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KARACHI, Sept 24: Speakers at a seminar on flood relief measures have said that in the wake of climate change reports, it has become crucial for Pakistan to make special efforts to meet the challenges posed by natural disasters whose frequency has increased over the past few years.

They added that this could be done by identifying vulnerable areas, making plans to ensure their safety and constituting teams of trained volunteers across the country that could be called in at the time of a calamity.

The seminar, ‘Sharing what we saw: A story of pain and suffering’, was organised at the University of Karachi on Saturday by the university’s disaster management volunteer corps that recently visited Nawabshah, Thatta, Sujawal, Gharo, Badin and adjoining areas to distribute relief goods among more than 700 families.

Sharing her observations, Prof Dr Shahana Urooj Kazmi, pro-vice chancellor of KU, said that the scale of devastation in the interior of Sindh was much bigger than last year’s losses and the poor, especially women and children, needed immediate help.

“During our visit, we saw thousands of people, who lost their villages to floods, staying in the open by roadsides or in make-shift shelters that lack the basic necessities of life. They were in dire need of potable water, food and medicines and were suffering from various ailments,” she said, adding that children had lost their schooling and playgrounds and were found sitting idle and frightened.

Flood victims, she said, were forced to live in extreme unhygienic conditions. Floodwater had got mixed with sewage while one could see carcasses in the open at many places. Citing a Pakistan Medical Association survey, she said that 134,981 cases of diarrhoea, 131,260 cases of skin diseases, 125,806 cases of acute respiratory infections, 2,365 cases of malaria and more than 500 snake-bite cases had been reported so far in flood-hit areas.

“The whole Nawabshah was under water. Same was the case with its university and hospital. We saw the hospital staff travelling on donkey-carts,” she added.

Recalling KU’s efforts for flood relief over the past years, she said university volunteers had distributed relief goods worth Rs9 million last year in Sindh while this year relief goods worth Rs1 million had been given away so far.

She added that plans were being made to visit Umerkot, Tando Allahyar and Mirpurkhas.

KU vice chancellor Prof Dr Pirzada Qasim Raza Siddiqui said it was obligatory upon everyone to help the people facing a major natural disaster. “It’s not a matter of choice. It’s our duty to help the people looking for help. And, we need to get personally involved in relief efforts,” he remarked.

New subject

According to the vice chancellor, the university had planned to introduce disaster management as a subject soon in collaboration with different organisations so that students could get the required skills.

Reports on climate change should serve as a wake-up call and special efforts should be made to train people in disaster management, he said.

“It’s quite horrifying to imagine the effect of a major earthquake in Karachi. The city lies on fault lines and one can at least prepare to mitigate the effect of a disaster if, God forbid, it occurs,” he said.

Faculty members and student volunteers also shared their views at the programme.