Sindh valley trees embalmed by hundreds of spider webs. Photo: Russell Watkins / DFID.
Nearly a year has passed since Pakistan was devastated by floods on an unprecedented scale. The disaster left many scars, but none so surprising as the ghostly ‘spider trees’ along the country’s river banks.

In July 2010, Pakistan experienced the equivalent of ten years worth of rain in less than a week. The downpour left several thousand people dead and 21 million refugees. The economic fallout was also disastrous, with tens of thousands of cattle drowned and an estimated seven billion euros of material damage.

A study carried out by the American Geophysical Union recently concluded that the disaster could have been limited if the Pakistani authorities had known how to analyse the meteorological indications in the days leading up the disaster.

Photos posted on Flickr by the UK Departement for International development. Photo: Russell Watkins

These photos were taken in the Sindh Valley, in south-eastern Pakistan. The waters receded more slowly from Sindh than any of the other zones affected by the floods.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.

"They were just small, harmless spiders, but there were a lot of them"

Russell Watkins works for the Department for International Development (DfID), the British governmental department responsible for promoting development and poverty reduction.
I took these photos in December 2010. We do not know when this phenomenon first appeared but the residents, who had left the region in August during the floods, discovered these trees on their return in November 2010. They had never seen anything like it before.
As the waters rose, the spiders instinctively climbed the trees, bit by bit, to protect themselves. The floods took so long to recede that the spiders ended up colonising whole trees. The spider webs which they wove ended up embalming the branches, creating these strange sights. They were just small, harmless spiders, but there were a lot of them !
"Locals say the spiders reduced the risk of malaria infection"

Local residents told us that the spider webs trapped a large quantity of mosquitos, which are especially prevalent in the marshy areas. Although they say they have no scientific verification, they believe that the risk of malaria infection has decreased as a result.
Some of my colleagues have recently been back to these sites. They noticed that the spider webs are beginning to disappear as the waters recede and the rains start. But most trees were asphyxiated by the webs, and did not survive the spider invasion.
There are still a million displaced people in the Sindh region. We are working to build homes and deliver food and medical supplies, but it takes time. We are in for the long-haul."
All photos posted on Flickr by the UK Departement for International development. Photo : Russell Watkins