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Relief flow gains momentum

March 13, 2013

LAHORE: Repair work in progress in Joseph Colony. - Photo by White Star
Repair work in progress in Joseph Colony. - Photo by White Star

LAHORE: For Aijaz Masih, it had been a busy day. He was completely preoccupied with cleaning out the remnants of his furniture from the house so that the walls could be demolished and reconstructed. His ailing mother lay on the charpoy fanning herself, and his sisters sat nearby sifting through their burnt things.

Relief had been filtering in slowly since day two of the incident at Joseph Colony but on Tuesday, the camps were in full-fledged action. NGOs, citizens and political parties have all been giving their donations to the affected Christian community. Religious parties also have sent their contributions to mark a sign of interfaith harmony and express their solidarity with the victims.

While Bishop Akram Gill, who has been foremost in holding talks with the government, both at the federal and provincial levels, visited the prime minister to sort out the compensation packages, the residents of the burnt-down area wait patiently for their lives to get back into whatever order they may find.

Bishop Gill says the PM has also announced a Rs100,000 package for the woman who died on Monday in Yohannabad because of the teargas thrown by the police. Besides, the packages for the Joseph Colony victims have been increased as well.

“The Punjab government has already sent workers who are trying to reconstruct their houses once again. Although it is a seemingly impractical four-day time frame which has been given to us, let us see what happens,” he says, calmer today after the anger that had held him since the incident happened.

He appreciates the effort by civilians and NGOs but his tone is grudging and it seems as if he along with many others had expected help to have come in much earlier than this.

“What they need right now is to restart their lives and shift back into their houses,” he remarks. “The electricity lines have obviously all been burnt and so they need to be fixed. There is a very serious problem of washrooms especially for women as men tend to go here and there and women have to withhold and that is extremely unsanitary and dangerous. There is no arrangement of portable washrooms at present.”

He also says DCO Mengal has arranged for CNICs to be given as soon as possible to the residents whose cards were burnt.

Meanwhile, Hafiz Irfan Hafeez of the Jamaat-i-Islami’s Al-Khidmat Organization (a philanthropic wing of the political party) says they have set up a camp since day one and have been providing food to the residents there.

“We started slow but now we have gained a lot of momentum and are still planning on what to contribute in the upcoming days.

We have done a damage assessment and alongside helped whatever they had to be shifted out of the houses. More importantly we have set up a medical camp led by Dr Imam Zafar who sits from morning to evening.”

Hafiz Irfan says that during the three days about 200 to 250 patients have been checked and most have minor injuries, which have occurred in the duration of the past two days, blood pressure issues, especially out of tension and anxiety, and children’s problems. They have no psychologists present but their doctors have not ignored the psychiatric problems that could occur within the victims.

They are also working on filtered water for drinking and for tea, and for the upcoming days they will be getting grocery items. The JI central leadership also visited the area.

Samson Salamat of the Center for Human Rights Education (CHRE) says that while a lot has come in from Muslims during this time, most of the work has been initiated by the local Christian communities, mainly the Church of Pakistan and the Peace and Tolerance Alliance which has done a need assessment.

“We don’t want to get too much food that will end up being wasted, for instance, so we need to know what is needed most. I do know that the children need energy foods like biscuits and there should be more dry food that can last for about 10 to 15 days, rather than food that can expire soon, especially since it’s hot. There are no stoves for the families to cook on, and they need a lot of drinking water and nappies etc for babies.

“The DCO has set up a camp which is providing medication, so I think the rehabilitation work is going somewhat smoothly.”

As for the residents, they can only either sit and watch, or help so things get done faster.

“The more I think about it, the more it feels like such an unnecessary thing to have happened to us,” says Aijaz Masih, while he lifts a heavy piece of furniture out of his house, with two others. “It feels like we have been caught in the middle of a natural disaster but it hurts to remember that it was all done by men like us.”