Article published in Indian Newspaper Express Buzz
First Published: 29 Aug 2010 11:24:00 AM IST Last Updated : 28 Aug 2010 06:51:18 PM IST
Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, 24, has not slept for over 24 hours. It is a day after the UN declared Pakistan’s floods a bigger disaster than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined. Hundreds have died, millions are homeless, and Zaidi is making his ninth delivery of food packets in south Punjab for 1,500 families.
He is the founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance, a youth-based and youth-run organisation that started in 2007 after emergency rule. “It aims to create socio-political awareness in the country,” says Zaidi. Their network extends across and outside Pakistan and has more than 20,000 members.
The group has organised and completed 120 events worldwide, including walks, vigils, protests, concerts, relief work, seminars and art for change competitions. “We have reached out to 15,000 families with immediate relief aid and have managed to raise over 12 million rupees from the streets, by begging,” says Zaidi.
Most of PYA’s members have impressive academic records. Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, poet and columnist. Then there is Maryam Kanwer, 26,
co-founder of the organisation and a teacher and researcher; Maryam Noor Malik, 21, a medical student; Husham Ahmed, a research consultant with a degree in electrical engineering and Shakeel Ahsan who is an MBA student. These are just a few of them.
“We started work for flood affected even before it became a disaster of unparalleled nature,” says Zaidi.
It has been physically exhausting and emotionally taxing. “After visiting flood-hit areas and having personally experienced the situation from Pakhtunkhwa to south Punjab, I can easily say this is the worst disaster to hit Pakistan,” says Zaidi. “For example, last time I went to Nowshera the locals told me how they found water containers floating on flood water. When they opened them, there were babies inside. Mothers who were about to drown in nearby villages had put their little ones inside it.”
“Similarly, we hear of how water levels started to rise while people were sleeping and they could not save their five-year-olds, how everything they had was washed away. People are angry. They complain of no prior warning, no evacuation plan and no disaster management by the government.
“The situation is chaotic. Children face skin diseases, mothers fight each other to snatch more food for their
babies, fathers are turning desperate to keep their kids alive. We hear of sex for food and parents stealing food,” says Zaidi. “Children live in the midst of snakes, mosquitoes, hunger — dreaming of a normal life.”
“Everything has been destroyed — schools, mosques, hospitals. Infrastructure has been rendered useless. I haven’t seen anything like this. During the Swat crisis (when the Pakistan offensive against Taliban left millions homeless), people were hopeful that they would go back home and start a normal life. But here, they have nothing to go back to. Nothing is left.”
Zaidi says the government “should have been pro-active, instead of reacting the way the tide turns.”
Foreign aid and NGO support have been helpful. And Zaidi has heard of some India-based groups helping flood victims in Pakistan. “It makes my heart warm,” he says. “I would love to collaborate with such youth groups.”
“I’ve always dreamt of working with an Indian youth organisation, to spread the message of love and tolerance. Extremists and war-mongers in India and Pakistan must realise war can never be a solution. We need to feed our people, for God’s sake, we need to provide them shelter and clothes.”
Zaidi has been dreaming of a better world since he was a child. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org (the man with a plan). “I thought I do have THE plan,” he laughs. PYA seems like a workable one