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Posts Tagged ‘Floods’

The Deja Vu Disaster

Via Atlantic (AP Photo) A woman displaced by the floods walks along a flooded road holding an axe to cut wood, in Digri district near Hyderabad on September 19.

Last year, the floods in Pakistan were considered “one of the worst natural disasters in history,” affecting 20 million people and submerging about one-fifth of the country underwater. This year’s monsoon rains have once again wreaked havoc, affecting at least 5.4 million people, with more than 475,000 displaced from their homes. The Washington Post cited the United Natons’ statistics, noting, “In Sindh alone, the floods have killed over 220 people, damaged or destroyed some 665,000 homes and displaced more than 1.8 million people.” Balochistan has also been affected by the floods. The Atlantic, in its coverage, reported, “The disaster has once again overwhelmed the capacity of the government to assist, and the UN has asked for $357 million in international aid.”

Given the enormity of the disaster last year, it seems we should have learned many lessons by now, at the very least how to better handle or address the impact of the floods, to better mitigate the human cost of the tragedy. And yet, here we are, exactly a year later, and the numbers are still climbing. A few weeks ago, Oxfam International‘s Pakistan Director stated to the Telegraph that this year’s floods are “already worse than last year, not because of the numbers but the impact on a population already severely affected by last year’s mega-flood.

The director went on to note,

We have more and more mosquitoes, the water is contaminated, and there’s the risk of all the public health [diseases] because there is not sufficient clean water. It’s not just about the world recognizing it, but realizing it is something we need to respond to now. People who have been displaced for a second time can’t sleep at night. They’re on the sides of the roads without shelter, suffering from diarrhoea, they’re itching and scratching.

Before these latest floods began, nearly one million people from last year’s disaster were still without permanent homes. One. Million. That number is not only a reflection of the amount of people vulnerable during this latest tragedy, but also the inability of authorities and the international community to properly respond to those affected in the last year. Although the latest floods began in August, President Asif Ali Zardari waited until September 8th to ask for help (And now he has a “special control room.” I’m serious). BBC NewsOrla Guerin noted, “At that stage more than five million lives had already been disrupted by the floods.” She cited UN spokesperson Stacey Winston, who stated,

We responded immediately once we were asked…Officially for us to go in and set up shop, we have to be asked. Within days of the government’s request the World Food Programme had reached 140,000 people and the World Health Organization had reached hundreds of thousands with essential medical help.

And what of the government response now? When Guerin asked PM Yousaf Raza Gilani if more lessons could have been learned from last year’s disaster, he replied, “You can’t compare the two. Last year there was flooding from the Indus River, this year it’s from the rains.” Gilani also went on to stress that fewer lives have been lost this year compared to last year350 versus 2000.

Um.

Human lives lost are human lives lost. We can’t compare or quantify in order to justify or scapegoat our actions, or lack thereof. Doing so will not help the families who are currently drinking the same contaminated water as their livestock. It will not restore the livelihoods of the millions who have watched their homes wash away year after year. How can these communities hope to rebuild their lives if they were not even given the tools to do so the first time around? How long before this cycle of disaster & dependency become what is considered normal?

In Pakistan, the monsoon rains are not unexpected. And God knows we have more than enough problems facing the country at this time. We have been inundated – literally and figuratively – with disaster, so much so, that we have been unable to keep afloat. But for those of us who care – and all of us damn well should – we can do more than just watch as our government fumbles yet again in the face of disaster.

In the latest Friday Times, Faisal Kapadia, who has done incredible relief work with Awab Alvi and others in Sindh [via SA Relief], wrote,

We may have good intentions but in time we get tired or the funds dry up and then we have no choice but to desert the communities we are adopting on ground. This is why I believe that every initiative should be tied to the local government and managed jointly. In this manner, the local government can point out where relief should be directed so no overlapping takes place. Often we have gone out with a plan in mind but have after being briefed by the local DCO realized that we must change direction because someone has already distributed relief there in the morning. Failure to coordinate with local officials leads to haphazard relief and then much grief for dependent communities.

This is a really important point. Sometimes in our efforts to help, we end up replicating what others have already done, making our attempts repetitive and relatively ineffective. I’ve also been interested in the nexus of innovation and relief, and how these types of solutions can become cost-effective ways of providing affected communities what they need rather than what we think they need. Organizations like Day One Response, which provides clean drinking water to those affected by disaster, can be potential stakeholders in the discussion.

So beyond listening, collaborating, and partnering with local officials and reputable relief organizations, think about how relief is only the first step in this recovery process. And while our energy is well-spent donating and supporting the relief phase, if the disaster taught me anything last year [via Relief4Pakistan], it’s that this same energy slows in the rehabilitation stage, which is just as necessary.

For suggestions on where people should donate, please leave a comment. Two reputable relief organizations that I think are doing incredible work are Karachi Relief Trust (KRT) and South Asia Relief.

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Remembering the Flood Affected

 

Wali Khan Mazari, above, meeting with community members. Bangla Ichha below.

Back in July, when monsoon rains inundated Pakistan, there was no shortage of news about the floods. We received constant updates on the villages that were washed away, the homes that were submerged, the families that were displaced from their homes. We heard stories about children who were malnourished, about mothers who were vulnerable to disease. We inspired each other to raise money, to deliver relief items to the camps, to share in our collective humanity.

But when the floods stopped, so did the news headlines. And as the ramifications of the disaster slipped further away from the front pages, our attention shifted elsewhere.

I speak from personal experience. In August, we [my company, ML Resources Social Vision, along with Pakistani Peace Builders, and Indus Valley Productions] partnered to launch Relief4Pakistan, a grassroots campaign that leveraged social media platforms and people-to-people relationships to raise funds and awareness about the unfolding flood disaster. In our first phase, we decided to vet and choose an international relief agency working with a local team on the ground and delivering emergency first response relief effectively. We were lucky in many, many ways, mainly because we ignited the campaign amid the swell of citizen giving and awareness. We raised $150,000 in about two months, centralizing those funds to Mercy Corps.

As we saw the success of the campaign grow and truly turn into a movement, our team was inspired to do more. Together with OperationUSA (an international relief agency, which, contrary to its name, is a privately funded charity focusing on community engagement and mobilization), we designed what we hope is a unique model for post-flood recovery, taking a community-based approach to address immediate needs and layer the initiative by partnering with social innovators working in housing, solar energy, education, and health sectors to have a long-term impact. We realized the key to success was partnership and collaboration, not trying to reinvent the wheel. We also knew we needed to focus on the areas that weren’t receiving aid or attention from the government or aid organizations, helping those communities falling through the cracks.

That is how we came across Sardar Wali Khan Mazari, a tribal leader of the Bangla Ichha Union Council, a cluster of four villages in Rojhan, the sub-district of Rajanpur in southern Punjab. Rajanpur was one of the hardest hit areas of Pakistan, and Bangla Ichha, along the western banks of the Indus River, suffered tremendously. 2/3 of the population (30,000 out of 40,000) were displaced by the disaster, homes were destroyed (about 5,000), and 20,000 acres of farmland were submerged, resulting in tremendous ramifications for this heavily agrarian society.

Mazari has been and is an incredibly inspirational figure amid this disaster. He told me, “In the immediate aftermath of the floods, I provided shelter and food aid to about 5000 IDPs on my farms and in my village. The army also set up a refugee camp just outside our village on my land to provide food, shelter, and medical aid to the flood-affected people. However, the civil authorities were slow and inadequate in their flood relief response in our area…”

The tribal leader soon led a “long march” from his village of nearly 1,000 people to the district headquarters in Rajanpur (a walk of 200 kilometers) to pressure authorities to deliver aid (via the oft-reported “Watan” cards) to the Bangla Ichha community. He noted,

The people’s reaction, especially in Rojhan, has been overwhelming. They felt let down by the government and by some of their sardars who were ‘missing in action’ and weren’t providing any support. The poor people of the Mazari area of the district, besides needing aid, wanted someone to inspire hope, somebody who would listen to their needs. They wanted their leaders to stand beside them. Unfortunately, in many areas of Rojhan, this did not occur, perhaps because the concept of ‘giving back’ is absent from the vocabulary of these local leaders and government officials.

Mazari’s desire to help his community and truly listen to the needs of his people were inspired by his late father, he said, who embodied the tribal values of insaan dosti (shared humanity), khidmat (service), and wafa (loyalty). Those values now inspire the Relief4Pakistan team, and remind us to always keep listening. For example, when we first met Mazari (through Zeyba, one of our team members), we had grand ideas of social innovation and what we wanted to introduce to the Bangla Ichha community. While many of those ideas will be undertaken at later stages by our social enterprise partners (EcoEnergy Finance, for example, will be sending solar lanterns to the community and will potentially install a solar lighting system in the area), Mazari instead convened a meeting with members of his community, asking them about their immediate needs.

The answer was unanimous. The community, most of whom are poor farmers, needed wheat seeds and fertilizer in time for the planting season. They needed to restore their livelihoods. Our team was humbled and learned a big lesson – in order to ensure sustainability, the local community not only needs to be engaged, but they also need to be listened to. Through gifts in-kind, (via the Rohi Foundation/United Nations FAO and the Imran Khan Foundation), we quickly received enough wheat seeds to restore 3400 acres of crops, just one month into this second phase.

Our partnership with OperationUSA will continue to enforce our commitment to this model area, particularly since we are now working to help build dikes (to prevent future flooding) and fostering community investment to ensure long-term impact as well as cooperating with other partners who will help restore schools, train community health workers, and rebuild homes. Nimmi Gowrinathan, the director of OpUSA’s South Asia Programs, further emphasized,

OpUSA often is able to work in remote areas heavily affected by disasters, villages that have no other form of external support. This approach in Pakistan has ensured Operation USA’s aid has ‘filled in the gaps’ left by larger INGOs and UN agencies, and supported community-driven initiatives – increasing both the efficiency and sustainability of long-term development projects. Across all of our programs we have seen civilians regain control over their own lives with adapted housing and livelihood support. We have seen communities develop their own local NGOs to advocate for rights and services from the government. And we have seen decreased rates of maternal mortality with an intervention as simple as a vehicle adapted for use as an ambulance.

This is not a shameless self-promotion post. This is a story of how a group of like-minded citizens, an international relief agency, and a tribal leader with the moral integrity to help his people had the courage to be audacious and the humility to collaborate. This is also an appeal to join our movement, to give when it’s no longer trendy, and to remember the millions affected by the floods when no one else will. Support the group that speaks most to you, but, really, just continue supporting. Because as the cold weather encroaches on the 18.1 million Pakistanis still affected by the floods, they need us to continue to remember them.

To donate to Relief4Pakistan or to learn more about what we do: http://www.relief4pakistan.com

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RIP, Goatie.

When I was 11 years old, my family moved to Islamabad, Pakistan from Dhaka, Bangladesh. As a child in the noisy and buzzing city of Dhaka, I had seen my share of hanging meat and animal blood in the marketplaces. I still have a vivid memory of a chicken running around with its head cut off as our cook wielded a butcher’s knife in the patch of grass behind the kitchen. That was very frightening. It wasn’t until I moved to Pakistan though that I met my first goat.

I should mention here that my friends have dubbed me Elmira from Tiny Toons, due to my borderline obsession with all things furry and cute, and my desire to unabashedly “hug ‘em and squeeze ‘em.” When I was 11, a spray painted goat arrived at our house. He was a pretty goat with a fabulous coat, spray-painted with neon pink and orange swirls. He bleated pathetically in my direction as I ran breathlessly up to him.

We became friends. It may have been one-sided. I called him Goatie.

I wasn’t very creative.

Needless to say, Eid ul-Azha came soon after, and our family feasted on a meal of biryani with gosht. It wasn’t until later, upon learning of Goatie’s mysterious disappearance, that I put two and two together – I had eaten Goatie.

Apparently, I wasn’t very smart either.

I relate that story, dear readers, because it’s Eid ul-Azha today (or tomorrow for others) – otherwise known as Bakra Eid, the religious holiday where we sacrifice a goat to commemorate the story of Abraham and Ismail. It symbolizes a test of faith and a time when we share with others less fortunate than us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In Pakistan, Eid is a wonderful flurry of sights and sounds – bangles clinking, lights strewn everywhere, colorful new clothes, and children laughing with their pockets fat with Eidi.

 

Remember the floods.

It is a time for family and celebration, but it’s also a time for reflection, particularly for the millions of families who are still without their homes in Pakistan because of the recent flood disaster. Eid for them won’t be a cheery holiday of new clothes and colors, but a painful reminder of all that they lost in the tragedy. Even if their stories have been muted from the news headlines, we should remember them in our prayers on this day, and we should give what we can to ensure their recovery. You can give to your relief organization of choice, or please give to our flood relief campaign Relief4Pakistan, which launched its second phase last week. It is an innovative recovery program developed in partnership with international relief agency Operation USA to restore the livelihood of families living in Bangla Ichha Union Council, a cluster of four villages in Rajanpur, Punjab not receiving sufficient aid and support from the government. We are working closely with the local community organization and tribal leadership to ensure the sustainable recovery of this community through local investment and engagement. To learn more, click here.

Eid Mubarak, everyone!

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The Continuing Disaster

On Monday morning, a headline on MSNBC‘s homepage stated, “UNICEF: 100,000 Pakistan kids face starvation.” It was accompanied by the below photo:

AP: A malnourished little girl in Sukkur, Sindh

The image is both immensely powerful and deeply heartbreaking. The floods in Pakistan have increasingly been relegated to the back pages/tabs of most newspapers and news websites, but the above image obviously shows that the disaster is still very much present. MSNBC reported,

Suhani Bunglani fans flies away from her two baby girls as one sleeps motionless while the other stares without blinking at the roof of their tent, her empty belly bulging beneath a green flowered shirt.Their newborn sister already died on the ground inside this steamy shelter at just 4 days old, after the family’s escape from violent floods that drowned a huge swath of Pakistan. Now the girls, ages 1 and 2, are slowly starving, with shriveled arms and legs as fragile as twigs.

According to UNICEF, about 105,000 children younger than five years old are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition over the next six months. This past Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that ”risk is very high” that waterborne diseases such as cholera could spread and cause large numbers of deaths, with 57 confirmed cases in recent weeks.

A story today further humanized the cost of this tragedy. According to news agencies, an unemployed father-of-four who lost his home in the floods “doused his body in petrol and lit himself with a match after being denied entry to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s private residence in Multan.” The Express Tribune reported, “[The man] Akram searched fruitlessly for a job and decided to visit Gilani’s home to ask for a job recommendation. The prime minister’s security pushed him back and he set himself on fire, Sami said.”

Prior to the floods, Pakistan’s economy was already declining, with a third of the population under the poverty line. According to the LA Times, “Now, in the aftermath of the flooding, officials face the daunting task of preventing complete fiscal collapse.” Here are some numbers – up to 21 million have been affected by the floods. 10 million are homeless. The floods have swept away 70% of roads and bridges in affected areas. In those same areas, over 10,000 schools and 500 hospitals have been destroyed or damaged. PM Gilani has stated that losses from the flooding could reach $43 billion, with the inflation rate, previously projected to reach 9.5% in 2011, now expected to climb as high as 20%.

What does this all mean? It means that we are in for a very, very tough road ahead. It means that more parents like Akram, who so tragically ended his life Monday, will be left without a way to provide for their families. It means that millions of people, just a year after the last displacement crisis in Pakistan, will be further dependent on handouts. And it means that the disaster is far from over even after the headlines go away.

But as the floods subside and we start assessing and tackling the second phase of relief – reconstruction – we also need to remember how little these villages had to begin with before the floods. Handouts are necessary in providing immediate relief to these affected families, but in the long-term a strategic plan must be developed to address very complex development gaps. In the first six-eight months, families will need food, shelter, and clothing. But in the medium and long term, they will also need livelihood skill-building, livestock, fertilizer and seeds to restore their [mainly] agrarian households. In order to decrease families’ dependency on handouts, there must be continued community investment and capacity-building. There must be accountability and transparency. In short, there needs to be more than what we were able to give many of these areas before the floods.

I’ve blogged extensively about our campaign, Relief4Pakistan, which has raised over $140,000 for emergency first response relief in Pakistan by leveraging social media platforms and people-to-people relationships. We are currently developing an innovative model for this next phase of reconstruction that will target villages that aren’t receiving aid, and will foster collaborative networks and community investment in the process. We are all – Pakistani and non-Pakistani alike – in this together because we are all human beings that have witnessed one of the worst natural disasters in recent history. Regardless if you continue to talk about the floods to someone you meet or you are on the ground doing relief work, we all have a responsibility to keep this conversation alive.

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Statues & Crocodile Tears

Source: Christian Science Monitor/AP

Last week, an article in the Huffington Post reported that Pakistan’s government has approved an $11 million statue of Benazir Bhutto. The Huff Po piece cited a Gulf Times report, which noted, “This would be the second monument constructed in the capital city during the last four years.”

Wait. Let me get this straight. Pakistan is suffering from over a month of flooding – the worst natural disaster in decades – that has impacted over 20 million people, and we are spending millions on statues?

If this Gulf Times report is correct, then that is exactly what is happening. According to Shirin Sadeghi at the Huff Po, “The statue itself will cost 4.7 million dollars, and it will be built on land that is worth another 5.9 million dollars. Apparently, Mr. Zardari, whose personal wealth is estimated to be more than 1 billion dollars, just couldn’t afford to donate the land or the statue in honor of the mother of his children.”

But here’s the real question – if the alleged $11 million is coming from taxpayers money, then why didn’t the government previously direct such funds towards flood-affected families? More importantly, the late Benazir Bhutto always at least claimed to be a populist leader. In the spirit of her memory, wouldn’t it therefore make a lot more sense to use that exorbitant amount of money for the people of Pakistan?

Apparently not.

Recently, the Pakistan Consulate in New York City wasted an opportunity to appeal for donations for the flood-affected people in Pakistan on the NASDAQ screen in Time Square. Instead of broadcasting images of the tragedy or messages about the floods, the Consulate showcased photos of bureaucrats standing in front of the Pakistani flag, which flashed on the giant screen. Between that, Gilani‘s visits to fake relief camps, and this new proposed statue, I am increasingly disgusted with our government and their inability to shed more than crocodile tears for the citizens of Pakistan.

(NASDAQ-related story starts about 1:35 in):

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The Cacophony of Tragedy

I’ve felt very drained by the news of late. Cricket players implicated in a spot-fixing scandal. A flood disaster of epic proportions, affecting millions of people and requiring billions of dollars in long-term humanitarian assistance. Political violence and targeted killings in Karachi. A triple bombing that targeted a Shiite procession in Lahore, killing 25 people and wounding 150 others. A firing on another Shiite procession in Karachi, all during the month of Ramadan.

The minute we divert our energy elsewhere, something else explodes outside the periphery. It further illustrates the cacophony of tragedy, and it is deafening. Below are some very powerful images that illustrate the situation poignantly:

From NYT: AP Image

A photographer captured the above image yesterday, following the triple blasts in Lahore that targeted a Shiite mourning procession. The man is running from the explosions caused from protesters burning vehicles, after the attacks incited clashes between mourners and police.

Via Asher Hasan/Naya Jeevan

The image above was posted by Asher Hasan, the founder of Naya Jeevan, a social enterprise providing quality health insurance to the urban poor in Pakistan, and raising money to provide health care to people affected by the floods. The photograph was taken in a village in Charsadda, and shows an entire home washed by the floods, with only the front door remaining. The message in his caption reads: “Over the next few months, thousands of pregnant women will need to deliver their newborns in an unsanitary, high-risk environment,” created by the disaster. According to aid agencies, the floods in Pakistan have exposed nearly 500,000 pregnant women to health risks. Sonia Kush, director of emergency preparedness and response for Save the Children, noted, “We know that mothers are giving birth in flimsy or crowded shelters, steps away from stagnant water and debris.”

From NYT: Reuters Image

Children are also at high risk of malnutrition and water-borne diseases. The above image depicts a mother holding her baby suffering from diarrhea at an overcrowded clinic in Sukkur, Sindh. According to UNICEF, the floods have affected nearly 8.6 million children.

(From the NYT): Reuters image

Above, another powerful photograph, taken as flood victims gather outside a police station in Sukkur, awaiting food. According to a statement, the World Bank has increased its flood-related support to Pakistan from $900 million to $1 billion. As the inflation rate is expected to climb from 15 percent to 20 percent, the government announced that the floods damaged $1 billion of crops, causing food shortages. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for funds to replace half a million tons of wheat seed stocks destroyed by the floods, with planting of the staple due to take place over the next three months.

Below is a new song released by Laal, a rock band in Pakistan, called “Doob Gaya Hai.” Very powerful:

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The Bright Spots Amid the Gray

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Pakistan hasn’t had a lot to be positive about lately. Last summer, millions were displaced from their homes due to military operations against the Pakistani Taliban in northwest Pakistan. This year, about 12 million are affected by the flood disaster, with authorities estimating that reconstruction will take up to three years after the rains subside. Beyond all of that Pakistan has a volatile political situation, a continuing militant threat, and a weak economy. Last week, two brothers were brutally murdered by a mob in Sialkot as police officers looked on, a horrific atrocity that sparked anguish and outrage among Pakistanis, [Rabayl has a brilliant piece on the incident here].

So much of this makes me sad, infuriated, and sick to my stomach. But yesterday, while reading through various articles on the floods and disaster relief, I realized that we so often get engulfed by the negativity, by the tragedy of our circumstances, that we sometimes miss the bright spots amid the gray. The floods in Pakistan are the worst disaster any of us have lived through. But it is also within this tragedy that we have seen real heroes that demonstrate what citizen action truly mean.

In Karachi, fellow bloggers Faisal Kapadia and Awab Alvi, both part of the 4×4 Offroaders Club, have been using their “off-roading skills to deliver life-saving supplies to flood victims across nearly impassible terrain and waters,” noted CNN. They have distributed 100 tents and about eight truckloads of food to affected families in Sindh. Awab told CNN, “We could have stayed home and watched this happen on TV. But someone has to take the next step.”

Future Leaders of Pakistan, an organization of young Pakistanis, has also been coordinating flood relief for those affected by the disaster. Last week, Sana Saleem wrote about their trip to Thatta, Sujjawal and Sharif Solangi in Sindh, providing relief to over 500 families. Over at her blog, Sana provided a guide to others planning to provide relief on the ground, including ways to manage and coordinate aid with large crowds, see here.

Faisal Chohan, a senior TED fellow and founder BrightSpyre & Cogilent Solutions, recently set up PakReport.org, an initiative that allows citizens to text observations and report incidents about the disaster to create a dynamic and comprehensive crowdmap about the flood situation on the ground. One of the team members told the Express Tribune, “What happens is that people send in reports via text, email or web, indicating a need. The map then plots the need and also notifies NGOS and relief agencies working in the area. If they have resources, they can help.” The online initiative employs Ushahidi software in order to visually categorize the needs on the ground.

Other social entrepreneurs, such as the Kashf Foundation, are also involved in disaster relief. Naya Jeevan, a social enterprise that provides quality health insurance to the urban poor [see here for CHUP's interview with Asher Hasan], has partnered with two credible NGOs – Shine Humanity and UM Trust – to provide health care to families in the hardest-hit areas. Naya Jeevan is also distributing Ramadan calendars to raise money to provide health insurance to people in the flood-affected districts.

Overseas, the UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), which includes 13 UK humanitarian agencies, has raised £40 million from the British public for flood relief efforts in Pakistan. According to the website, “The Disasters Emergency Committee said it had never seen such an extraordinary pattern of giving for any appeal in its 45 year history. Donations usually spike sharply in the first week after the appeals are broadcast and then drop significantly in the second and particularly the third weeks.” DEC Chief Executive Brendan Gormley said,

This belies all talk of donor fatigue. Growing awareness of the sheer scale of the disaster has seen the public continue to respond to the needs of people who are in dire need of help. Their generosity has been astounding.

In the U.S., where “donor fatigue” has become the chief buzz word of late, donations are nowhere near the scale we saw following the Haiti earthquake earlier this year. But, via Relief4Pakistan, the campaign we launched two weeks ago, we’ve seen numerous Americans – not just Pakistani-Americans – step forward, being a part of an effort that has raised $81,000 as of today for Mercy Corps’ first response relief efforts on the ground, [see this past post for more on the campaign]. I’ve also read and heard of numerous efforts occurring throughout the country, all in a push to mobilize support for Pakistan. The Acumen Fund, for example, recently launched “On the Ground in Pakistan,” an initiative that allows users to add their observations and appeals to their “tapestry” online. Today, the Gates Foundation also donated $700,000 for those affected by the floods.

I was lucky enough to be part of Riz Khan‘s show on Al Jazeera on Wednesday, where Mosharraf Zaidi, Sir John Holmes, and I discussed the issue of “donor fatigue,” [see below]. My heart breaks on a regular basis for Pakistan. At the same time though, I am so inspired by the amount of people I have seen take action amid this tragedy. Their tireless work and commitment to this country should continue to inspire us all.

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The WTF List of the Week

LOL Cat says WTF.

TGIF! Here is my round-up of events/developments this week that really had me screeching, “WTF” [What the eff], mainly at my computer screen, television, or to no one in particular:

WTF #1: What is up with the U.S.’s unhealthy obsession with President Obama’s religion?! I just don’t understand. Remember when he had to distance himself from his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright once upon a time? Let’s break it down. Pastor = Christian. Obama went to Pastor’s sermons. Obama = Christian. How is this hard to comprehend? Why do nearly one-in-five Americans believe that the President is a Muslim? And, more importantly, why does it matter?!

WTF#2: As an addendum to the first WTF, please observe this Washington Times piece by Jeffrey Kuhner, entitled, “Obama’s Islamic Agenda.” He wrote,

Mr. Obama openly bragged about his “Muslim background” and that his family had “followers of Islam.” He spoke of his youth in Indonesia, his study of the Koran and the call to Islamic prayer. In short, he discovered his inner Muslim in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the Arab street.

God forbid we all get in touch with our “inner Muslim” by being tolerant, worldly, and developing some form of cultural understanding. To drive home his point – that Obama loves the Muslim World more than Amuuurrica, here was the accompanying photo:

Greg Groesch for The Washington Times

See everyone! Underneath Obama’s makeup, he is a Muslim in disguise! He even has a tatoo on his cheek to prove it! Alert the media! We have a Hajji in our midst!

WTF. WTF. WTF.

WTF#3: American news channels, politicians, and figures – can we please stop with the coverage about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque“?! It’s not a mosque. It’s not at Ground Zero. Let’s reach a compromise and move on. Sarah Palin, I know the withdrawal symptoms from Twitter bashing (“twashing”) may be tough at first, but you’ll get over it. There are far more important things we should be talking about, which leads me to…

WTF#4: The U.S. media’s concentration on Obama’s religion and Park 51 (aka, the “Ground Zero Mosque”) means there’s been relatively little coverage of an enormous humanitarian disaster – the floods in Pakistan. And we wonder why many Americans aren’t that aware of the devastation of this disaster, which is ongoing. Also, when the Western media does cover the floods, it’s often done through a negative lens, and the human loss and impact of this disaster gets lost in the process. Can we please, for the love of God, recognize the millions suffering without bringing Zardari’s spending habits into the equation or the Islamist issue? Cover the disaster in a way that does justice to the families who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, to the many who don’t give a damn about politics or “strategic interests.” They care about surviving and they care about the day-to-day. Remember that.

WTF#5: Dear Pakistani government, your response to the disaster in Pakistan has been atrocious. As a Pakistani citizen, one who is peddling like mad to drum up funds to send back home, I am disgusted with your political pot shots, your disinterest in your own people, and your lip service to something unfolding in front of your eyes. Everyone has pledged aid – even Afghanistan – who barely has anything right now. If every leader who defaulted on their loans or didn’t pay taxes actually dug into their pockets, maybe the rest of the world wouldn’t be calling us selfish beggars.

WTF#6: India offered aid to Pakistan when the floods began. What do our illustrious leaders do? They considered it. They refused to offer visas to 400 Indian doctors ready to come across the border and help flood victims. Even if Pakistan “accepted” the aid, why on earth did it take so long?! You might as well have taken that good will and thrown it out the window.

WTF#7: Via Huma Imtiaz (and an Express Tribune report):

The government and local clerics refused to shelter around 500 flood-affected families belonging to the Ahmadiya community in South Punjab’s relief camps. Not only that, the government also did not send relief goods to the flood-hit areas belonging to the Ahmadiya community, The Express Tribune has learnt during a visit to the devastated Punjab districts of Muzaffargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.

Are you kidding me with this crap? Aid should be colorblind, because disasters are indiscriminate with who they impact. Your response, dear clerics (or whoever was behind this), should not be contingent on your prejudices. It should embrace every single family suffering because of this disaster. WTF.

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Photo by Ali Khurshid

If you follow the international news (or at least read this blog somewhat regularly), then you are well aware of the increasingly dire situation in Pakistan. Over 20 million Pakistanis have been affected by weeks of flooding, as the rains continue to displace families from their homes, fan dangers of cholera outbreaks, and destroy livelihoods. Pakistan’s senior meteorologist Arif Mahmood told reporters that floodwaters “won’t fully recede until the end of the month, and existing river torrents were still heading to major cities such as Hyderabad and Sukkur in the south.”

Mahmood’s prediction essentially means that the floods will continue for two more weeks, making it difficult to quell the damage of this disaster and for relief agencies to provide adequate responses on the ground. As we all encourage others to dig into their pockets and help the millions in need (Relief4Pakistan, the campaign we launched last week, has so far raised over $30,000), we also need to remain cognizant of the realities that can hinder this relief. Here are some:

  1. The continuation of the rain, even if it’s less heavy this week, makes it difficult for relief teams to reach the people in need. Last Friday, I attended a USAID discussion on the situation in Pakistan, where the speaker noted that there are now 15 American military helicopters in Pakistan. The State Department website notes, “U.S. helicopters have evacuated 5,912 people and delivered 717,713 pounds of relief supplies.” However, noted the USAID official last week, helicopters can’t exactly fly when it’s raining. So relief teams have to rely on four-wheel drives, trucks and even donkeys, often delaying delivery time.
  2. The floods have devastated infrastructure, further complicating the delivery of aid. Countless numbers of bridges and roads have been destroyed, washed away, or blocked by landslides. If bridges aren’t repaired more quickly, than aid and food will fail to reach the hundreds of families cut off from relief. (Again, if it wasn’t raining, helicopters could be instrumental in food drops, but their efforts are hampered by the continuing rains).
  3. Because the floods are not over, we still don’t know the full extent of the devastation. Remember when news agencies said over 14 million had been affected by the floods, “more than the 2004 tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined”? Yeah. That was last week. This week, the number is over 20 million. And as the rains continue, more land will be submerged by water, more families will become displaced, and the overall impact will be larger.
  4. Pledged aid does not translate to aid delivered. The United Nations today announced that international aid is arriving too slowly, while some organizations are running out of resources. According to Al Jazeera, “The World Food Programme has warned that it needs more money to support Pakistan’s food supplies, which are “under significant pressure.'” So two issues here – first, not enough aid. Second, the aid that has been pledged by governments can take weeks of lead time to trickle into the system. Daniel Toole, the South Asia regional director for Unicef, told Al Jazeera, “We cannot spend pledges. We cannot buy purification tablets, we cannot support Pakistan with pledges.” Ted Itani, from the International Red Cross & Red Crescent, echoed, “I can only spend cash that is in my budget. Although donors have pledged millions of dollars it has to filter down into my account so I can order things before the onset of winter.”
  5. Again, pledges. They aren’t tangible. According to the BBC News’ Mark Doyle, the United Nations launched a “Flash Appeal” for $459 million to cover the first 90 days of the disaster. Nearly half of this appeal has been raised – $208 million – with a further $42 million pledged but not yet earmarked for specific projects. But, noted Doyle, “Rich “donor” countries often double count their contributions to make themselves look more generous to voters at home, or to curry political favor with particular parts of the world.”
  6. Relief agencies and the Pakistani government aren’t operating in all the affected areas. Much of the current emergency first response relief seems to be concentrated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (particularly Swat Valley) and Sindh provinces. However, very little aid has been delivered to Balochistan, which has also been impacted by the floods, mainly because international agencies can’t operate in those areas. According to ARY Television (via @mirza9), a Balochi official today said only the army are operating in the province. The NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority), provincial government and the federal government are completely missing on ground.
  7. Emergency first response relief aside, the public health and economic ramifications will be much more severe in the long-term. Dirty flood water and rain = lack of clean water. Lack of clean water = high risk of water-borne diseases like cholera, etc. Relief agencies on the ground, like Mercy Corps (the recipient of the Relief4Pakistan donations), are working to provide clean water, water filtration units, and hygiene kits to not only address the immediate need, but also to prevent future outbreaks of diseases. Mercy Corps, working in Swat and Sukkur (Sindh) is attempting to serve 10,000 people a day with a 20-person team on the ground. Moreover, noted TIME, “Last week, World Bank president Robert Zoellick said the floods had destroyed crops worth around $1 billion. By conservative Pakistani estimates, the figure is at least double that.”
  8. Finally, the millions affected by the floods aren’t just suffering, they’re pissed off. And justifiably so. News agencies today noted affectees’ anger at the government, which they say has not provided enough aid to the people who deserve it most. This was not helped by President Zardari‘s Europe visit or the fact that PM Yousaf Raza Gilani reportedly visited a fake relief camp on Wednesday, one that was allegedly erected “hours” before his arrival. Residents of the camp, which was also “wound up” after his departure, told Dawn that they had been “living out in the open, with no shelter.” Zardari recently acknowledged that the government response has so far been inadequate, noting, “Yes, the situation could have been better. Yes, the arrangements could have been made better. Yes, everything could have been better.

For those who want to continue to do more and fill in these gaps, you should continue to donate to vetted agencies working on the ground. I’ve provided a list here, and have plugged my own campaign, Relief4Pakistan in my last post. Donations can go a long way, further than pledges that can get caught in bureaucratic red tape. More importantly, you can raise awareness about the situation, particularly if you live overseas. If you live in Pakistan, you can and should take part in the PakRelief Crowdmap, which creates a dynamic map of the flood emergency and directs relief agencies to those area. This effort is vital in an environment where efforts are often duplicated, or for certain areas don’t receive enough attention. To submit your own observations to the Crowdmap, text about the disaster to 3441, beginning the message with “FL” for flood relief. See here for the website, and here for the Facebook page.

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