi said, “by virtue of the exchange rate” between the American dollar and Pakistani rupee. Local organizations accepting donations include The Citizens Foundation, APPNE, and Harvard College Pakistani Students Association. National organizations like American Muslims and UNICEF are fund-raising, too.
Although the magnitude of the floods in Pakistan sometimes makes him feel helpless, Safi said seeing his community unite to support one another reinvigorates him to try to make the biggest impact he can.
“Ultimately, it’s moments like these that also give me hope,” Safi said. “These are moments where the entire community comes together regardless of political affiliations, regardless of whatever grudges they might hold against each other.”