Archive for August 27th, 2010

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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