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Unity needed

Published Aug 10, 2010 03:52pm

Pakistan faces a terrible time at the moment with the worst ever floods in its history. Around twenty million people are out there, in the flood-affected regions, most of them without a roof in the pelting monsoon rains which have lashed the country for the last two weeks. The resulting flood has devastated Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, large swathes of land, villages and crops in Punjab and is now presently wreaking havoc in Sindh.

As I write this, an image of a woman carrying a four-month old baby I saw on the news today, is burnt in my mind. The woman, in waist-high water was holding a drip that was attached to the baby for the acute diarrhea he/she suffered from. She needed a hospital for her child, but the hospitals were already beyond capacity. Where was she taking her child and was she able to get medical help in time?

About 30,000 men of our armed forces are helping in the relief work in the affected areas while relief funds have been set up by the government as well as private organisations and NGOs. A few friends of mine from the Motor Club & Offroad Pakistan have also started collecting donations and I am helping them in whatever capacity possible.

However I am worried. I feel this way because I know collecting funds is only the first step - it is their distribution that is the key; it requires infrastructure and coordination, something private organisations and citizens lack. The same was the case when the earthquake happened in 2005 and 2008. I distinctly remember how Karachiites rolled up their sleeves and got to work, massive amounts of goods were collected but how much of those supplies made it to the poor souls who needed them?

Aid distribution and relief work is not a cup of tea by any means. Most people who think it’s about getting transport, loading it with goods and heading out there are wrong. Most of those trucks never make it to the points most needed, such is the desperation in these times that trucks carrying aid are either looted by those hoarding these goods and are out to make a quick buck or by people who are so overcome with the tragedy that they lose control and discipline. It is all about the on-ground help and adequate security measures, entry and exit strategies and the most effective use of manpower.

The distrust in government is most apparent in these times as civilians collecting aid as well as NGO's and religious organizations get overwhelming support and donations but the people (i.e., the government officials) with the most access to the infrastructure needed to distribute are left scratching their heads.

Why aren’t the various groups collecting aid merging their efforts into a single channel which can then be handed over to an organization like the NDMA to effectively distribute funds and donations? Let’s face it, the amount of money needed to rebuild these people's lives will run into billions. Surely the role of civil society members and that of NGOs in this effort would be enhanced if they worked hand-in-hand with the government?

Please note that I am not advocating that those with the means to donate shouldn’t distribute relief themselves – far from it. I do think, however, that the entire effort would be a lot more efficient if all the different people united and pooled their resources and man power to achieve the goal of saving Pakistani lives.

All of us want to help in whatever way is possible, but we need to do it together. Perhaps the NDMA can appoint consultants like Abul Sattar Edhi, Ansar Burney, Mushtaq Chapra and the likes to restore the public's trust. Sadly though such idealistic thoughts are reserved for nations which spend more time at work then in naval gazing and crucifying one another on TV daily. One can still hope though, and pray that somehow we do enough collectively to hold off what looks like a catastrophe.

Will keep on posting about actual on the ground details as I head out to the affected areas with the MCP convoy in the coming days.

Faisal Kapadia is a Karachi-based entreprene

ur and writer. He blogs at Deadpan Thoughts.

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.