KARACHI, Pakistan - It’s hard to watch parents grow old. Their hair begins to show more salt than pepper, and their health, once full of vitality, starts to wane with every passing year.
Now imagine their lives being compromised by something as uncontrollable as the passage of time: the weather.
This imagined scenario became a reality for New Yorker and Pakistani-American Muhammad Ammar Qadri this summer, when historic floods inundated his elderly parents’ home and farm in Pakistan.
Like many family members whose loved ones experience weather disasters abroad, Qadri was left to helplessly watch the flooding unfold from half a world away – but he held onto the hope that his parents would emerge unscathed.
The highest stakes
"Whenever we go [home], she loves it, she's so happy," Qadri said of his 66-year-old mother, who lights up when Qadri and his brother return to Pakistan to visit.
Qadri is a child of southern Pakistan, born in the small town of Sukkur and then raised about 300 miles south in the coastal city of Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan. He then left his hometown about 12 years ago when school and work brought him to Canada and then the United States.
While abroad – and before COVID – Qadri made a point to visit Pakistan once a year. That’s when he’s able to see his mother, who now requires medical assistance for dialysis, and his father, a 72-year-old farmer who takes care of his wife.
Just as reliable as Qadri’s visits back home is another – though far less pleasant – annual occurrence in Pakistan: the monsoon. Every year, monsoon winds bring heavy rains that flood the majestic Indus River and other waterways to supply water and life to the region.
Farmers, such as Qadri’s father, expect the floods to arrive like clockwork as their farms depend on the water they bring. The floods brought by this year’s monsoon, however, were historic.
The United Nations reported that Pakistan received more than five times their average rainfall. The ensuing floods killed at least 1,000 people and damaged or destroyed more than 600,000 homes, affecting about 33 million residents.
According to Qadri, his family’s farm was completely underwater, destroying the date trees and other crops his father was growing.
"[My father] has served his whole life in that region – he says that he has never seen a flood like that," Qadri said. Because of this year’s floods, his father and many other farmers have lost their livelihoods.
The floods have also posed a threat to the health of many Pakistanis.
Floodwaters pick up everything they touch, allowing them to carry a multitude of water-born illnesses and other harmful agents. This enables the spread of disease, particularly to the immunocompromised.
Given his mother’s vulnerable condition, Qadri was worried she would fall victim to a water-borne illness from the flood, particularly since clean, running water is not always easily accessible.
The biggest curse, the biggest blessing
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For Qadri, watching these events transpire and impact his parents from half a world away has not been easy.
"I wish I would have taken care of them," he said.
"They took care of me all this time, and I wish I could take care of them, but I have to be here," he added.
In place of being in Pakistan to help his parents, he sends money back home to help his family get back on their feet. His contributions help some of his siblings, who are on the ground, to take care of his parents.
While work in North America pulled Qadri away from Pakistan nearly 12 years ago, work is now what allows him to help finance his family’s recovery efforts after the flood.
He plans on returning home in November – a visit his heart has longed for three years. These years of separation, especially during the worst of times, serve as reminders of the difficulties that come with living so far away from family.
"Honestly, the biggest blessing is having your family here, or at least, so you can drive or fly to them if they're in North America," he said. "All those people who are in North America, if you get a chance to see your parents, that's a big blessing."