My beautiful slum palace
‘My house is good,’ says Nargis*. ‘I worked hard to build it, so it’s good. No matter if it is of a very low quality.
‘I have spent my whole life here, so it looks beautiful to me. Even compared to a palace, I like this house more.’
Nargis lives with her family in a home about 20 feet above the river in one of Islamabad’s oldest slums. Although proud of her hard work building a home for her sons, daughters and their children, it is not safe.
Drowning in sleep
The huge build-up of rubbish – plastic and organic, human and animal waste – causes the river to clog up and rise. Floods are a constant threat.
Nargis lost her husband in a road accident ten years ago. She now lives with her family, because she fears what would happen if her house flooded when she was alone at night.
‘The danger of drowning while we sleep is high,’ she says. But it’s not just the threat of death that troubles Nargis – life in the rubbish is a constant nightmare too.
‘The danger of drowning while we sleep is high’
‘People come with buckets full of waste and throw them near our animals,’ she says. ‘I remove the waste myself. People throw plastic shopping bags and the waste comes flowing in.’
The build-up of waste has horrifying consequences. ‘Weasels and rats make their homes in the piles of wood and in our houses.
‘Snakes also enter the houses. Fat snakes come flowing with the water and enter here. When the gutter is blocked, human waste also comes inside the house.
‘Because of that, the mosquitoes cause problems. They bite us. It is good we are heavy because otherwise, the mosquitoes would carry us away with them...’
Population piling up
For decades, the population has increased. Without a similar increase in housing, the slums have grown more and more overcrowded.
Having lived in the slum for 30 years, Nargis feels powerless to stop the flow of waste.
‘Having rubbish around feels bad, but we have no choice. When this community was established, we had ten houses.
‘With the growing size of the population, how can we ask everyone not to throw rubbish?’
‘With the growing population, how can we ask everyone not to throw rubbish?’
Nargis and her family are resigned to the fact that the floods will come and waste is left behind. When the waters rise, members of her family stay constantly on watch.
As the flood enters their home, they leave and wait on higher ground for the waters to recede.
‘We wait for the water to drain out, then go back to our homes to see the damage. What stuff has washed away and what’s left behind.’
Weary and burdened
‘We pray to God that it does not rain at night,’ says Nargis, who is a regular at her local church. ‘I pray to God to bless me with a healthy life and not make me dependent on anyone.’
Tearfund’s partner Pak Mission Society is determined to help people like Nargis. Working with local church and community leaders, they have established a pilot recycling scheme in Islamabad and want to develop more with the UK government’s match funding from this appeal.
These hubs will encourage communities to collect, dispose of or reuse waste materials. It may be the answer to Nargis’s prayers...
‘I pray to God to bless me with a healthy life’
*Names changed throughout for privacy purposes