Islamabad: The brick kiln that dominates the small village of Akirpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province now lies abandoned, with the furnace extinguished by weeks of torrential rains that caused the worst flooding in the country’s history. Floods that engulfed Aqilpur and surrounding fields have receded from their highs a week ago, but the kilns are still surrounded by water. Known as the “daily wager” for their meager salaries, most of the people who lived on the site, part of the country’s million-strong workforce, have abandoned their homes to live on high ground and live in dry conditions. moved to land.

“I come here by bicycle every day, going from one kiln to another looking for work, but I find nothing,” said itinerant worker Muhammad Ayub. Today, the road through the village has become a kind of town square for the homeless and unemployed kiln workers. Ayub, 40, has a sick mother and his 8-year-old daughter.

They were sent to a relative’s house near the village because their house was destroyed by the torrential rain before the flood. However, when flooding occurred, his family was forced to take refuge in a makeshift campsite on higher ground outside the village.

More than 33 million people have been affected by floods in Pakistan, with record monsoon rains inundating a third of the country and killing at least 1,300 people. About two million homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged by the floods. To start the rebuilding process, you’ll need to reactivate the kiln, such as those found in Akilpul.

Earning less than $3 per shift

Thousands of small brick factories and kilns dot most of Pakistan, an important supplier of building materials to a country of 220 million people. For now, the piles of bricks destined for construction sites across the country are partially flooded. Ayub said that in one night he made bricks for 12 hours and per shift he earned less than $3 (600 rupees).

He spent the morning working in the fields around the village, and after only a few hours of sleep in the afternoon, his shift resumed. With the kiln closed and the fields flooded, his daily wages were gone. “Where should the workers go?” he asked AFP.

“Wherever workers go looking for work, they come back empty-handed.” are exploited and effectively enslaved by large-scale farmers and factory owners. Brick factories in particular are notorious for employing illegal child labor under Pakistani law.

The youngest of some 50 kiln workers camped near Akirpur, Muhammad Ismail joined his father’s brick factory almost a year before he turned 12. He hopes his labor will help his parents feed his six younger siblings.

After leaving home in a flood, Ismail’s father had to go into debt to buy flour and other necessities for his family. “But now we are in debt,” said Ismail. “Every day I go with my father to find a job. It is not uncommon to be forced into slave labor for years.

This debt is often passed down from generation to generation. Kiln workers in Aqilpur have petitioned the owners to light the furnaces so that work can resume, but Ayub believes they are asking for the impossible. “The water collected here will not run out for at least three months,” he said. “And when the water dries, it will take another two to two and a half months to repair.” – AFP

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