| Sajjad Tarakzai |
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – The people of Pakistan’s northwestern city of Peshawar have lived through countless bombings, shootings and kidnappings in recent years, but now a new peril stalks the streets – huge house rats.
Residents of the city, on the front line of Pakistan’s battle against homegrown Taliban militants, say the rodents have eaten countless chickens, bitten dozens of adults, spread disease and even killed a baby.
But help is at hand in the stocky form of Naseer Ahmad.
Armed with a hoe, wheelbarrow and plastic gloves and accompanied by his three young daughters, the 40-something Ahmad is waging a dogged battle against the rats of Peshawar – and says he’s killed more than 100,000 in the past 18 months.
“It is my mission and I took it on after I saw my friend taking his wife to hospital because she was bitten by a rat,” Ahmad told AFP while on a mission in the city’s densely populated Zaryab neighbourhood.
“Her medical treatment cost him 5,000 rupees ($50) and she had to have an anti-rabies injection.”
The rats are nine to 12 inches (22 to 30 cm) long, almost the same again when you include the tail.
“They are everywhere, in the streets, in markets and in shops,” Ahmad said.
The rat-hunter says they attack at night and escape before dawn, damaging the fabric of houses and shops, contaminating food and biting women and children.
In past, the rat numbers in the city were limited but monsoon flash floods in the surrounding countryside in recent years have driven them downtown.
Many make their home in an open sewer which flows through the city and come out at night, gnawing with their large teeth and scurrying about in poor neighbourhoods.
As night falls, Ahmad begins his hunt, tracking the rats on foot — street by street, house by house and shop by shop.
He takes a piece of bread, sprinkles sugar on it and sprays it with a chemical mixture.
“They are actually immune to local poison now, so I have to apply my own formula,” Ahmad said.
While Ahmad and his daughters lay the bait, further down the narrow grubby street, resident Gul Zada patches up holes chewed by rats in the floor of his house.
Other than structural damage, Zada said rats killed his infant nephew.
“They bit my nephew last year, he was one and a half years old, but we took him to hospital and he died there,” Zada told AFP.
Zada’s grandfather Faqir Gul said everyone has traps in their houses, but locals say Ahmad is the only effective resistance force.
“They attack like an army and come around 10 o’clock at night,” Ammanullah Khan, a tailor who makes leather jackets, told AFP, complaining the rats chewed through his stock.
Ahmad lays the poisoned bread in corners, in front of shops and all other places where the rats can sneak in.
The morning after comes the clear-up, and Ahmad’s formula seemed to do the trick. Residents could be seen collecting dead rats with shovels and hoes and throwing them in a street corner.
Ahmad gathered up to 100, pitching the dead rats in his wheelbarrow using a hoe. He put them in plastic bags and buried them in a field.
He might be dedicated, and popular with residents, but so far Ahmad’s efforts are strictly unofficial – and unpaid by the authorities.
But he remains undeterred.
“I have no resources and no help from government but its more than a mission for me,” Ahmad said.