Dealing with 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 need.
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 monetary contribution.
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 Lanka.
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 services.
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 lands.
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 far behind.
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 being “stingy.”
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.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.