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Changing the mindset


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We, Pakistanis, have a certain pattern of responding to national disasters. The kind which involves developing a bubble of patriotism and its quick bursting after a certain period that is only effective for short-term solutions. Such has been the case with the recent floods in the county. It has been nearly three months since the waters gushed through our lands and although water levels have receded, the biggest natural disaster in modern history still yearns to create the hype it deserved. There has been an exponential decrease of passion, donations and the will to rehabilitate the 20 million affected by the floods once the holy month of Ramazan ended.

We travelled to Dera Din Panah, in South Punjab to make another delivery of relief aid towards the end of October. We had already visited this particular area twice earlier, but continuous calls for help from the locals forced us to take note of the immediate need of the affectees. With supplies of blankets and warm clothes for about 1,000 families, we left for the area. With the onset of winter, the needs of the people have changed from ration and temporary shelters to warm clothes, self-sustaining rebuilding projects, prolonged medical care and permanent shelters.

As per our survey, 140 houses in basti Hyder Ghazi, 25 in basti Sattiwala, 21 in basti Bhagsar, 40 in Jamali, 18 in Mir Hassanwala, 30 in Samandari, 10-15 in basti Arra, 20 in Mai Sohagan and, around 100 houses in main city had been completely destroyed. Farmers, labourers and small-scale businessmen have taken loans from families and friends and have started rebuilding their houses, while those who couldn’t afford to are still waiting for some sort of relief.

The situation had changed in the past few weeks as only traces of water and its destruction remained. This town had been adversely affected, with nearly 99 per cent of it underwater. Locals told me only one street, which housed the mausoleum of Sufi Saint Syed Abdul Wahab Bukhari, known as Hazrat Din Panah, after whom the town was named, did not drown.

The complaints people had (from the shopkeepers to small farmers) were the same: not having enough money to start running their business again, not having enough money to prepare farmlands as the cost of per acre cost to water their fields had increased considerably as the canal irrigation systems had been damaged due to the floods. Local labourers also stated that ‘foreign’ NGOs were not involving local manpower for rehabilitation, which could be beneficial to the community and also provide these people with a steady source of income.

The solution, as they put it, was to start self-sustaining projects involving the local communities, like providing business-related aid to help small business owners, providing diesel or bearing the cost for preparing the farmlands of local farmers, stressing upon NGO’s to hire local laborers for rebuilding projects and other entrepreneurial projects which can be sustainable and will help the locals stand on their feet again.

This rehabilitation phase will cost us more and require more focus. We cannot let the notion of “we have already helped,” run unbridled through our masses and the media must play its role in creating this awareness. It doesn’t feel like we are in midst of one of the biggest humanitarian crisis of recent history. We must change this mindset, in whatever capacity we can.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, a poet and a social activist who is the founding force & chairperson of the Pakistan Youth Alliance. He can be found on Twitter and is available on Facebook.

*Photos by author

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (52) Closed

Judy Findlay Nov 08, 2010 02:05am
There is much about what you do that is special. The fact that you responded to the need with action is a reflection of wisdom and understanding not seen in your elders. Most were unable to understand the immensity of the tragedy---internationally, and I suspect even in Pakistan. You saw the vacuum of leadership and gave out the "call to action". And, remarkably, youth responded!!!! Congratulations.
nazir alam Nov 05, 2010 10:26am
i read your article and agree with you that our minds must be change so that we become the best nation
Mohammad SaeedUr Rahman Nov 05, 2010 04:28am
When you go to a dark room turn the lights on.Don,t talk about darkness. We all see the problem let,s find solution. If you can help one person or one family just do it please. Thank God we still have lots of great God fearing people that want to help out. Ramadan is gone but the problems are still there. We can,t be looking for international aid all the time. The money Pakistan rich families save after giving corruption to Tax people should be use in helping the affected.Sorry but this is truth and I hope it hurts someone.
nazir alam Nov 05, 2010 10:19am
this is the big problem in Pakistan that today Pakistanis are in the misery, poverty and wrong social conditions are the our national asserts but today every one is in the economical crisis and they would like to come out.
Reactionary Nov 03, 2010 07:52am
Ppl like you make me have hope for pakistan, something I gave up a long time ago
Yawar Nov 02, 2010 11:19am
Yes, I agree that self-sustaining projects must be initiated by involving locals; that ought to prove long lasting in the rehabilitation efforts. All the Volunteers of Pakistan Youth Alliance and donors deserve a 'BIG SHABASH'. Keep it up guys.
Zeeshan Nov 03, 2010 08:33am
How to donate?
Mohammad SaeedUr Rahman Nov 04, 2010 02:37am
Our foundation is looking for a reliable partner to help build houses and provide basic help. Please contact Keep up the good work and we appreciate what you are doing. We are based in USA. Saeed
Rafia Nov 02, 2010 04:04pm
It's the same as always - we're such a emotional nation - when sth happens we get our emotions at peak and then you're right bubble bursts as quickly as it blows up - FAIL
Asim Ali Nov 02, 2010 04:03pm
great article Ali.. and i totally agree with you..
Afsha Nov 02, 2010 04:06pm
brilliant article written.. keep writing more.. :)
Kashif Nov 02, 2010 04:08pm
Sir i totally agree with your thoughts.. and i feel that the media should highlight these issues to common public
Umar Nov 02, 2010 04:04pm
i totally agree with you Mr. Ali
Aabid Bashir Nov 02, 2010 04:09pm
Ali you are right, and i feel that the media should bring these issues on talk shows instead of wasting time arguing on useless things
Asim Nov 02, 2010 04:13pm
Ali, you are doing great work and making us proud.. :) keep it up, we are with you
shaikh Nov 02, 2010 11:00pm
I suggest to go for some talks now - like campaigns - ignite ppl man
Tehmina Nov 02, 2010 08:32pm
Thank you Ali for this useful update on the post flood situation and your contructive suggestions. I have been scanning the papers for news about the post flood relief efforts and unfortunately there is very little - not only in the foreign press which seems to have forgotten this disaster completely, but also in the Pakistani press where the flood and its aftermath has ceased to be covered on the front pages, relegated somewhere to the back if it is covered at all. In the large cities you are hardly aware that this is a country still grappling with the worst natural calamity in its history - indeed in living memory the world over. In reality the situation of those displaced by the floods continues to remain perilous. Relief organizations are running out of funds to continue providing food rations to those in camps. Malnutrition and child mortality are on the increase, affecting the youngest and most helpless members of society. 7 million people continue to be out in the open with no shelter whatsoever as the winter approaches. Not to mention the 20 million or so in total, who have lost valuable assets and don't know where to begin to bring some semblance of order to their lives and get back on their feet economically. The rest of the 150 million of us not affected by the floods have a huge responsibility not to forget those who are suffering, otherwise we will never turn the page on this disaster which has set the clock back decades. We must do more individually and we must demand more from our government, private sector, civil society and media. In particular the media needs to insist on keeping this issue in the public eye - forgetting about cricket and soap operas and political shenanigans for now - nothing is more important than rehabilitating the flood victims and getting this huge segment of the population back on their feet.
Hassan Nov 02, 2010 04:15pm
Pakistan Youth Alliance Zindabad!! Keep striving for the top Ali, I am always with you!! :)
mehwish Nov 02, 2010 09:54pm
right said - but execution plan ??
mehwish Nov 02, 2010 10:11pm
Great write-up over all
Mr. Hunzala Nov 02, 2010 10:16pm
After reading this article I am saddened by the response if local relief workers and foreign NGOs. Why our floods didnot reach the same level of help as Haiti and Tsunami is a sad question to ask from international community
Abdul Basit Khawaja Nov 02, 2010 11:28am
Coming from the same field, I second your thoughts. We as Pakistanis have to become more responsible for what is happening around us and how we can make this society sustainable. Great work..keep it up..
Shah. Nov 02, 2010 11:33am
yes i agree,Media has forgotten it's historical devastating disaster like intenrational media.. Our Media should call the international donors & UNO etc. it's their duty to show the world what pain ppl r still going through,I'm a flood victim & i know what others r going throug,flood victims r living a crippled life with psychological disturbance,loss of buisness & just to begin with fear of winters winds with nothing left in home to cover their children with,deprived of the basic needs forgetting abt about other life needs.
Adeel Nov 02, 2010 11:32am
I agree that Pakistan is going through tough times facing both natural and unnatural disasters. I believe that Pakistan is functioning because of generous Pakistanis but unfortunately their generosity is sharply declining due to soaring inflation. Media keeps bringing up these issues but there seems to be no solution so we are in a bottle neck situation at the moment and I can't say how things will work out.
ANG Nov 02, 2010 11:28am
You are doing a great job and making us proud on our youth. God Bless you and your team. Any government in world can not coup with such desecrater and we have series of these from earthquake to IDP's and now floods. Government with all its weaknesses performed good but biggest role is of civil society and we should focus on measures to streamline these efforts. Needless to say that local governments can play a vital role to help aid organisations. Keep it up and thumbs up for your selfless contribution towards national causes.
Rafia Nov 02, 2010 09:32pm
yeah Ali we're with you !!!!
Ali K.Chishti Nov 02, 2010 11:01am
Great Work...!!!
AleenaYunus Nov 02, 2010 10:21am
I agree. we need constant effort to deal with national crisis like floods
Romana Nov 02, 2010 10:27am
I second your thoughts Mr ali. I think media should focus on such issues as apparently they are the drivers to push emotions into our society.
Mohammad SaeedUr Rahman Nov 04, 2010 04:19am
Please keep up the good work. May Allah bring blessings for our poor people.
Maria Nov 03, 2010 12:27pm
Great work Ali. my all time support is there for PYA. Bless ya! PYA! Yaaayyyyyyyy!!!...
Zareen Zubair Nov 02, 2010 07:36pm
I totally agree with you Ali. We have to give in our level best in order to cope up with the survival and rehabilitation of the flood victims. You're such an inspiration for all us youth to step up and do something. God bless
Sunny Nov 02, 2010 08:05pm
:) my prayers are with you guys. KEEP IT UP PYA !
SyedAliAbbas Nov 03, 2010 10:25pm
TY everyone. Theres nothing special in what we are doing, its a duty. We need to constantly bombard the media, our offices, schools, hoods, drawing room and remind eachother of this. Media is too busy 'finding' the errs, and we have to find the solutions and remedies to them.
ILMANA FASIH Nov 03, 2010 07:33pm
We are a people with knee jerk reactions and short term memory-be it disasters, terrorism or sports.A moment of compassion the the next moment it is business as usual.We need to change this into a consistency in our empathy for the needy and the helpless. Need to stop the lip service and act now with minds and hands. Bring smile to a distressed face and your soul smiles. Bring comfort to a despondent mind and your conscience is comforted. Bring a ray of hope to a desperate life and your life brightens up. It is only experience that teaches us how intoxicating helping out the helpless and the needy is. PYA, Ali and his gang, keep up the good work.Your spirits have put most of us seniors to a shame.
Pakeezah Nov 02, 2010 08:06pm
I must say that Mr. Ali and the members of his team are doing a phenomenal job. The problem here is that our government is not interested in helping people (which is a very clear fact). If they won't leave their Mahals and see the destruction by visiting those places, they simply won't have the sympathy for them. I know there are some who have actually dared to do so but a few can't do much. We need every one to come out and support them with whatever they can. And I'm pretty sure that our Ministers possess more than what we do today :) Anyway, please bear in mind it is everyone's responsibility to help those who have been affected by the disaster!
Maryam Hussain Nov 04, 2010 04:33pm
The effort you are putting in along with your fellow memebers is commendable. Keep up the awesome work! :D
Mehvish Nov 02, 2010 01:53pm
I agree.. Media should definitely play its role.. Keep it up!
Nooruddin Jalal Nov 02, 2010 01:07pm
It's a wakening up call for all Pakistanis, when humanity is suffering in a part of the wordl I'm totally agree with you. we forget them and left them alone with shelter less night and pain. It's the responsibility of Govt, Media and every Pakistani to help them in tough times and to speak for them. I appreciate the efforts by Pakistan Youth Alliance for their remarkable service to the nation. And Ali, you are a blessed lad- we are with you. Keep going. Speak for CHANGE!
Amel Nov 02, 2010 12:55pm
I have said it not once but time and again that you, Zaidi, are an inspiration and people today need this sort of inspiration, an incentive to do something. Pakistan needs more people like your team and yourself because disasters arent going to end and people, Pakistani people will need you guys more .. Wish you luck for your future endeavors !!
Shabbir Bukhari Nov 02, 2010 12:50pm
Great work....the efforts of PYA can serve as a role model for the development sector.The author is right that systematic response to natural calamities and sustainable development is the only effective way to deal with flood like situations.
Sheikh Danish Ejaz Nov 02, 2010 12:44pm
I completely Agree with ali. As nation i am glad we are pretty motivated to help each other but also our motivation is based on very short time span. whole nation thinking as ONE is something rare that is seen and unfortunately this flood issue has shown us the bad side of it as well when people are pointing fingers at each other than working together...
Sara Nov 02, 2010 12:20pm
i loved the article.Media should definitely play its role now.
Maliha Hinna Nov 02, 2010 12:11pm
Hats off to the efforts you guys have been making to help the helpless, its time we realized, we all need to play our roles. Well done... Keep up the Good work.. !!
Fahad Nov 02, 2010 12:02pm
Ali you are doing a great job and making us proud on our youth, we should focus on measures to streamline these efforts.. I agree that Pakistan is going through tough times facing both natural and unnatural disasters and people like u r our hope :)
KhattaK Nov 02, 2010 12:43pm
Ali like u said its been some time since since the water levels went down considerably, the media was obsessed with showing images of grief stricken people THEN but now it seems the the past flood is of no concern to them anymore. They have got new stories up their sleeves, the unification of the Muslim League and what not. Even the Government has forgotten what its role is in such a disaster. Its not just to provide IMMEDIATE RELIEF but to to help the devastated families regain their lost footing through Long Term Planning. We as a nation must also change are attitude towards such calamities bcz it is what Islam and Humanity demand of us.
Fayaz Thaheem Nov 02, 2010 12:33pm
People like you have really worked hard in flood crisis. IMO if we as a nation and as a country fight back all the crisis like these, not just natural one, We will win this game.
Jaafer Naqvi Nov 02, 2010 12:34pm
Ali, You are doing a great job. I was really thinking on this ground that we should start giving them sustainable help which could help them build up finances rather than giving bits and pieces of food and shelter after every 2-3 weeks. Though its commendable itself. You can use schools to set up Flea Markets there, ask students and their families to bring household items which they dont use, and sell them in Flea Market. The money generated should be donated to Flood Affectees and items unsold can be given to Flood Affectees too. Its just an idea, you can come up with something else too...
tahira mussarat hussain Nov 02, 2010 12:30pm
i agree, unfortunately thats become our way of life --- electronic media should highlight such issues
Harun Nov 02, 2010 04:10pm
I agree, we need collective effort to deal with national crisis like this one..
Unknown Nov 02, 2010 04:12pm
Ali you are doing a great job and making us proud on our youth, we should focus on measures to streamline these efforts.. I agree that Pakistan is going through tough times facing both natural and unnatural disasters and people like you are our hope in these times of test.. :)
Zubair Nov 02, 2010 04:11pm
Excellent work!!