Comment from: Maggie Ronkin [Visitor]
Flood Victims’ Benefit
October 7, 2010
School of Foreign Service
Draft for release.
Good evening. I stand here both inspired and challenged by the work of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan, who, by profession, was a locksmith, teacher, and, ultimately, iconic development practitioner. In the 1940s, as a bright young civil servant in the British Empire, Dr. Khan decided to quit his job and devote the rest of his life to serving the poor. In Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, he still is remembered fondly for projects in the 1960s to train civil servants to lift people out of rural poverty. Later, he provided intellectual leadership to the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in Pakistan’s Northern Areas, and to the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi’s largest squatter settlement.
In Islamabad, I work with Fayyaz Baqir, who directs the Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center. The Center builds knowledge on and advocates for people-centered participatory development, thus promoting Dr. Khan’s legacy.
Last summer, Fayyaz and I launched Justice and Peace in Pakistan, an undergraduate course videoconferenced in real-time between Islamabad and Georgetown. We initiated meaningful dialogs between students and Pakistani development practitioners, who shared valuable knowledge on social mobilization and capacity building of various kinds. These interactions strengthened bonds between people who truly care about concrete, constructive change in the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. It seems altogether appropriate, then, to present Fayyaz’s own words about the unprecedented, calamitous flooding in Pakistan, and about Pakistanis’ dire need for our response this evening.
First, let me mention some details that every speaker may repeat because their implications are utterly tragic and overwhelming. This summer’s cataclysmic flooding affected all regions—from Gilgit-Baltistan in the north to the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan. 20 million people were displaced, and more than 8 million remain with food shortages. In some areas, water rose to 18 feet, and desperate residents stood waiting on rooftops for non-existent aid to arrive. The entire town of Jampur in the Saraiki region drowned this way. Not a single home is left.
Women and children were most severely affected due to dietary deficiencies, and to lack of health and latrine facilities, clean drinking water, and security. At many sites where food and emergency supplies were distributed by well-meaning but inexperienced charity workers, mobs attacked aid trucks. Women, children, and the elderly were unserved and left behind. Just over 100,000 tents were available for 2 million people. The shelterless squatted by roadsides under the blazing summer sun during Ramazan. This has continued for months now.
Floodwaters destroyed the health care infrastructure in the worst-affected areas, leaving inhabitants vulnerable to water-borne diseases. There also was an absence of law and order, mainly in Sindh. Looters using boats ransacked abandoned homes. In Punjab and Sindh, 1,400,000 acres of cropland were destroyed. Crops affected were cotton, sugarcane, rice, pulses, and animal fodder. Floodwater and rain destroyed 700,000 acres of cotton, 200,000 acres each of rice and sugar cane, 500,000 tons of wheat and 300,000 acres of animal fodder. The loss of 2 million bales of cotton led to an increase in futures of the commodity on the international market.
I come from the Saraiki region, which is the birthplace of Indus Valley civilization. Multan, the region’s cultural center, is called the city of saints. Legend tells us that it was the only city in the world saved from the wrath of Genghis Khan’s armies—because Sheikh Bahauddin Zakariya, the great Sufi saint, convinced invaders to spare the people. The people are reputed for soft manners, hospitality, humility, tolerance, and devotion to mystical Sufi music, poetry, and literature. Khanqahs (hospices) welcome visitors of all faiths and beliefs, and they offer sanctuary to the downtrodden, misfits, and outcasts.
Besides boasting rich cultural and spiritual history, the region has a strong agricultural economy. It is Pakistan’s cotton belt. It also is where other rivers join the mighty Indus, and people live on both sides of the Indus. That is one reason why they are affected so catastrophically by the floods. Another is that, due to very unequal income distribution, the region is oppressively poor. Rajanpur district lacks critical economic and social infrastructure and has the highest poverty rate in the nation. Struck in his village near Kot Mithan, an agricultural laborer, Sohna, relates the tragic loss that he experienced.
‘I was half asleep when I heard voices outside. As I went to discover what was going on, I saw everyone running to save lives. I took my family to higher ground. Thank God my family is saved but we are left with nothing. There is no shelter and no food for us. We ran away with only the clothes we had on. I have not changed for 3 weeks. The water level rose to 10 feet and our homes were completely destroyed. We lost all our belongings, including clothes, utensils, everything. In some parts, water levels rose 12 feet’.
Another laborer lost his home, fields, and cattle, but rescued utensils. ‘My wife hardly had time to save anything because the water was rising so fast. I lost everything but I thank God that my family is alive,’ he said. A roadside offers the only dry land in sight. A woman, Rahat, adds: ‘Water started at night, and, by morning, we were wading hip-deep, trying to save our livestock and belongings. Within a short time, the whole house collapsed and our future dissolved into mud before our eyes. The floods devoured our home and livestock. Now we have nothing, there is nothing left for us’.
According to UN sources, people are cramped in scattered spontaneous settlements, making it very difficult to address life-threatening risks and to provide health care. Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, food shortages, and a lack of access to health services all pose serious risks. The likelihood of disease outbreaks and deaths due to malnutrition is of grave concern. As noted, many of those worst affected by flooding come from areas where the disease burden, malnutrition rates, and health risks already were very high.
Illness, food insecurity, and crop destruction compound a dire situation, making people more vulnerable, especially women, children, and the elderly. In the current phase of relief, attention must focus on drinking water, sanitation, and nutrition; on integrated, effective, and timely responses to diarrhea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, measles, cholera, and malnutrition; and on maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity. Food is needed for approximately 8.2 million and water and sanitation facilities for 7 million people.
On the horizon, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to deliver babies under these conditions. There are very few doctors, paramedics, and medical supplies. Water-borne and viral diseases already have caused local epidemics. Welcome assistance is arriving from many sources, but it is woefully insufficient given the unprecedented enormity of the disaster.
Right now, ordinary Pakistanis still desperately need relief—food, medicine, drinking water, and shelter. Where water levels are receding, they also have started to return home. Rehabilitation tasks on return will be pumping water out of fields, and procuring seeds, livestock, and productive farm implements. Securing cash loans to purchase equipment and rebuild homes will be another large challenge. Reconstructing roads, bridges, and other infrastructure lost to flooding will take a very long time and enormous resources to complete.
Thankfully, donors are responding to people’s needs. Akhuwat is a highly regarded interest-free micro-finance charity with which Justice and Peace in Pakistan partners. Akhuwat’s capacity building approach mobilizes low-income borrowers to be self-reliant and assist others. In 22 cities, typical borrowers start businesses with $200-250 Akhuwat enterprise loans. Akhuwat now has adopted Rajanpur, and, on the basis of social collateral, will deploy 90% of its flood resources to rehabilitate 10,000 families there, beginning this month.
Please donate to Akhuwat’s flood relief fund via Western Union. Donations from the USA and other countries may be transferred to: “Executive Director, Akhuwat”. Convey the MTCN (money transfer control number) to the Executive Director, Dr. Amjad Saqib, by email or phone:
Dr. Saqib informs us that donations will be transferred in less than half an hour, and that donors will be emailed scanned receipts and bank deposit slips. Akhuwat’s website is at: http://www.akhuwat.org.pk
For the Akhuwat Rajanpur Rehabilitation Project