Pakistan’s brick workers need kilns reignited after floods

RAJANPUR, PAKISTAN (AFP) – The brick kilns that dominate the small village of Aqilpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province now lie abandoned, furnaces extinguished by weeks of torrential rain that have caused the worst floods in the country’s history.

Though the floods that engulfed Aqilpur and its surrounding fields have receded from the highs of a week ago, the kilns are still surrounded by water.

Most of those who lived on-site – part of the country’s millions-strong workforce known as “daily wagers” because of their piecemeal salaries – abandoned their homes for higher, dry ground.

“I come here daily on my bicycle and go from one kiln to another to look for work but find nothing,” said Muhammad Ayub, an itinerant labourer.

Now, a road that runs through the village has become a kind of town square for the kiln workers, who find themselves both homeless and out of work.

Mr Ayub, 40, has a sick mother and an eight-year-old daughter to provide for.

When his home was destroyed in the torrential rains that preceded the flood, he sent them to a relative’s house close to the village.

But once the flood hit, his family was forced to take refuge at a makeshift campsite on higher ground outside the village.

More than 33 million people in Pakistan have been affected by the flooding, brought on by record monsoon rains that have swamped a third of the country, causing at least 1,300 deaths.

The floods have destroyed or badly damaged nearly two million homes or business premises, and for the rebuilding process to begin, kilns like those in Aqilpur will have to fire up again.

Earning less than $4.20 a shift

There are thousands of small brick factories and kilns scattered across much of Pakistan – a vital supplier of building materials for the nation of 220 million.

For now, mounds of bricks that should be making their way to building sites across the country lie partially submerged in floodwater.

Mr Ayub worked 12 hours a night making bricks, earning less than US$3 (S4.20) a shift for his labours.

He would spend the mornings working the fields surrounding the village, and was only able to sleep briefly in the afternoon before his shift began again.

With the kilns shut down and the fields submerged, his daily wage is gone.

“Where should a labourer go? he asked AFP.

“Wherever the workers go to look for work, they come back empty-handed.”