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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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About 1 year ago, when Gaza burnt, I felt it. There was something in me, telling me, shouting at me, knocking my conscience’s door that we need to help our brothers and sisters in Gaza. Activists are activists because they work more than they talk. Therefore, some of us decided to launch this “Pak-Palestine Solidarity Front “. The response was wonderful; I read articles on famous newspapers (click the link to read) about how PYA was helping woe-struck “Muslims”. The campaign ended in around two weeks.

A very dear friend of mine, who might not like me mentioning him here, but I know would understand the cause behind it, joined our ranks. He is a Palestinian by blood and he really wanted to help us raise funds that were sent to MuslimHands (the only NGO working in Gaza at that time). Here is a facebook-message conversation with him:

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi January 19 at 1:14am

What man? It’s late and I don’t have time to discuss your lovelife atm

AYS (See bro I am not mentioning your full name) January 19 at 1:29am

Bro I just heard about Pak Palestine Solidarity front, its cool if I want to help? Lets start 2morrow

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi January 19 at 1:31am

Sure dude. Would call you up tomm.

Anyways, we collected a considerable amount from streets, literally begged on streets after work/school/business and did our humble best to help Gaza.

The campaign ended and we were facing another catastrophe, this time not in Gaza but our own Swat was burning. We couldn’t stay quiet and thanks to some more friends, started “Swat Relief Campaign “. We utilized all the limited resources we had, came on TV shows, begged on streets, got shunned by the crowd and in the end, raised a considerable amount for each delivery made to Swat IDP’s. I at once, messaged AYS.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi May 13 at 2:17pm

Hey there. We have started Swat Relief Campaign. Pinch in and ask around for donations. Making unprecedented weekly deliveries to idp camps in mardan and nowshera.

Not till this day I have received his reply. Maybe he was busy. But we talked quite often even after that. He wasn’t that busy after all, he was just not interested. Same was the case with some other friends and acquaintances, who rallied for Gaza and preferred to sleep in their cozy beds when Swat burnt.

Gaza was a tragedy. But 35 Lakh people displaced from their homes, blood-stained, hunger and terror-struck, was also a tragedy of unparalleled nature.

                     

It made me think. Are we too good or is the world too numb? Whatever the reason be, there was no excuse for anyone’s humanely nerve not feeling the pain of these homeless and dead.

Maybe being too good has brought us here. We have always fought someone else’s war in our land. Sometimes, too emotionally! And to me, this attitude of not looking inside and caring too much for the outer world has left our land in ruins.

Similarly, when 2009 ended. Facebook was teeming with statuses dedicated to Gaza. 2009 did more damage to Pakistan (in numbers, see stats) than Gaza. No one ever had a status dedicated to thousands of those who died in Pakistan. Not here, not around the world!

P.S: AYS no hard feelings 🙂

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