Pakistani Youth Lead The Relief Effort


The generation behind the relief effort

By Sadef A. Kully

“The people from the camps came running up to the trucks, pushing each other to grab bags and the situation became a bit chaotic.” – Photos by Raheel Qureshi/Dawn.com

KARACHI: After a full night and early morning of packing, Ahmed Shah and Rehan Naushad Khan, students from Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) in Karachi, along with several others, loaded two trucks of ration and Eid packages and set off for Makli to hand out rations among the flood affected in the Thatta.

An estimated one million rupees worth of rations, which included flour, rice, lentil, milk, water, etc., for more than 400 families and 500 Eid packages.

Across Sindh, there are more than seven million in the flood affected population and the overall costs of the flood destruction will cost the province an estimated Rs 438 billion to date, according to officials.

More specifically, Thatta has 400,000 people who have taken shelter within its smaller towns.

The SZABIST students felt the despair of the people and answered the call – no matter the consequences.

“People didn’t take us seriously in the beginning but when they saw the food and the other students becoming more involved – the donations started coming in,” said Shah, who is majoring in International Relations. “I guess they needed to see that.”

Those involved in the relief efforts are not an exception to their responsibilities as students and get no leniency from teachers.

“We are treated like every other student – more than three absences results in an F,” explained Khan, while driving on the highway towards Thatta. “There are teachers who accommodate us but they can only go so far.”

Shah and Khan are just two people out of thousands doing their part in the various flood relief efforts all over Pakistan.

The flood has affected approximately 20 million people, the rising death toll is currently estimated at 1,700, more than 2,800 people have been injured, and 82 districts have been destroyed by flood waters across Pakistan.

Shah and Khan followed two trucks to Makli’s MPA Rukhsana Shah’s home and were welcomed by her two sons Raffay Shah and Mahmood Shah, who are maintaining their own camps nearby. Together, they made logistical plans of where to travel first, how much security was needed, and how to sort out the rations and Eid packages for the families.
The plan was to travel to Sujawal – one of the worst hit areas, then travel near the breach where people have settled temporarily on higher land, and then to the relief camps. On the way to Sujawal, rations were distributed among the affected who has settled along the road but things got out of control – even with police protection and other help.

The people came running from everywhere towards the trucks, pushing each other to grab bags and the situation became a bit chaotic. Shah and Khan ran to help the workers hand out the ration and those who did not receive a bag reacted – violently. A couple of men threw stones at the trucks – which was enough to get the whole crowd started and all vehicles had to speed away before someone got injured.

Although there have been complaints of looting and violence in Sindh, it is the most catered to province in Pakistan. According to the Natural Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), there are an estimated 3,000 camps when compared with almost 1,200 camps between Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces.

Many locals took advantage of the relief goods – on many occasions, men and women would show up on motorcycles and park about 20 feet from the trucks and the second passenger would run up to the trucks to get a bag of rations – sometimes more than once.

It became difficult for Shah and Khan to hand out the rations which they were determined to hand out themselves.

“It’s important that we hand out the food – that we see where the donations are going because many people trust us,” said Ahmed.

On the breaches, they were more organized – Mahmood Shah suggested that they tell the men to call the women. So all the women were called and handed the rations in an organized fashion – some came back for second bags but the situation was still under control.

Afterwards, they went to a camp from MPA Rukhsana Shah and then they went to another camp to hand out the rest of the rations.

“The people are trying to keep a reserve of the food – they are scared. Whenever the flood affected victims come to our home to ask us to make a trip to their area – to avoid the looting – we are telling them to come to our home and collect 15-20 bags and sort it out amongst themselves,” said Mahmood.

Most of the time Mahmood explained that they know locals and trust them to get the goods into their areas so they keep some of the rations protected on their property.

As sun started setting, Shah and Khan headed back to Karachi to prepare for another trip back to the camps in the next few days.
“We will be here until the crisis is over whether it takes days, weeks, or months,” said Ahmed.
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