The Effort that Time will Never Forget

Pakistan has been rocked by the worst ever floods so far. According to preliminary conservative estimates the losses are quite enormous. At least 1,600 people have lost their lives and more than 722,000 homes have been badly damaged or totally destroyed. The United Nations estimates over 20 million people are suffering with over 160,000 square kilometers (1/5 of Pakistan) affected as a result of the flooding, exceeding the combined total of the affectees of 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Around a fifth of Pakistan's total land area was impacted by the flooding.
 UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said, during his visit to Pakistan to review the situation, that it was the worst disaster he had ever seen, and asked for an initial $460 million for emergency relief, 20% of which had been received as of August 15, 2010. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain is reported to have remarked that "the infrastructure of this province was already destroyed by terrorism. Whatever was left was finished off by these floods." He described the floods as “the worst calamity in our history as a result of which Four million Pakistanis are suffering food shortages.”

Pakistan Army is doing a commendable job in providing relief to the people in distress. Pakistan Army is well and truly supported by the people of the country who have themselves went to the flood affected areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab. This has been the story so far, people from all fork of life across the country have formed groups privately through which they collect money from their peers, family and other people. Through this fund they purchase essential food items and stuff in reasonable quantity for one family enough for one week or one month. They personally go there and distribute the stuff all by themselves or with the help of the Pakistan Army. Through this piece I am sharing the experience of my friends who went in the areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa.

One of my friends Irfan Abubakr happened to be there in the flood affected areas along with his friend two weeks ago. Upon return he shared the miseries of the people in these areas and also suggested that everyone must do their bit. His words struck cord with Bilal Javed and Murtaqa Rana, and they initiated the call for donation and also shared what they want to do with the amount. Bilal Javed has over past few months earned himself a name and respect among people for his services in arranging blood for those who required. So banking on this repute they both collected a total of around four hundred thousand rupees from their colleagues, friends, relatives and other connections in three days time. From this two hundred and fifty hampers of food and goodies were purchased including 6 liter mineral water bottles. Bilal Javed and Murtaqa Rana needed some volunteers to support their noble mission and they found bunch of people within no time, all of them had the urge to do something for their fellow countrymen and their homeland at large. The truck to carry the luggage was arranged by Ali Irfan, a friend of Bilal Javed. It was a team effort for one cause – to help the distressed.

They left for Islamabad on Friday night and reached Nowshera on Saturday afternoon. They had already done their homework and would visit Kala Qila, Chirat, Nowshera City and Sismandi during their two days long trip. The places were identified through some contacts in the areas and people who had been there for relief work. They first reached Sismandi, a village, and the camps were 3-4 kilometer inside the road. The area looked as if it was recently struck by floods as the water was at a distance 200-300 yards. 50 bags of foods stuff were distributed in Sismandi, although the need was of more than that but since they had planned to cover at least four areas they decided to visit the area again in few days time and distribute some more goods here.

The next stop was Chirat, its 20-25 kilometers from Ajmal Khattak Chowk, where IDP camps were already erected on both sides of the road and they were in hundreds. Chirat is basically a hilly area and they were all surprised to see the people up there tormented by the floods. They were told by a native that people have come here from the lower ground to save themselves from the merciless floods. The people there were in the state of sorrow and despair but what moved Bilal Javed and company was their will to fight and resolve against all odds. The school they were directed to by a native already had enough of food supplies and instead of having more food items they courageously told Bilal to head for another school in the area. In these difficult times when people are after the lives of each other over the food supplies it takes a big heart to say no to a bag of gold but they showed care for everyone around and not just themselves – a lesson to be learnt really. They reached the school and found out that the people there too have no such requirements but still they handed them some food hampers.

From Chirat they went back to Pabbi and on their way they found some people who seemed needy so they gave them the food stuff but soon a local told that they are not from the areas affected by the floods. Bilal and his team became cautious and decided to check the CNICs of the people coming to collect the food items and get them verified from the local person that they have really come from the area devastated by the floods.

In Pabbi they found an Army camp site which was housing 16,000 on main G.T road. But when they reached the site 6,000 people had already left the site as the situation in their areas became stable. Army Jawans gave hampers to them to sustain themselves while they rebuilt. No wonder army is doing a praiseworthy job and my friends were overwhelmed to see their efforts. They offloaded the rest of the hampers from the truck at the camp site for distribution. After staying for sometime at camp site on the insistence of the army jawans, they headed back to Lahore willing to come back once again to help the victims of the floods. It is worth mentioning that even the local affectees are contributing a lot; those who are well off are disbursing cash and food stuff to help people. This shows the courage and selflessness the people have shown during the time of crisis; kudos to them for the resilience they have shown.

Bilal and his team has a suggestion for all those who are planning to go in these areas; the food stuff and water is in abundance in these areas and it is better now to concentrate on medicines, cutlery, shelters, clothing, hygiene items (soap, toothpaste, dettol, towel etc). This stuff will really help these people in planning and moving to their areas and houses, as they will not staying forever in the camp site. It is also better to establish a contact with a local guide before you leave or upon reaching the areas destroyed by floods. It helps a lot in identifying the victims of the flood and aid can be distributed to the right person. My friends, as they told me, benefitted a lot from it and because of these local guides they were able to reach out to the victims who either don’t have access or have limited access to the organized relief camps.

Lastly, the media should also promote such efforts carried out by the common man and must give them coverage so that the word of mouth can be spread across. This will also motivate more and more people to come forward and help their fellow countrymen in distress. Currently media is busy giving footage on television and space in print to the media savvy politicians. It is about time they shift the focus to those who truly deserve.

By: Muhammad Kamran Rifat

Photos: Murtaqa Rana

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