Posts Tagged ‘flood relief’

My diary (log) was published in December issue of  Media Voice Magazine (Page 66-77)

Text version:

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi and his friends took a journey from Islamabad to the flood-affected South Punjab with relief materials on October 23. From Nature’s fury and terrorism to snack stopovers, his log speaks of varied experiences.

1700hrs (October 23, 2010)
I was en-route Lahore with three volunteers to make a delivery of relief items to flood affected South Punjab. Hammid Ali, an MBA student, Shakeel Ahsan, an HR executive and Hammad Atta, a telecom engineer were with me on the trip started from Islamabad. We would meet more volunteers in Lahore where we will have to load three trucks with relief with relief items overnight and start our journey early morning the next day.

2000hrs (October 23, 2010)
Talking about the spot-fixing scandals of Pakistani cricketers on the Motorways we had a snack-break. Everyone had his own perception of what’s happening with Pakistan cricket, and same variation of perceptions existed about socio-political problems that we were facing. One wondered, if we will ever find common grounds to move forward.

2300hrs (October 23, 2010)
Markets and hang-out places remained open till late night in Lahore unlike Islamabad which closes down by 9pm. Lahori boys get hyper on weekends and horde the roads on their bikes. Driving through the haphazard traffic wasn’t an easy task. We finally reached the whole-sale bazaar near railway station in Mughalpura, where our trucks were ready to be loaded.

0200hrs (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were loaded. More volunteers arrived from Lahore. A US –based filmographer, Yasmin accompanied us to make a documentary. We had earlier asked for two trucks. One more truck had to be arranged, which demanded huge amount. Although I was angry at the truck-driver who was being unreasonable and cashing in on our emergency need, we had no other option but to hire him.

0500 (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were on their way to Daira Deen Panah, a town adversely affected by monstrous flood water. We had time to kill, and we decided to visit Data Sahib (mausoleum of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, the famous Sufi saint). This tomb recently faced the brunt of a terrorist attack killing many. Many malangs/wanderers were sitting around the tomb, and the atmosphere was simply ecstatic. After paying homage to Data Sahib, we then had to have sizzling breakfast of halva-puri in ‘andaroon’ Lahore (old Lahore which was a walled city).

0800 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We are on the way to South Punjab now. In the coaster with loud music playing ‘chal way Bulleya othay chaliyeh’ singing, chatting and some playing cards. We are total 12 relief workers. I and Maryam were talking about how after Ramadan, donations have dwindled and people are not donating open-heartedly. The initial phase of immediate relief did not require as much money as the rehabilitation phase. 
1500 hrs [24th Oct, 2010] 
After 10 hours journey, we reached Kot Addu, whose town Daira Din Panah we had to hit. We had been here twice before, but then it took 26 hours as roads were blocked and bridges dismantled. Situation had changed as now only traces of water and its destruction remained. Our trucks were still 2 hours behind and again, after having a delicious lunch we visited the shrine of Syed Abdul Wahab Bukhari, known as Deen Panah, on whom the town was named. Locals told us how flood waters could not drown one street in their town, that was, where the shrine was located. 
1600 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We started making lines of flood affectees, our one team was here yesterday to distribute coupons in affected families. Now we called all of them, and asked the head of families to stand in a line. This impossible process of filtering out genuine affectees, trying to make others, who did not have the coupons understand that we cannot accommodate them due to our limited capacity was tedious and heart wrenching. Female volunteers made females stand in a line, where as, male volunteers made males stand a triple line to ensure distribution without hassle. 
1700 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now our trucks had arrived and we started the by-hand distribution process. Each victim had coupons signed and counter signed by us, along with his National ID card to ensure genuine-ness. This process continued till it was dark and after 3 hours of distribution, reaching out to 1000 families we called it a day.
2100 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We called this delivery, the mystical delivery as once again we decided to visit tombs of Shah Shams Tubrez and Shah Rukh ne Alam in Multan after having dinner at Pizza Hut. The driver and conductor with us strangely took interest in trying ‘how a pizza tastes like’. We went to the tombs, which are located adjacent to each other and had never seen such tight security ever before. Police officials told us, this area was under threat from terrorists, who had been on ‘blast a shrine’ spree. An old woman sat infront of Tubrez’s shrine, asked us to go back to Lahore and pay homage to Data Ali Hajveri on her behalf. 
2300 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now we were on our way back to Lahore. On our minds, the sad faces of victims who had nothing left. Schools, hospitals, homes – all washed away. Another thing that continually became a topic of discussion was our nations reaction to national disasters which showed a ‘sudden burst of patriotism and then relative numbness’. Such was the case with Pakistan floods 2010. When the disaster struck, immediate emergency relief aide needed was nothing compared to what’s needed for rehabilitating 22 Million affected souls. Regular stops were made on juice corners, truck driver hotels and pan-shops on our way back as we had no deadline to meet. Most of us were so exhausted that we went to sleep in our coaster. Others continued to ‘fight’ on issues such as cricket, Zardari, US involvement in our internal affairs and what not.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, a poet and a social activist who is the founding force & chairperson of Pakistan Youth Alliance(http://www.pya.org.pk/). He can be found tweeting @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi (http://twitter.com/#!/Ali_Abbas_Zaidi) & is available on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/aliabbaszaidi

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Earlier, I wrote now the International Community should DO MORE! 

And to further the notion, today Gaurdian published guide to Pakistan v Haiti. Which Disaster Got More Aid?

Crossposting the statistics of International reponse to these two devastating natural disasters:

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My interview with The News regarding shortage of donations after Ramazan, for flood victims.

By Rabia Ali
Citizen donations for the 20 million flood victims are fast drying up in a period where relief and welfare organisations are aiming to begin reconstruction of flood-hit areas, The News has learnt.
Fundraising campaigns had received an overwhelming response during the holy month of Ramzan, when the flood victims needed to be fed and accommodated, but social workers now complain that those who donated generously in the holy month have ceased to donate relief items and cash.

This has put relief efforts in jeopardy, as humanitarian organisations and groups are facing hardships in aiding the resettlement of survivors back in their hometowns.
Ali Abbas of the Pakistan Youth Alliance said that after Ramzan, they have been able to raise only Rs2 million as compared to Rs20 million raised during the holy month. “We need billions of rupees for the rehabilitation of the survivors but somehow, people have forgotten about the plight of these people and have stopped donating,” he said.

Abbas narrated that the PYA wanted to rebuild a school in Nowshera which was destroyed by the floods, but the lack of funding has made them unable to do so. “This is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster as thousands of people have been rendered homeless and penniless. The media and social activists should keep on reminding that public that the IDPs need their help continuously and the process of donating should not stop,” he said.

Moez Premani of Karachi Relief Trust urged people to help them into reconstructing houses for the homeless. “We are now in the construction phase, where houses would be built in parts of interior Sindh for the flood survivors. For that, we need the support of the citizens into contributing towards the noble cause. Those who can afford can also adopt villages and assist us into resettling them,” he explained.
Al-Khidmat Welfare Society Secretary Tanvirullah Khan told The News that donations received after Eid are merely two per cent of the Rs100 million that the organisation acquired during Ramazan.
“People have simply stopped contributing as they think that they have fulfilled their responsibility by paying Zakat in Ramzan to the flood survivors. The public should realise that the magnitude of the disaster is gigantic, and it is now that the affected need our help the most,” he said.

Khan argued that the affected people have started heading back to their native hometowns, and thus, organisations are in dire need of monetary donations in order to build thatched huts, concrete houses, schools and mosques.

Z.A. Shah, the disaster management manager of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, blamed the media for creating a pejorative perception of relief efforts. “The media does not highlight the positive work of the relief organisations, and keeps on showing that the internally displaced people (IDPs) are not getting any aid. This false perception is creating distrust among those who donate to social organisations, and they feel that since their donations are not reaching the public, it is useless to contribute,” he lamented.
Shah added that non-governmental organisations are witnessing a massive decline in their fundraising campaigns, and hoped that people would once again come forward to help.

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As I retweeted this yesterday: RT @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi Donation/victim received after 2 weeks of appeal ~ Haiti : USD 157.16 & Pakistan : USD15.24 #Pkfloods and my subsequent talks with British, American and other International donors, and their “reservations” which only cemented when I was interviewed by Voice of America yesterday on the link between Pakistan’s foreign policy & relief-aide for 20 Million human beings (this time Pakistanis) dying due to neglect.

To link Pakistan’s foreign policy, as guided by some super-power’s interests in the region and their “bombing to stone-age” threats, isnt exactly humane . There is no politics in human-lives, and to be brutally honest, in the last 20 years, foreign policy of Uncle Sam has caused more damage and is subjected to most-hate across the globe. If disaster of this magnitude strikes USA, would it be humane to say: “Oh, you bombed Iraq for WMD’s that you couldnt find, thats why we aint giving you aide to save your dying citizens (humans)”.

Pakistan has a been a frontline-ally in the war against terrorism and has borne more damage than anyone else, of civilian/military casaulties and financial losses due to security situation. And we kept on hearing “DO MORE” from International community, like 30000 dead Pakistanis (including top-notch Generals, politicians, religious figures) werent enough. Anyways, thats debate-able as previously said, if geo-strategtic politics come into consideration, some of the ‘super-powers’ have caused more damage on ground, to humanity than Pakistan. So, now its our turn and I dont give a tiny-rats ass if my leaders say it or not, but I urge the International Community to DO MORE. To DO-MORE, this time not for your interests in the region or your-cold wars with other super-powers, DO MORE for humanity.

Hafsa Khawaja, writes in her blog:

When earthquake hit Haiti this January 2010, the world rose in unison to help the victims of the deadly shake with many nations generously chipping in to donate for the people and governments munificently sending billions of dollars of aid and displatching relief teams to the country.

But today, when Pakistan has been hit by the most devastating floods in its history, which have been termed as “the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history with the number of people suffering possibly to exceed the combined total in three recent megadisasters – the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake” by the UN, it seems that the world has started to suffer from a ‘donor fatigue’ or has intentionally closed its eyes and ears to the cries and pleas of the flood-hit Pakistanis.

While it is true, that the number of people killed in the Haitian Earthquake were more than those killed in the floods but according to statistics and figures available it can be known that around 20 million have been affected, thousands injured or left homeless with their families separated from them, over 722,000 houses damaged or destroyed, 70,000 children at a risk of dying of malnutritioon and around 6 million can lose their lives in the second expected wave of death likely to be caused by a combination of lack of clean water, food shortages and water-borne and vector-borne diseases.

It has become apparent that those in other countries seem to ignore the current state of people in Pakistan considering the type of image that is portrayed of the country by much of the Western media – of a terrorist and barbaric nation that only breeds intolerance and extremism despite the fact that it is the single most nation that has bore the brunt of terrorism the most.

But some like Liz Borkowski have come to realize that the catastrophe is not being met with the appropriate response as it should. She has written a post on why the floods here are not receiving as much aid and attention as Haiti. Writing as :

“The UN has requested $459 million for emergency relief and has received or gotten commitments for 35% of that. The majority of that has come from the US and UK governments reports Nathaniel Gronewold of Greenwire.  Aid agencies report that responses from individual US donors have been slow, though.

On the list of possible factors behind the lag in individual US donations, Gronewold starts with “public opinion of Pakistan” and cites a June CNN poll showing “78 percent of Americans hold mostly unfavorable views of Pakistan.” I’d like to think people can hold an unfavorable opinion of a country but still be willing to help its citizens get food and water after a natural disaster; maybe when it comes to donations, though, decisions aren’t entirely rational.

I expect the slow pace of donations is mostly a function of less media coverage (compared to the Haiti earthquake). It’s not like the major news organizations are failing to cover Pakistan’s disaster at all, but so far I don’t think I’ve seen many stories about individual families’ struggles – and those are the pieces that spur donations. ” 

One UN assessment in the province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) found: “37% of women in households surveyed were consuming less food than men, while 50% of households reported having no food for an entire day.”

The UN asked for $460 million to fund an emergency response. So far, donors have contributed or pledged $148 million, or 32% of the total.   The top donors are the United States ($75,621,599), the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund ($26,595,962) The United Kingdom ( $40,235,085 ) Denmark ( 26,595,962 ) and Private individuals and organzations ($10,510,184).

 After visiting flood-ravaged areas of Pakistan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “In the past I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this.”

Approximately, 1/5 th of Pakistan is under water. 

Elizabeth Ferris at ReliefWeb has prepared an excellent analysis and report on the comparison between the Haiti Earthquake and Pakistan Floods, compiling a data as follows:

Haitian earthquake Pakistan flooding
Date of disaster 12 Jan 2010First OCHA Situation Report: January 12 Late July 2010 (First reports of flash floods in Baluchistan on July 23, floods in KPK starting around July 26/27)First OCHA Situation Report: July 29
National population 2009   10.2 million 166.1 millionii
Deaths   220,500iii 1,539iv
Injured   Over 300.000v 2,055vi
Displaced Est. 1.8 million (1.3 within Port-au-Prince, 500.000 leaving Port-au-Prince) vii Est. 6 million in need of shelter(August 23)
Total affected/as percentage of total national population 3 million (29.4 %)ix 17.2 millionx (10.35 %)
Houses destroyed/damaged    105.000/208.000xi 1,226,678 (August 23)xii
Schools destroyed/damaged    1,300xiii 7,820xiv
Hospitals destroyed/damaged    50xv 200xvi
Original UN Flash appeal launched     15 January: xviiUS $ 575 million  11 August: xviiiUS $ 460 million
International pledges 2 weeks after flash appeal as percent of total appeal     82 %xix   57 %xx
Flash appeal funded 100 %  16 February (35 Days)xxiOn Feb 18 revised Humanitarian Appeal is launched requesting US $ 1.4 billion for 1 year (includes the $575 Million of the flash appeal)
US pledges    US $ 211.6 millionxxii (part of the extended 1.4 billion US $ appeal)   US $ 150 millionxxiii (August 23)
Appeal by International Federation of the Red Cross/Crescent Society      US $ 103 million US $ 74 million
Number of tents/plastic sheets distributed 3 weeks after     10,545/11,390 (February 3)xxiv 109,500/72,200 (August 23)xxv
% of displaced receiving tents/tarpaulins (after three weeks)      1.2 % 3.0 %
Donation per affected person received after 2 weeks of flash appeal      US $ 157.16 US $ 15.24
Role of US military Deployed 22,000 troops,58 aircrafts,15 ships; oversaw airport operations,rehabilitated the harbor,distributed aid, hospital ship 15 helicopters,as of August 24 the U.S. military had delivered 1.5 million pounds of relief supplies and food,and helicopters had rescued or transported about 6,500 people.xxvi
Health concerns  Traumatic injuries,including crushing Injuries,high needs for surgery,  infections Water-borne illnesses (diarrhea, cholera),skin-disease,acute respiratory disease
Protection concerns Trafficking of children;gender-based violence in camps,generalized insecurity Early reports of separated families, a few landmine victims,discrimination against lower castes, women-headed households
Shelter concerns Land tenure issues, rubble clearance Land markers washed away by floods, mud removal
Political concerns Interrupted Haitian election timetable,governance questions and relief effort; Potential strengthening of fundamentalist groups,destabilization and delegitimization of government
Economic concerns 70 % of Haiti’s GDP is generated in the Port-au-Prince area which has been most heavily impacted by the disaster, massive destruction of infrastructure Massive destruction of infrastructure, 3.2 million hectares of standing crops have so far been damaged or lost;widespread loss of livestock
Logistics Destroyed airport, harbor, roads.Generally bad infrastructure;Particular logistics difficulties in Port-au-Prince and surroundings Destroyed roads, bridges;some areas only accessible by helicopter;20% of the country flooded
Total GDP 2009 xxvii    US $ 6.5 billion US $ 166.5 billion
GDP per capita 2009 nominal    $733 $1,017
Estimated Damage    US$ 7.8 billionxxix Est. US $ 15 billionxxx
Estimated Damage as percentage of GDP    119 % 9 %
Reconstruction Pledges March 31 – Donors pledge US $ 9.9 billion of which US $ 5.3 billion is pledged over 2 years (requested US $3.9 billion). Aug. 22 – World Bank US $ 0.9 billion Asia Development Bank US $ 2.0 billion (loans)
Corruption Perception Index 2009 (out of 180)    160 139
HDI 2009xxxii (out of 182)    149 141
Media stories 10 days after the disaster xxxiii Well over 3,000 stories in both print and broadcast media respectively by day 10 and by day 20      320 broadcast news stories and 730 print news stories
Top 10 donors (pledges) Venezuela US$ 2.417 m Inter-American Development Bank US$2.000 mUSA US$ 1.152 mEuropean CommissionUS$ 567m

IMF US$ 436 m

Spain US$ 427 m

World Bank US $ 399 m

Canada US $ 387 m

InterAction members

US $ 322 m

(Donor’s Conference) xxxiv

USA US $161.9 m Saudi Arabia US $114.4 mUK US $108 mEuropean Commission US $93.5 m

Private Donors US $84.2 m

Germany US $32 m

Australia US $31.8 m

CERF US $26.6 m

Norway US$ 14.8 m

Japan US$ 14.4 m

(Flash Appeal) xxxv

 So why this difference? When over eighty international artists collaborated for the song ‘We Are The World’ for Haiti, why have not international celebrities other than a few (George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Ashton Kutcher) and sportsmen spoken about or rallied for the distressed and hopeless people of Pakistan who now neither have nothing to look back to nor a future to look to until people help them? If Haiti was poor, it should be remembered that Pakistan too is a developing country with rsising poverty and inflation. Does there not even a speck of sympathy and empathy reside in our hearts anymore? Why such slim coverage of this catalysm that has struck a nation already struck by many jolts?

As of 1st Sept, 2010 – Pakistan has so far received aid-committment of 984.52 Million USD (ONLY) from International Community — PLEASE DO MORE!

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi


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First Published on Dawn.com

A series of eyewitness accounts from volunteers at relief camps:

At IDP Camp in Charsadda


The Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) made simultaneous deliveries on August 14 to Nowshera, Muzaffargarh and Rajanpur with 31 volunteers in three teams with eight trucks of relief goods.

Nowshera (Datta Kaka Sahib)

This time we went to a remote area of the district after passing through the devastation caused by the the floods. The water seemed to have receded since we were there last, but in its wake it has left behind lives of many who are now uncertain about their future.

On our agenda was delivering supplies to about 160 families at a camp set up in ‘Datta Kaka Sahib.’ Once we arrived, our group leader briefed us on how the operations would work. We were, however, not briefed about what to do if we were attacked like our fellow PYA team members were in Rajanpur. I guess it was best we kept that out of our minds. At the camp aid workers, with their official jackets, were seen who helped effectively distribute aid to the affectees.

We had with us different items such as flour, rice, oil, etc. according to the requirements of that particular camp. The list was made by our local contact in whom we trusted. Our team also had a list of 160 families that were to be given the goods. Each person was passed through a process of verification before he/she was given any help to ensure it was being given to the right person. I believe we did a good job and gave it our very best. However, one must always accept that 10-15 per cent of the aid may not end up in the hands of the intended recipients.

During the process, I took a short walk outside the camp to talk to the people and gauge how their lives had changed. What I heard were unconfirmed reports of a alleged ‘sex-for-food scam.’ I was also told that prices of everything had sky-rocketed and there seemed very little hope for any reconstruction in the future.

Yet, amidst all this chaos, I remain an optimist. No, a prisoner of hope would be more appropriate as Desmond Tutu once said. Pakistanis have weathered many disasters and calamities and we have never yielded, nor shall we this time. We will get through this, we always have – Pakistan Zindabad!

Ahmed Hasan, a volunteer for Pakistan Youth Alliance, contributed for Dawn.com

Muzaffargarh (Alipur)

The second team embarked on the journey towards Rohela Wali but had to stay at Ghazanfargarh due to a road blockade. These areas of south Punjab have been worst-hit by the floods and what we saw here was unprecedented. Many IDPs were living alongside main roads and news of them attacking relief-convoys were heard. It was raining heavily and our dedicated volunteers decided to move on despite of warnings from local administration and Army.

On the way, during our stay at Ghazanfargarh we met Ghayur, a local who studies at Punjab University. He was extremely agitated with the government’s response to the disaster in his region. “In order to protect certain areas, the local authorities blocked the water which resulted in smaller towns being drowned completely,” he said.

Our final destination was Mehmood Kot camp at Alipur, but reaching there seemed impossible as flood water was now on the roads. We had to stop our convoy and walk through three to four feet of water to assess the situation on the other side. Our drivers and truck owners refused to go forward in the flood; we even requested some army personnel deputed in the region to help us deliver our relief aid but they advised us to go back as flood-warning was severe.

After three hours, the water level receded and we could now move forward. Around 250 families were anxiously waiting for food items we promised to bring to them on August 14. We finally managed to distribute the items only after cross-checking the ID cards to make sure it was going to the right person. IDPs at the camp also complained of mismanagement by local authorities and narrated stories of personal favours being given to particular group of people for political benefits

Areas of Kot Addu, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan and Rajanpur have been severely affected by the flood and what we saw here, wasn’t comparable to what we witnessed in Khyber Pukhtunkwa. During our deliveries to Pukhtunkhua and south Punjab, we have felt the need of a central agency for coordinating relief efforts with individuals and organisations. At the moment, we are assessing the need of the areas ourselves as well as managing the logistics. Security is also an issue in certain areas where people, desperate for supplies, are attacking aid convoys. I was with the Rajanpur-bound convoy and 50 odd men attacked  the truck of supplies. Only the government, with its manpower and logistics, can set up such emergency cells in flood-hit areas.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is the founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance, who tweets @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi and is available on facebook as Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi. He can also be reached at damanwiddaplan@hotmail.com

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The News  section ‘Kolachi’ mentions me and Pakistan Youth Alliance:

With over 5,000 fans of the organisation on Facebook, the Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) has emerged as one of the biggest aid collectors and distributors. So far it has distributed over four million rupees worth of goods and relief aid to the flood-stricken people across the country including Nowshera, Rajanpur, Charsadda, and southern Punjab.

 Ali Abbas, heading the PYA told Kolachi that since every settlement has its own requirement, therefore it is not possible to issue a similar item list for every camp and settlement. “We first carry out an assessment of every locality, get in touch with the governmental officials and find out what commodities are required in a particular area.

 On his way to deliver the ninth consignment, he said that so far a tremendous response has been received by the organisation. Abbas discourages dry ration amongst the items. He said that in some areas, such as Nowshera, there is an excess of commodities. In fact, there was so much flour that people were sleeping on flour sacks.

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Foreign Policy Magazine (The Af-Pak Channel) mentions me and PYA in the following article:

Rising waters have left people stranded on islands of mud. Men and women wade through torrents of disease-ridden water seeking sanctuary for the children they carry on their shoulders. Thousands huddle in the few remaining public buildings in the flood-hit areas. Around them the receding water lays bare the destruction wrought by torrents that smashed everything in their path.

The floods, which have killed 1,600 people and made millions homeless, have exposed the Pakistani state’s shortcomings to withering criticism. But while the destruction vividly shows what is wrong with Pakistan, the reaction to it demonstrates where the country’s eventual salvation might lie.

Pakistan is beset by a serious lack of good governance. Analysts such as the scholars at the Pak Institute of Peace Studies have argued for some time that this absence is a driving force behind whatever support extremists in Pakistan can claim. In recent weeks, the Air Blue crash in Islamabad and the government’s poor reaction to the floods have drawn more attention to this fracture at the heart of the country. No matter how much aid flows into Pakistan from the outside, Pakistanis themselves must ultimately ensure the formation of governments that serve the people they claim to represent. And surprisingly, possibly the one positive thing to emerge from the floods is growing evidence that young Pakistanis – the educated sons and daughters of well-off families – are willing and able to show that collective action for the public good is not something that is only possible in other countries.

Just days after the scale of the flooding’s devastation became apparent, Pakistanis in their 20s and 30s began mobilizing their networks of friends and colleagues for the relief effort, often utilizing social media such as Facebook and Twitter. While President Asif Zardari was away from the country on his ill-advised trip to Europe and aid officials were saying international donations had been slow to arrive because people don’t trust the Pakistani government, young people across the country were organizing aid drops and going to the streets to collect donations.

One aid organizer who didn’t want to give his name said to me, “We were sitting in front of the TV watching these devastating scenes from our own country. A few of us thought that if no one is willing to help our own people – not the world community, not our own government – then it’s our job.” One previously-established organization, Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) has raised 2.5 million rupees (about $30,000) in two weeks from street collections alone in Pakistan’s main cities.

But new groups have also been formed in response to the crisis. Two Pakistanis from Karachi studying law in the UK have set up Pehla Qadam (First Step) while on their holidays. Youth Catalyst Pakistan, created just before the floods to work on issues related to Pakistan’s young, has pivoted to delivering aid and has arranged for volunteer doctors to set up medical camps in afflicted areas.

Those abroad with family ties to Pakistan have also gotten involved as well. American Pakistani organizations, for instance, have created Relief4Pakistan, a donation campaign raising money for Mercy Corps‘ work in Pakistan.

The international media has given much attention to organizations with political aims using the floods to garner support. Many have reported  that Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a front group for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba which is implicated in the Mumbai attacks, has been administering aid. Even the Pakistani army is suspected by some to be using the floods to gain popularity at the expense of the civilian government.

In contrast, the young Pakistanis organizing tents, food and medical treatment have shown no political ambition beyond wanting to do good for their country. However, their activities are stirring the social and political waters in Pakistani cities – where their volunteers live -and the rural areas – where they come into contact with the flood’s victims.

Bridging social divides

Jibran Nasir of Pehla Qadam explained to me how working to provide relief has challenged ingrained perceptions about ethnicity, class and gender in Pakistan.

“We have volunteers who are from all different backgrounds working together; Baluchis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, you name it… For many people, it’s the first time they are interacting with others from different backgrounds. It breaks down barriers,” he said.

Pehla Qadam volunteers raised funds in Karachi even when the city was rocked by tit-for-tat assassinations between Pashtuns and ethnic Urdu-speakers known as Muhajirs. Nasir himself is half Punjabi and half Muhajir while his collaborator Ammar Abbasi is a Sindhi and a woman. Both are in their early 20s and study in the UK.

Others who had volunteered in flood-hit areas said it was a shock to see how refugee and poor communities had been living in the first place, but that it was uplifting and encouraging to connect with them on a human level. For the local communities receiving help, it was a welcome surprise to see individuals from ethnicities they considered hostile coming to offer help.

Tayyeba Gul, from Youth Catalyst Pakistan says she made a point of getting locals involved in the relief effort.

“We need their help and they feel good mentally. They feel like they are doing something useful and it helps to make sure they don’t get drawn into something bad,” she said referring to extremist organizations.

A popular view is that these young expatriate Pakistanis are indolent, spoilt and worried only about their job opportunities abroad. This sometimes rings true, but it isn’t the whole picture. These young people benefit from being disconnected from the tribal and clannish politics of their leaders. More importantly, though, they are energetic, frustrated and keen to bring about change.

Some of those organizing the aid share the general negative perceptions of their peers. Nasir as well as Abbas from the Pakistan Youth Alliance say they want Pakistan’s younger generation of qualified and well-connected people to leave their insulated bubbles of foreign travel, chauffer-driven cars and plush social events and do something for their country and its people. It looks like more young Pakistanis are thinking the same thing.

“After I started, I found that quite a few people think like me,” said Nasir. “After we set up we had people almost immediately thinking the same thing wanting to help… Yes, I was surprised” He added, “More well-to-do Pakistanis need to see the reality of people’s lives in this country.”

In some way or another, all of the groups I spoke to are utilizing social networking technology to help their efforts. Kalsoom Lakhani, who helped set up Relief4Pakistan, said the venture was partly started to engage social media platforms “to mobilize donations in the most centralized way possible.” Relief4Pakistan, like Pehla Qadam and other groups, uses Facebook and other social networking sites to overcome the trust issues that have plagued the government by showing donators where their money is going.

And while Pakistani media shows the army making food drops and government officials touring devastated towns and villages, much of the initial drive to deliver aid, set up camps and provide medical help was organized and coordinated by networks of young people utilizing this technology. Before the media was carrying appeals by well-known personalities or reporting donations by large firms, emails, tweets, text messages and Facebook groups were already mobilizing help.

Finally, while some groups will likely disband after finishing their relief work, others like Ali Abbas of the Pakistan Youth Alliance want to take things further.

PYA, which boasts 18,000 members, was founded in 2007 during Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s rule. The group’s general aim is to increase political participation amongst the population. After the military man left office, the group started working on social development issues and organized relief to the displaced people of Swat who had fled Taliban violence.

Abbas told me his motivation is simple: “We want to make people understand that they have a part to play in the destiny of this country.”

Western nations have in the past been keen to support Pakistan’s small military and feudal-political elites. That policy has hampered the evolution of Pakistani society and failed the country while endangering the wider world.  But it’s not business as usual in Pakistan anymore. A new generation of Pakistanis who are less beholden to the dictates of traditional politics as practiced by their fathers and grandfathers are willing and able to prove their commitment to the future of their country. Out of floods, earthquakes and political catastrophes, these young people are changing the rules in Pakistan.

Amil Khan works in Pakistan for Radical Middle Way and writes as Londonstani on the Abu Muqawama blog. His book about the development of extremism, The Long Struggle, will be published by Zero Books in September.

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Crossposted from The Dawn Blog:

Pakistan has been through a lot in the last decade. We have had Taliban displacing millions, tremors leveling complete settlements and floods washing away our cities. But it is the current disaster that by far surpasses all. Amidst these natural and man-made disasters, I witnessed something positive, something which gives me hope. I saw unity, selflessness in Pakistanis who reached out to their fellow citizens irrespective of linguistic, religious and regional boundaries.

The Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA), a youth-based organisation that comprises volunteers who want to create awareness and want to be the change that everyone talks about, started fundraising for the flood victims two weeks ago. So far we have made three deliveries to the worst-hit region, Nowshera and its surrounding towns; regular deliveries to relief camps will continue until the flood-waters recede. This week, three more deliveries to Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will be made simultaneously.

We made trips to Nowshera last week where families were living in government schools that had been turned into relief shelters. We reached Ziarat Kaka Sahib on August 3 to find out how some locals found water coolers floating in the water, with babies inside them. Even as we made our way to the camp, a heavy downpour raised sirens of another potential flood.


 Video of stampede in Nowshera: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10150236940350177

I share a special bond with the region – I studied at the PAF Academy Risalpur in district Nowshera for four years and most of the people who lived in the region were reasonably well-off, owning small- to medium-sized businesses. I met an old acquaintance from my university days whose business was completely destroyed. It was also in our first food delivery that we witnessed a stampede as women, desperate to feed milk to their babies started fighting over the supplies.  The worst hit cities of Mardan, Nowshera, Swabi and Charsadda had hosted the IDPs from Swat when nearly three million people were displaced due to military action in 2009. The Pashtun, known for their bravery and determination, are once again being tested to the core.

People at the relief camps seemed agitated by the authorities and complained of no proper evacuation plan when the flood was about to hit their vicinity. One such victim, Bano lost her husband, 5-year-old son and could not even save her ID card when water-level rose at 3 am that morning. According to locals, the Army, Air Force and other institutions had been evacuated three days ago, while the residents were left to survive in the monstrous floods.

After years of experience in relief work and delivering relief aid by hand well worth over Rs 10 million (all collected from streets, by literally begging in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad), I have realised how some of the aid being sent is also sometimes not needed, with those items being sold in black market on prices much higher than normal. Relief workers must conduct assessments of the region and only take those items needed instead of assuming what’s needed.

The monsoons will not end anytime soon and even if the rains do subside, there is still rehabilitation work that requires billions of rupees. But we cannot give up hope – trust me, we will see this through just like we have with other calamities that have hit our country.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is the chairperson/founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance who tweets @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi and is available on Facebook as Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi. He can also be reached at damanwiddaplan@hotmail.com

Pictures can be viewd at: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=197961&id=125954437061

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