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Rebuilding from monsoon begins by hand

By Frederik Pleitgen, CNN
  • Military and volunteers begin rebuilding roads by hand in Pakistan's Swat Valley
  • Local resident: This is really hard work but we do need this road
  • In some places the flooding has altered the Swat River's course
  • Army major: With the help of God we believe we can bring Swat back to life

Kalam, Pakistan (CNN) -- The Swat area of Pakistan is well known as vegetable farming land but these days if you drive around the district you see cabbages and potatoes rotting either on the fields or in bags at road sides.

The flooding which hit Pakistan in late July has destroyed many of the major roads along the Swat River and cut the farmers off from the important markets where they sell their produce.

Rebuilding those roads is now a priority for Pakistan's military and it is asking everyone to pitch in.

"The road is so important to us all," said a local police officer who joined a group of about 300 people near the town of Kalam to move rocks as a foundation for the road.

Army engineers oversee the construction but most of the laborers are farmers who were hit by the floods and are trying to get the infrastructure back in order.

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  • Pakistan
  • Armed Forces
  • Floods

Abdul Rahman spoke as he was passing stones along a row of people -- reminiscent of a line of people passing water to put out a fire.

"My house was destroyed by the water," he said. "I have lost all my possessions. This is really hard work but we do need this road to get supplies in and our products to markets."

The villagers use what they can find, dumping rocks and even whole tree trunks into the river to create a bed for the road.

"Linking this area is our main priority," said Col. Nadeem Anwar of the Pakistani military, the senior officer in the area.

"This place will be under four, five feet of snow or even more when the winter sets in," he added in an interview at an army base in the town of Kalam.

Kalam is one of the worst affected places by the flooding. Whole chunks of the town were simply ripped away by the rushing waters when the river burst its banks.

Many of the buildings destroyed were hotels, in what is one of Pakistan's traditional tourist spots.

"We will rebuild them and hopefully tourists will return here by next year," an army major said as we toured the destroyed parts of Kalam at the banks of the Swat River.

Ironically, the tourism industry was just beginning to pick up -- after a military offensive to remove the Taliban was successful in spring 2009 - when the floods ravaged Kalam.

The military had organized a culture festival in July, which it says drew more than 10,000 tourists to the region. Some of those tourists were still in Kalam when the flooding hit.

"We had to evacuate about 7,000 tourists from here by helicopter and the Americans played a big role in that,' Anwar said. The Pakistani military has taken the lead on all reconstruction efforts in this area.

Their main concerns, they say, is fixing the roads and bridges, then bringing in heavy earth moving equipment to rebuild houses in places like Kalam and elsewhere along the Swat River.

In some places the flooding has altered the river's course and swallowed whole villages and the army engineers will have to take the new geography into account when planning infrastructure projects.

So far, they have been busy fixing dozens of bridges that were washed away so vehicles can move around.

"Rebuilding this area will be a huge task," one army major said as we drove over a makeshift road, "but with the help of God we believe we can bring Swat back to life."

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