about the author
Martin Penner, a former journalist, has worked for WFP since 2008.
When the monsoon flood waters surged down the Swat River near the village of Zoladher, they smashed the only bridge linking the two sides of the village. Many children now have to ride a rickety cable car to get to school. With help from WFP, villagers have started work on a new bridge.
ZOLADHER (Swat Valley) – Nizarmuddin Gulbarmain, 39, understands the importance of education and desperately wants his five children to go to the village school. Unfortunately, he lives on the wrong side of the River Swat.
The school is on the other side of the river and the bridge was carried away in August by flood waters. For his kids to get to school, they must either swim or use the cable car. At 10 rupees per person, per journey, the cable car would cost him 100 rupees a day. That's about the cost of 500 grams of chicken at a market.
“We are poor people. Most of us have lost our crops and some of us have even lost our farmland. We can’t afford to pay all that money every day,” says Gulbarmain.
Weeks of work
This is one of the reasons the men-folk of the village have decided to build a new bridge as soon as possible. It will take several weeks of hard work -- at a time when these farmers would normally be anxiously seeking day laboring jobs to feed their families until they can plant again.
WFP is supporting the men with food rations as they work on the bridge. This means the villagers can do something constructive for their community, and not worry about finding other work to put food on the table.
For every two weeks work, villagers are entitled to a family ration of wheat flour, oil, pulses, biscuits, salt, sugar and tea.Gulbarmain says he spends about five hours a day on the bridge project, which is being run in cooperation with ACTED, the French NGO. At the moment, the task is to build the road down to the point on the river bank where the villagers have decided to build the bridge.
The bridge will be made of wood and probably won’t look very pretty, but the villagers say it will solve many problems. At the moment, only four-wheel drive vehicles can cross the valley, bumping along the rocky shore of the river to a point where the water is shallow enough to drive through. If you want to go in a normal car, you have to drive for 20 minutes upstream to find the nearest bridge.
“This is an important project for us,” says Gulbarmain. “We want to finish it by the New Year. It’ll be a huge relief when our children can just walk to school and everyone can get to the markets on the other side .”
WFP is using food assistance to support recovery projects all over the flood-hit regions of Pakistan. As well as rebuilding homes, communities are repairing roads, clearing out irrigation channels and replanting orchards. In Swat valley alone, some 21,000 families are receiving support in this way.