Heading into the Upper Swat Valley, the roads around the former tourist haven of Madyan remain near impassable. The deluge that tore down from the mountains in July has ripped kilometres of them away, along with the water and electricity supply, riverside hotels, hospitals, bazaars, and in some cases, almost entire villages. On the banks, cliffs of dangerously eroded soil drop sharply down, while below, there is little trace of what once stood under the boulder field that carpets the valley floor. Thousands of residents have been displaced. Left landless, they have nowhere to begin to rebuild their lives.
In the neighbouring communities of Chail and Badalaye, colonies of temporary shelters known as “depots” hug the last vestiges of the mountainsides. Having watched their ancestral lands of fields and orchards vanish into the floodwaters, the farming families that have found refuge among the depots this winter remain some of the most vulnerable in the aftermath of Pakistan’s worst natural disaster. Without a place to construct more permanent homes, NGOs such as UNHCR and ACTED have built the huts of tin, sticks and plastic sheeting on borrowed land, providing the displaced with a transitory respite from the elements.
Badly in need of help and a permanent solution to their troubles, elders have an ambitious long-term plan to re-route the Swat River away from the site of their destroyed villages. Utilising the rocks thrown down from the mountains during the floods, in five to six years they hope to reclaim their lands. Aside from God, between the two communities of climate refugees, it is the only hope they have.