KARACHI: It is close to Iftar time and the voice on the public announcement system is requesting hundreds of volunteers at the PAF museum relief camp to share their personal meal boxes, since the provided meal is for a lesser count and the number of volunteers present is much more than expected. And so the brotherhood unites at yet another level, each ensuring that their compatriot gets enough. But it is the first day when the person responsible for setting up this camp is not present. He is in hospital being treated for severe dehydration due to exertion, lack of sleep and insufficient food in-take. But even from the hospital bed, he is continuously organizing the relief work.
Fakhre Alam, till a few days ago, was known to us as just a pop singer. But since the moment when the earthquake tragedy shook the nation, he emerged as a leading civilian, heading the largest relief effort from Karachi in which almost the entire city has joined him. I contacted him for information as to what was needed at his camp and how the work was proceeding.
“We urgently need satellite phones to monitor our teams; generators to work the medical and other equipment; human resource managers to organize the onslaught of volunteers; medical specialists to guide us on how to set up a make-shift hospitals, coaches with overhead carriers and of course, helicopters if possible,” he replied.
There are so many ends he’s looking into that all the items and services are top priority right now. Since he wants to ensure that each truck load he sends reaches its destination, a reporting system has been established where the receiving team is given the ID card number of the truck driver and upon receiving the truck an acknowledgement is sent directly to Karachi.
The volunteers who have converged at the PAF museum also need to be managed right now. Since all of them are zealously charged with the desire to go to the affected areas, he is being hard put to keep a hold on them.
“I have to shout at them at times to make them understand that all of them cannot go up right now since the conditions are such that they all cannot survive. It is cold there and with no food available these guys will end up being ill themselves.”
To streamline the work he had asked for corporate managers to step in and a multinational company has given interim leave to more than 50 of their middle managers to help the work force comprising nearly 4,000 volunteers daily and to bring order to the phenomenal amount of relief goods that are strewn all over with more pouring in every hour.
He suddenly remembers another important item and quickly adds, “Please also mention that we need lots of diapers/pampers for the children there. There are so many kids from infancy to about five years of age, just sitting in large groups besides wreckage and debris with no one to look out for them. They need to be treated and they need to be free of infections. And if there are children’s NGOs who can join hands with us to rehabilitate them, it would be a great service as these poor lost souls need immediate tending.”
What is most striking about this relief camp is the coherence Fakhr has managed to create, despite the chaos that is being created at the official levels. From collection of goods, to transportation to assessment of damage and then ensuring that the effects reach the victims, all ends are being covered, but he still feels helpless at the things he can’t do. “Yesterday, I got a call from a man still under the debris in Rawalkot, who appealed to me to send a rescue team. Incidentally, his brother on the outside had seen our camp’s efforts on TV and they wanted to appeal to me. I felt so frustrated and I could do nothing but hold my head and weep.” But the words that remained unspoken between us implied, that what were those people doing who actually could mobilize troops for rescue and still hadn’t managed to do so.
What strikes one as odd is that if one individual with limited infrastructure resources could organize and mobilize large teams into doing such organized work, how come the relief work at the higher level is still falling short? Now there are reports coming in that relief is also being ‘politically’ motivated as villages and areas where the government officials have personal ties are being given priority.
But Fakhr has no time to even dwell on the politics of it all and has been shying away from photographed donations given by prominent politicians and officials. His next stage of planning now includes mobilizing mountain climbers and trekkers and he has already arranged with two groups of 30 trekkers each to be airlifted from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to be transported to areas still in need of manpower to remove people or dead bodies from under the rubbles.
The members of the team which go with the goods from Karachi also include security personnel and hence even private security agencies are required to volunteer. The relief teams are instructed to mark the villages on the way and record their names and distances so that the next relief team will know where to go.
“Unfortunately, there are areas where excess provisions and manpower has reached whereas in some places there has been no help and I don’t want our teams wasting their time in places where already things are in control, we have only 25 or so days left to complete the relief and rehabilitation. Once the snow comes in, there is nothing anyone will be able to do as when the mountains get covered, you are literally unable to see beyond your nose”, Fakhr added.
His appeal to the Karachi people is that no one should head out if they are not physically totally sound. But what they can do from here is provide expertise like medical specifications on mobile units, expert advice on what other on-foot volunteers should carry in the back packs and HR managers to organize the work force here.