Disaster: The Islamic Connection
By Dr Ghulam M. Haniff
If there is any consolation
from the tragedy that struck Pakistan it is that
the response to the disaster was almost immediate,
with prodigious expressions of sympathy, and tangible
support flooded in from all over the world. In the
initial aftermath of the earthquake the extensive
media coverage galvanized volunteers across the
globe to save lives and ameliorate the suffering
of the victims. A small army of benefactors descended
upon the country, many with no training in disaster
relief, to extend a helping hand in the hour of
It has really been a remarkable humanitarian gesture
of goodwill. Quite a few of those who collected
funds, gathered supplies and wanted to be physically
involved, like my freshmen college students, had
only a vague notion of where Pakistan was located.
As the extent of destruction unfolded it became
clear that the scope of the disaster was so immense
that Pakistan alone, given its capability and resources,
would not be able to cope with the situation. Fortunately,
the international community came to the rescue almost
at once, with Iran being the first one to donate
tents, ironically airlifted in US planes, and Turkey,
hastily putting together a contingent with medical
supplies and committing itself to a significant
Among those most affected by the news of the tragedy
were the Pakistanis in diaspora, particularly the
ones in the West. The response of the expatriates
in America, Canada, Britain, several European countries
and elsewhere were almost instantaneous. Funds were
collected by Pakistani and Muslim communities even
in as far away places as New Zealand, Australia,
Fiji, South Africa, Mauritius, Malaysia and Hong
Kong for the victims of the earthquake.
Thousands of people of Pakistani descent live in
several countries around the world and their numbers
are increasing each year through immigration and
natural birth. They clearly feel connected to Pakistan
and its people among which are their relatives.
No doubt, the largest of these communities are those
in Britain, the United States and Canada. Their
charitable foundations sprang up at once, collected
and delivered not only funds but materials goods,
tents, clothes, food packages, medical supplies
and other needed items. Several contingents of volunteers
also went over some fully equipped, to spend weeks
in the earthquake affected areas.
Included in the medical teams from Britain, the
United States and Canada were Muslims of various
backgrounds all joining in to provide assistance.
Fortunately, many of those volunteers have been
joined by others, mostly from the West, but also
from the neighboring countries of India and Sri
One of the most remarkable aspects of these efforts
has been that ordinary people, off-the streets so
to speak, volunteered to be engaged in the relief
effort. Of course, these came in addition to non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) who hastened to provide their
All of this indicates that there is a tremendous
amount of goodwill for Pakistan though it has taken
this disaster for that to become overtly visible.
The Muslim communities in the West have been particularly
active in the provision of support even though their
funds are sorely needed in many other less fortunate
Islamic charitable organizations in the United States,
Canada, Britain and several European countries (Holland,
Norway, Denmark) continue to be heavily engaged
in finding means of support for the victims. Imams,
wherever Muslims live, are still exhorting the congregants
not to forget their suffering brethren in Pakistan
both through prayers and tangible contributions.
One large group of expatriates who have worked relentlessly
for the alleviation of the suffering in the northern
areas has been the Pakistanis living in the Middle
East. To this point they have shipped over several
containers of supplies and more are on their way.
Those in the United Arab Emirates seem to be most
active in this regard though others are not too
This tragedy has mobilized the entire Pakistani
nation as never before with each individual willing
to be personally involved. Enormous sacrifices have
been made and supplies continue to flow towards
the devastated regions. So impressed have been some
reporters that one American newspaper, the Christian
Science Monitor, pointed out that that the highway
going north from Karachi has been choked with one
big traffic jam extending all the way up to the
capital city of Islamabad.
The people of Pakistan remain ready to be mobilized
for a focused goal if the right leadership emerges
to guide them. Unfortunately, there has not been
one since the time of Quaid-i-Azam. Perhaps this
disaster provides an opportunity for the mobilization
of the country to transform the nation.
The West, particularly the United States, given
its enormous resources, came through for disaster
relief, mostly for strategic reasons. Even then
they had to be prodded and the Secretary-General
of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, had to shame
them into doling out more by saying that they are
The first major political leader to visit the scene
of disaster was the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep
Tayyap Erdogan. He was followed by Queen Rania of
Jordan, who on her return organized a telethon to
raise funds. These two prominent Muslim personalities
provided enormous boost to the relief effort. Several
days later King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia came over
as well. At the donors’ conference held in
Islamabad on November 19, 2005 Saudi Arabia and
Turkey pledged almost $1 billion of the $3.2 raised.
Their contributions in this meeting attended by
30 nations are enormous indeed.
For the future the lesson for Pakistan is to prepare
itself in advance for disaster relief. It has to
set up an emergency management authority for coping
with afflictions that are bound to occur. After
all droughts, floods, avalanches, mud-slides, earthquakes,
rain-storms and hurricanes are endemic to Pakistan.
The country must be made ready to deal with all
of these acts of nature.
The preparedness obviously must involve the private
sector with expertise made available by the non-governmental
organizations. The necessary skills for disaster
relief must be taught to a large number of people.
In this regards the institutions of education are
once again crucial agencies though they continue
to be neglected.
Finally, the three countries most affected by earthquakes,
Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, must get together and
set up a joint operation for disaster relief. They
have to set up a pool of trained personnel for emergency
needs. Each country must mobilize its resources
for disaster relief whenever an emergency arises
in any one of the three nations. A center for joint
operation must be established in advance to coordinate
their efforts for maximum impact. The prolonged
agony of victims thereby can be rapidly alleviated.