Pregnant and Living in the Forest

Pregnant and Living in the Forest

Publication info

Tomas Schwarz

In July 2010, unprecedented flooding in Pakistan left one-fifth of the country submerged underwater and affected 20 million people, forcing them into temporary camps, schools and anywhere else they could find shelter. More recently, in September 2013, heavy monsoon rains triggered floods affecting 1.3 million people. Many have lost their livelihoods and homes and are struggling to fend for their children.

It is unbearably hot. At least 104 degrees, maybe even hotter. Humidity does the rest. In the southern part of Punjab in Pakistan, thousands and thousands are fleeing the flooding, to all points of the compass. The water has forced them to leave their homes, their villages, their cities.

Maybe 100 out of those thousands were brought to a small forest, near a busy and noisy road, about a two hours' car drive from Multan in South Punjab. Who brought them here no one knows but the people said this place was better for the group. A day later, they delivered some food and water. Everyone in the group living in the forest then received a card with a triangle kind of logo on it, a name under it and a stamp. After that, the people who brought them here were never seen again.

Up to 20 million people have been affected by one of the worst natural disasters the world has ever seen. Almost one out of every 10 Pakistanis has fled their village and lost their home or job and/or belongings. Thousands of acres of farming land are under water. Up to 1,600 Pakistanis lost their lives – this number will probably increase because thousands of flood victims have not yet been reached.

A face in the crowd

A face is hidden behind all those anonymous numbers. With Belqis, this catastrophe gets a real face. She is 20 years old and lives in a noisy part of the forest along the road that connects two villages. She’s only 12 kilometers away from her village, which is completely flooded, but she cannot return there. The water will not go down – and Belqis hears that even more water is coming from the north.

Belqis is eight months pregnant. She sits on a kind of camp bed, made of several ropes strung between wood on which she can lay down her body to relax from time to time. A camp bed like this is very common here, but for a pregnant woman, given the circumstances, it is hard to endure.

Next to her rests her young husband on another camp bed of the same kind. He cannot help her. Belqis explains, "He has fever. He would love to support me, but he is too weak." Someone fans some air in his direction, with a strong piece of fabric.

Between all the camp beds, animals of the villagers are running around – goats, cows, some cats, too. Excrement is everywhere around the women, children and men. Beqis disrupts my thoughts.

"It will be a boy," she says, smiling. The sweat pearls between her upper lip and her nose are growing. "If it were a girl that would please us as well. It is good, as Allah wants it." But life here, she says, is tough and a little sad. "I don't know where I can give birth to my son, and I don't know how it will be." It will be her first baby. Despite her own thoughts and fears, she is worried about another woman, who has to live in the woods as well.

"She is pregnant like me, but already in her ninth month. Will someone support her?"

CARE and a local aid agency have caught wind of the women’s plight and will take them to a hospital soon. But even a big international organization like CARE is limited in the face of such a huge disaster. We hope we can continue to save lives and help make Belquis’ birth a dignified one.

Keep learning:

  • In 2010, there were 43 million displaced people around the world – 20 million of them were female and 1 million were pregnant.
  • If Belquis’ baby survived childbirth, it was only the beginning. A year later, CARE found a million remained vulnerable, living in makeshift tents and shelters and unprepared for another monsoon. But the rains came. In early-September 2012, the monsoon affected 1.1 million people and destroyed 827,000 acres of crops. And, once again, in September 2013, 1.3 million people were affected by heavy monsoon rains and flash floods. Read more > 
  • During normal times, approximately 15 percent of all pregnant women experience a complication requiring medical intervention. These include hemorrhage, infection, miscarriage, prolonged or obstructed labor and hypertensive disorders, many of which can be avoided with appropriate medical care. But when a disaster strikes, pregnant women often have limited or no access to health facilities, which places them at an even greater risk of complications and death related to pregnancy and childbirth.


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