Posts Tagged ‘ Floods ’

Caring for Pakistan’s Children

By Allison Zelkowitz for The Express Tribune

Every day we must each decide who to help, and who to ignore: the woman on the sidewalk begging for change, a neighbour carrying grocery bags up the apartment stairs, a colleague staying late in the office trying to finish a project. Sometimes we offer money, support, or time, and sometimes we walk by. Sometimes caring seems too hard.

These days, it seems that caring for Pakistan’s children is too hard. Millions of children are homeless, hungry, and sick in lower Sindh, which was devastated by flooding over a month ago. But Pakistan is not on the world’s good side at the moment — Osama Bin Laden was discovered here. Media reports on suicide attacks and terrorist networks abound. Relations between the US and Pakistan have soured. With so much negative news, it’s hard to feel good about helping Pakistan. Our hearts go out to the downtrodden and helpless, not those who are tinged with violence and controversy.

But Pakistan’s children don’t know this. They don’t know that if they had been born in a different country, they might not be going to bed hungry. They don’t know that if they spoke Japanese or Creole, rather than Sindhi, they might be sleeping in a waterproof tent, rather than under a plastic sack strung between trees. And they don’t know that, if they had survived last year’s floods, rather than this year’s – they might have clean water to drink.

More than two weeks ago, the United Nations launched a $357 million appeal to provide life-saving relief to over 5.4 million people affected by the floods, including 2 million children. Last year, when a $460 million appeal was issued to help victims of the 2010 floods, 64 per cent of this amount was committed by international donors in 18 days. This year, only 14 per cent has been pledged so far.

For aid workers like myself, the ‘humanitarian imperative’ guides our work — this principle avows that it is the duty of the international community to provide humanitarian assistance wherever needed. Our job is to save lives and reduce suffering when disaster strikes. We are trying to do this in flood-ravaged lower Sindh. Both the government and the humanitarian community in Pakistan have provided food, water, shelter, and medical care to hundreds of thousands of people. Save the Children — the organisation I work for — has reached over 240,000 people in less than four weeks. Yet there are still hundreds of communities who have received no support, and aid agencies will run out of funding soon. What, then, for Pakistan’s children?
In some areas of lower Sindh, it will take months for the flood waters to recede. While they wait, those with livestock will sell off their goats and cattle one by one, for ten to 20 per cent of their value, so they can feed their families. The less fortunate families, those without such assets, will take loans from wealthy landlords, and fall further into debt. Their children will eat once a day, and often only flatbread. They will suffer from skin diseases and diarrhoea, and some will contract malaria. As children become more malnourished, their immune systems will weaken. Soon many will die.

With so much need in the world, we often become deaf to cries for help. But national governments and international donor agencies are not deaf — they read the reports, they know the numbers. And 5.4 million people is no small number — it is more than the populations of Norway, Ireland, and New Zealand. Yet unlike these countries, the 5.4 million people in Pakistan affected by the floods do not have savings accounts or insurance. Right now, most have only make-shift shelters, a few clay pots, and some dirty blankets, and with that they are trying to get by.
Pakistan will likely remain at the forefront of global controversy for some time to come. But its children should not have to pay the price for this. The children in lower Sindh are not militants or politicians. They are like your children — hopeful, genuine, and kind — and they deserve to survive as all children do.

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Muslim-Jewish Evening Raises $$ For Pakistanis

By Cristina Costantini for The New Haven Independent

Farhan and Shahida Soomro became American citizens on Friday. Originally from the Sindh Province in Pakistan, they have lived in the U.S. for ten years. Two days after becoming Americans, they held an event with their friends Ron Miller and his wife Cathie Miller to raise money and awareness about the floods which have ravaged their province in Pakistan. “It’s been a busy weekend!” said Shahida Soomro.

The event—“An Evening to Support Pakistani Flood Relief at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven”—was held Sunday night at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven on Audubon.

The Soomro family is Muslim; the Miller family, of Westville, is Jewish. The idea for the event, a “Jewish-Muslim collaboration,” came about over a dinner with old friends, Cathie Miller said. The Millers then sought the support of the Social Action Committees of the Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven and the Congregation Mishkan Israel of Hamden, which were instrumental in the organization of the event.

After guests Sunday night enjoyed a wide spread of ethnic foods, Farhan Soomro opened the presentation by relaying the severity of the crisis. While the Soomro family was not present during the flooding, they have stayed in constant contact with their relatives in the region. With a fifth of Pakistan underwater, 20 million people displaced, and two million homes destroyed, Soomro explained, farmers have lost two seasons of crops and the Pakistani government cannot meet the food and shelter demands the disaster has triggered.

The event raised about $3,000.

Timothy Rogers, the director of charitable gifts for Save the Children in Westport described to guests where their donations would go. “We have been in Pakistan for 31 years now,” said Rogers. “What are we doing in Pakistan now? We’re providing emergency medical care, we’re distributing tents, shelter kits, food, and other supplies, we’re distributing water purification tablets, and bed nets.”

According to Cathie Miller, Save the Children was chosen as the charity for the event because over 90 percent of money donated goes to direct relief, and the Soomros have heard anecdotal evidence from their relatives and friends in the Sindh province that Save the Children has been effective in the region.

Rogers raised questions about the lack of American response and media coverage to the tragedy. Americans have given disproportionally less than other developed nations in the world. Although Save the Children has sent about $46 million to help alleviate suffering in Pakistan, the American public’s contribution makes up only $2.3 million of this total. Norwegian citizens, a country with a much smaller population, has already donated over $4 million in assistance funds through Save the Children. Rogers posited that donations might be down because of “donor fatigue due to recent tragedies” or because of a lack of media coverage. Ron Miller linked the trend to Islamophobia.

“I think even though we don’t want to say it, Americans have a hard time understanding and appreciating Muslims,” Miller said. “And one of the reasons that, myself as a Jew, and I’ve talked with various synagogues which they are present here today, is the importance for both Jews and Muslims and Muslims and Americans to come to grips with who we are, what our cultures are and what our values are. One of our reasons for doing this, was in our small way, a Muslim family, and a Jewish family, over dinner decided to try to do something to show that that gulf doesn’t exist between us and our Muslim colleagues.”

One audience member admitted her initial hesitations about donating to the cause. “My knee-jerk reaction, when I heard about this event, was how do I know my money isn’t going to go to the Taliban? Of course this was ignorant, and I really think the reason we don’t talk about this flood is that our government is struggling with Pakistan,” she said.

A Pakistani member of the audience responded to her comments, suggesting that crisis alleviation in the area is one of the best ways to win a war of ideas: “The Pakistani people realize that Save the Children is coming from the American people. Winning the hearts and minds is the key thing, our policy makers have allocated $30 million to public diplomacy work in Pakistan. It should be a no-brainer that if we use our resources to help get their homes together that this will be much more effective.”

“This is a great opportunity for us to change and affect the hearts and the minds of the Pakistani people,” he concluded.

The event drew around 50 guests.

Donations are still being accepted. Checks can be made out to “Save the Children” with a memo note: “Pakistani Flood.” In order to count as a part of the Greater New Haven response to this disaster the check must be sent to The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, 70 Audubon Str., New Haven 06510 Attn: Lee Cruz. All donations will be sent to Save the Children within the week.

Moving Forward From the Flood – II

By Arif Belgaumi for The Express Tribune

The Indus, like the other rivers that originate in the Himalayas, carries an enormous sediment load — something in the order of 300 tons per square kilometre per year. The Himalayas, a relatively young mountain range, is comprised of soft rocks which are highly susceptible to erosion by the monsoon rains. In the past – every spring and summer – the Indus would bring the waters of melted snow and rains from the mountains, as well as millions of tons of sediment to the plains and eventually to its delta at the Arabian Sea. The sediment would be deposited along the river banks as the river flooded, and in the delta, in a vast fan that stretches several hundred kilometres out into the Arabian Sea.

In the last 150 years, with the construction of numerous levees, barrages and dams on the Indus and its tributaries, the natural flow of the river has been dramatically altered. To bring more land under cultivation, the course of the Indus has been restricted within its banks. Huge quantities of water – nearly 75 per cent of the total – are drawn off from the Indus for crop irrigation. Unfortunately, water management projects are engineered to control the flow of water and are rarely designed to address the enormous sediment load. Large amounts of water, drawn from the Indus for irrigation, limit the river’s ability to carry the sediment which settles in the river bed. Over the years this has resulted in raising the river bed well above the surrounding land. Even higher levees are then built to contain the river within its banks.

In its constrained state, the Indus is incapable of handling flood surges. Once the flood waters breach the levees there is no way for the flood waters to drain back into the river. This year, the flood itself was a short event; we have spent most of the last several weeks moving the water from one area to another, trying to spread it out and minimise its damage. The Indus and its tributaries naturally drain a vast area of this country. Our water management infrastructure has rendered them incapable of performing that function. In trying to convert the Indus into the equivalent of a vast domestic water system, whereby with the turn of a switch water can be tapped off as and when needed, we have severely compromised its ability to drain its watershed.

Similarly, dams will do little in the long run to control floods or even store extensive amounts of water for irrigation. Again, the sediment in the river is the determining factor. The Tarbela Dam, which was completed in the mid 70s and was a major engineering achievement for Pakistan, has already lost about 28 per cent of its reservoir capacity due to silting. In another generation, it is quite likely that the Tarbela’s water storage capacity will be reduced to nothing and it will simply function as a run-of-the-river hydroelectric power generator. That seems like an extremely short lifespan for a major infrastructure project which, during its construction, was responsible for an enormous socio-cultural and environmental impact on the surrounding region.

The Kalabagh Dam, or any other dam on the Indus, will likely face the same choice of a very high initial cost in terms of financial investment, population displacement and environmental cost, for diminishing returns over a relatively short lifespan. This is not to say that dams do not have their utility. The Tarbela Dam has been instrumental in revolutionising agriculture in Pakistan. But the benefits of large dams need to be weighed against the huge costs paid by the affected people and by the environment.

A balance needs to be struck between the needs for agriculture and domestic use and the need for the river system to sustain itself and its delta. New thinking on water management strategies must be introduced in Pakistan. More thought and effort must be expended on water conservation, reduction of wastage, and careful selection of low-water-consuming crops. This public discourse is sorely missing in Pakistan and needs to be initiated at the earliest so that we move forward from this calamity and establish a more productive relationship with the river that sustains our country.

Officials: Pakistan Flood Deaths Top 1100‎

As Reported By CNN

The devastating floods in Pakistan have killed more 1,100 people, Pakistani government officials told CNN on Sunday. Another 30,000 people were stuck on their rooftops and in higher areas as they tried to escape rushing floodwaters, a United Nations official said Sunday.

“We’ve got the government sending boats and helicopters to try to reach people and bring them to safety at the same time as trying to deliver emergency relief,” said Nicki Bennett, a senior humanitarian affairs officer for the U.N.

Damaged roads and bridges have made rescuing stranded residents difficult, she said, noting that even a U.N. warehouse where the organization stores food, blankets, soaps and bucks is partially underwater. “As we are trying to reach people, we have to battle with the ongoing access problems,” she said. The rescue and recovery efforts of the Pakistan flooding could become more complicated as weather officials predict more monsoon rains starting Monday.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department said Sindh, Punjab, Kashmir, eastern parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and eastern parts of Balochistan would receive monsoon rains. Areas along the Indus River would be badly affected due to extremely high flood conditions.

The number reflects those killed only in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, previously known as the North West Frontier Province, said spokesman Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Flooding has also been reported in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Twenty-five deaths were recorded there Friday, Hussain said.

A Pakistani Red Crescent official told CNN that the number of people affected by the floods has risen to nearly 2.5 million people, with infrastructure receiving major damage. Rushing water also has washed away thousands of acres of crops, government buildings, businesses, schools, bridges and homes, officials said.

The United States will assist in relief efforts by bringing in 50,000 meals, rescue boats and helicopters, 12 pre-fabricated steel bridges and water filtration units, the embassy in Islamabad said.

According to Geo TV, 150 people are missing in a northwestern province, and 3,700 homes were swept away. Forty-seven bridges in Swat have been destroyed or damaged.

Geo TV also said 3,000 are in a camp in Nowshera and are without enough water and food. Displaced residents are unhappy with the government response, Geo TV said. Trains have also been delayed, frustrating commuters.

“They have made this a joke,” a commuter told the network. “There are young children here, but there is no water, nor is there any seating. They have taken our ticket money. Yet after every few minutes they change the train timings. They are playing a game of lies and deceit.”

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik visited Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Saturday and found tourists and local residents trapped because of the heavy floods, the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

President Asif Ali Zardari said all available resources would be used to help those stranded by the waters, the APP reported.

Many of the victims died when flood waters swept away hundreds of mud houses in parts of Swat Valley and the districts of Shangla and Tank, according to Bashir Ahmed Bilour, a provincial minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Hussain said flooding has cut off the Swat Valley and the districts of Shangla and Peshawar. There is no way to get to these areas by road, he said.

The Pakistani Air Force has been helping with rescue efforts, spokesman Tariq Yazdanie said in an interview on Pakistani TV. The recent torrential rains have broken all previous records of rainfall in the country, he said.

The United Nations said there is a need for help in providing emergency shelter, food, drinking water and sanitation facilities. Its agencies are geared to help with these issues.

The European Commission is providing 30 million euros ($39 million) to help the people affected by the flooding.

U.S. Embassy officials in Pakistan said the United States has committed $10 million to support flood relief priorities, four inflatable rescue boats, two water filtration units that can fulfill the daily water requirements of up to 10,000 people, and 12 pre-fabricated steel bridges to temporarily replace damaged bridges.

U.S. officials have also provided more than 51,000 halal meals (military rations tailored for people of Islamic faith) and another 62,000 will arrive Sunday.

In addition, the U.S. provided helicopters to support the Ministry of Interior’s rescue operations.

The same weather system is also responsible for flooding in bordering Afghanistan, where 65 people have died, and 61 were injured since Thursday, according to Abdul Matin Adrak, head of disaster management for Afghanistan.

The flooding started Thursday and continued for more than six hours. Rescue teams were able to access all the flooded villages using ministry of defense helicopters. Food and equipment was donated and transferred to the affected people by ISAF and Afghan Security forces.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Greg “Boomer” Roberts, adviser to the Afghan Air Force, told CNN Sunday morning that the Afghan air force rescued about 2,000 villagers who were stranded. Roberts accompanied the air force during their rescue mission in the Kunar province — a known insurgent stronghold.

“They knew they could accomplish their mission. When we came into the area and the Taliban made their presence known, they continued … and picked up 2,000 people who were definitely overcome by the floods. And they did it right there in full view of the Taliban.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that some of the folks we picked up are Taliban,” he said, adding that most were probably looking for employment with the organization. He said the rescue mission is the type of move that could sway people away from the Taliban and toward the Afghan government.

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