From Chicago to Pakistan, We Stand United
By Dr. Mujahid Ghazi
The flood survivors were not alone in this hour of crisis. The whole nation stood by them
The floods have hit hard the entire length of the great Indus in Pakistan. The water raged out of the Karakorum into the valleys of Northwest, through the plains of Punjab, Sind and the rugged mountains of Baluchistan. The tide has passed but what it has left behind is about 18 to 20 million people affected, either internally displaced or homeless. One-fifth of Pakistan is under water with thousands of acres of cultivatable land and irrigating canals destroyed.
According to a conservative estimate of UNICEF more than 100,000 children are homeless and their lives are in danger because they don’t have enough to eat. Their weak and malnourished bodies are dangerously exposed to the diseases which eventually evolve after such devastating calamities. Skin and respiratory diseases along with gastroenteritis, malaria and enteric fever are waiting to attack the emaciated bodies just as vultures wait for their prey to die.
The same is the plight of the senior population who are already neglected in most of the cases. Although the relief work is being done by the Government, local and international relief organizations but there are still many people who are in dire need of help and support.
There are three types of support and support groups working in Pakistan.
- Instantaneous or one time immediate support: Like the earthquake disaster Pakistani nation got out to help the affected as an immediate human response. Most of the affluent population collected funds and headed to the nearest place to deliver the relief goods. Most of them went out without any research and organized plan. In some cases they were escorted by rangers, army or local law enforcement agencies. Some of the small local relief organizations also did the same. Food and daily necessities of life like soap, milk, water, dry grocery and, in some cases, cooked meals were delivered. Pakistan Army air-dropped the boxes through helicopters in the hard to reach areas.
- Short-term support: Some urban support groups delivered tents, clothes and medicines to the affected people. Physician groups and welfare organizations established health camps for a weekend or so.
- Long-term support: Government and some international and local relief organizations are working on establishing long-term support programs which include sustained supply of food, medicines and shelter in the affected areas. UNICEF and other international relief organizations are studying the aftermath of this disaster and evaluating the help needed for rehabilitation of this huge displaced and homeless population.
- People who went out with an immediate response support often fell into the hands of professional beggars and cheaters who acquire strategic locations on the highway and stop and get hold of the relief goods before they reach the genuine beneficiaries.
- Going out without any organized planning and without any credible local connection often compromised the effective relief effort.
- Affected people who are in the hard to reach interiors are ignored partly due to the above reasons and partly due to lack of means and will to reach them.
- Though the government is receiving international aid but due to lack of manpower and means to reach all the affected population spread in a large area along the Indus and its tributaries it failed to deliver the aid effectively.
- Procedural and official hurdles added to the delay.
- Political rivalries also prevented the help to reach a very large population.
What is expected in the near future?
An extreme shortage of food with prices sky rocketing. There won’t be enough wheat or rice to feed the affected as well as non-affected populations.
- Farmers or Mazareh as they are called will be out of seeds whenever the water will recede and the land is available to be cultivated. They have already taken loans from agricultural banks and other agencies for seeds and fertilizers which were already used in the destroyed crops.
- With dead corpses of animals and standing water diseases like gastroenteritis, cholera, malaria and enteric fever will spread.
- A huge population will be seen living in temporary camps and tent colonies in and around established cities and towns giving rise to socio-political tensions and conflicts.
What is to be done?
- Efforts and lobbying to be targeted towards providing wheat and other grains on a large scale through international relief organizations keeping transparent vigilance at the receiving end.
- Efforts and lobbying for providing seeds and microfinance to farmers for their rehabilitation.
- A continuous supply of food, water filters, medicines and vaccines along with healthcare volunteers to cope with the diseases and water pollution will be needed as real disaster is moving much slower than the receding water. About 105,000 kids, younger than 5, are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition over the next six months, the United Nations Children's Fund estimates.
- A comprehensive long-term plan for reconstructing the houses and other infrastructure to make it easy for the displaced to return to their homes.
- A substantial financial assistance in the form of microfinance for people of various trades and professions to make them self-sufficient.
My Visit to Pakistan
I traveled to Pakistan in the last week of August when the flood water had already reached the Indus Valley and most of Sindh along the Indus River was under water. Thousands of villages in the Kutcha region has disappeared and millions of people were living in camps under the scorching sun in the open.
Homeless and starving: My contacts were my old affiliates of Asian Broadcasting Network. Awab Alvi, who is a young dentist and a very active member of civil society, a well-known blogger http://teeth.com.pk and Samad Khurram of Khushaal Pakistanhttp://khushaalpakistan.com . When I arrived Awab was already in Shikarpur and Samad was winding up relief work in Deer Swat.
Instead of waiting for them and wasting time without doing anything I went to Lahore where I had to meet Dr. Agha Tariq Sajjad and his wife Dr. Aneeta Qureshi who were running a welfare clinic in the Kot Lakhpat area and there were some displaced refugees they were serving. Their organization Aghaz Welfare Trust had been doing welfare work since the earthquake disaster. I stayed with them for two days and offered whatever monetary help I could.
Returning back to Karachi I met my old acquaintance Nabeel Naved, who calls me his Godfather. Nabeel was part of a group Akhuwat Sind led by a very energetic and patriotic young man Asadullah Khan. They were planning to go to the interior of Dadu, a hard hit area. Together with Nabeel, Asad and his brother Kaleem, we headed for Dadu. We spent a night at Neo Jatoi with Fahad Jatoi, another member of the team. Early next morning we took a fisherman’s launch and headed to the other side of the waters to the most affected area cut off from the main land. We traveled for three hours to reach our destination covering 20 kilometers. There was water all over. It was hard to make a difference between flood water and the actual river. Landmarks like tree tops and electric poles or water sprinklers would tell us where the dry land was. Even birds were seen taking refuge on the top of the trees. It was like a sea. Sometimes the change in the direction of water and its speed of flow would tell us that we are in the river. Sometimes we would see small islands of dry land with some destroyed fields and houses or straw huts.
When ultimately we reached the other side we were anxiously welcomed by a huge mob of people who were waiting for us. We inspected the area, talked to the people about their needs and requirements. I saw children without proper clothes or shoes; hunger and malnutrition was evident from their face. After spending some time and evaluating the needs we traveled another three hours to our base camp. We sat down and planned our next move. Eid was only three days away. We decided to immediately bring 250 tents and prepared grocery for at least a month for these people who had not received any help by then. Though it looked difficult but our target was to do this in the next couple of days. Back in Karachi the same day a team of volunteers began to put things together. A day before Eid, 250 tents and groceries were delivered. Another 250 tents were delivered in the next 10 days and a constant supply of grocery was maintained. Physicians and healthcare volunteers were taken two to three times a week to provide the needed medical help.
The next step needed and being planned is to provide microfinance and help in building infrastructure like irrigation canals, roads, schools and hospitals. Part of it directly by the Akhuwat Sind group and part by lobbying with the government and other larger relief organizations like TCF, HDF and others.
In the meantime Samad Khurram was in Karachi and I sponsored three truckloads of dry grocery to go with his team to the interior along Thatta which was also delivered before Eid.
I also attended a meeting with the Karachi Relief Organization lead by Adnan at the famous Bar B Q Tonight in the Clifton area. This is a very organized group. They had different groups working on different aspects of relief. One group was enrolling volunteers while the other consisting mainly of physicians was looking for physicians to volunteer for different dates. On one side the activists from Pani.com were demonstrating a simple water filter which cost only Rs. 2500 and would serve a large group of affected population to convert dirty and polluted water into drinking water instantaneously. Adnan was addressing a group of people who came to gain knowledge about the relief work. It was very encouraging to see all these people working so diligently with passion and patriotism. It would also clear my stereotyping of the so-called burger families of being insensitive to national causes.
I also visited a big open area covered with tent organized by a local FM station team and they were preparing thousands of boxes of dry groceries and amenities for Pakistan Army to air drop in the hard to reach isolated areas. They had about 100 young boys and girls busy packing and labeling those boxes.
My last stop was Multan and Muzaffargarh. I had my own team there. Engineer Abdul Hakeem who is famous for his book Qur’anic Prism and who is very active on the social and literary front in Multan and Muzaffargarh and Mian Mujahid, a young activist from Shah Jamal, a small town about one hour from Multan. Together, we traveled through three tehseels of this region. Again flood water has damaged a vast area and hundreds of acres of crops. In one of the tehseels I saw five houses built by Rangers. I saw few tents in another Tehseel with USAID logo on them and few tents with Alkhidmat written on them. To my surprise I didn’t see any support or shelter near Shah Jamal which looked more affected than the other two. I was told that the political leadership there was not that active.
There were families under the open skies on char payees with their belongings on the side. At one point I saw people lying under a tree with IV infusions. On my enquiry they said they went to this local physician who took good money to write them a prescription for those colored IV solutions. There were destroyed irrigation canals and bridges. In few places Pak Army had built floating bridges to fill the gaps.
We planned to provide immediate food relief to those people and as many tents as we could arrange before Eid. With the help of Aghaz Welfare Trust, a two-day medical camp was also organized on the Eid days near Shah Jamal. Dr. Agha Tariq Sajjad and Dr. Aneeta Qureshi, with the help of Akhuwat Punjab volunteers, spent their Eid while attending to this noble task. They are due to go back again in October. Food relief has already been provided.
With all this extensive relief work I was blessed by Allah SWT to be back here without suffering any physical ailment or mishap.
Here in Chicago I visited Mr. Habib Abbasi and Mrs. Meher Abbasi’s residence where they were busy in packing boxes with relief items to be shipped to Pakistan. A group of young volunteers with a local physician Dr. Ishrat were busy helping them. It was their second consignment to be shipped through PIA.
I also visited a warehouse in Streamwood where volunteers along with Muzammil Siddiqi, Bashir Akuly, Ahmed Abdul Karim Jangda, Ehteshamuddin Arshad and Amin Haider were busy packing boxes and labeling them as help from Friends of Humanity. They have already shipped 1700 boxes and 600 more were being prepared to be shipped through PIA.
The national carrier of Pakistan has played a very pivotal role in this relief effort. The Managing Director Capt. Ejaz Haroon and the local team of General Manager Shahid Jamal, Sales Manager Sajid and Nighat must be commended for their interest and support.
PIA had partly facilitated my trip as well for which I am deeply indebted.
I am also very grateful for the cooperation of Raju Jamil of UBL who made the transfer of funds possible in record time to reach the needy and deprived population. Shahnawaz, Shahid and the whole team of UBL Pakistan deserve my heartfelt commendation for the help they provided me in my relief work.