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Pakistan: he has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help!

03-12-2010 Feature

Writers have struggled to describe the scope and impact of Pakistan's monsoon floods, with descriptions of "catastrophic" and "devastating" falling well short of telling the full story. The floods have been compared with the 2004 Asian Tsunami and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake; and in terms of the numbers affected and damage caused, such comparisons are not unreasonable.


The Pakistan Red Crescent Society and the ICRC are working together to assess the needs of people affacted by floods in Shikarpur and Jacobabad, Sindh. 

The Pakistan Red Crescent Society and the ICRC are working together to assess the needs of people affacted by floods in Shikarpur and Jacobabad, Sindh.
© ICRC / v-p-pk-e-00966

Such was the impact of these floods that no country could be expected to cope with the consequences alone.  While it remains a sad fact that large numbers of survivors are likely to receive little or no assistance at all, it is also a fact that many millions of flood survivors are receiving timely and sometimes life-saving help.

History will record who reacted quickly, effectively and efficiently to minimize the suffering of the millions affected by the floods – but one group that has done exemplary work, with little or no recognition, deserves to be remembered and thanked today – on the International day of Volunteers.

"Voluntary Service" is one of the seven fundamental principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  Across Pakistan, more than 100,000 dedicated volunteers - not prompted by desire for personal gain - working in 96 district, provincial and regional branches and 161 health facilities of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), have assisted flood survivors and victims of the fighting with barely a word of recognition in the national and international media.

In the early stages of the flooding, thousands of medical and other specialists contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, or the Pakistan Red Crescent Society to offer their services free-of-charge, in order to assist their fellow citizens in their hour of need. Thousands more  Movement members from dozens of national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies not normally active in Pakistan, either deployed here as part of the International Federation's emergency flood response to assist flood affectees, or raised large sums of money in their home countries to help Pakistani’s recover their lives.

At a time of tragedy, with large parts of the country affected by fighting or floods, the work of volunteers is a beacon of hope for those less fortunate. These stories catalogue the motivation, actions and thoughts of a small number of people who contribute to the alleviation of suffering of others before and during this period.  These volunteers represent the almost 100 million mostly volunteer members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement world-wide, who demonstrate the true spirit of "humanity" in a too-often troubled world.

To join this global family, contact www.prcs.org.pk.

Easing the suffering: a volunteer in Balochistan

In most of the flood-affected areas, contaminated water has been the biggest source of diarrhoea. 

In most of the flood-affected areas, contaminated water has been the biggest source of diarrhoea, so PRCS volunteers have worked day and night to make sure that people have clean drinking water.

Rashid Minhas has been a Pakistan Red Crescent volunteer with the Sibi branch in Balochistan since May 2010, when his cousin, the branch secretary, convinced him to spend some time helping those less fortunate than himself.

The July floods followed a number of other natural disasters affecting Balochistan in 2010.  "In our district the floods left many people without shelter, especially in Tali, Haji Sher and Notal areas," explained Rashid. "In the early stages whole communities were without food.  Parents were powerless to provide for their children, who cried because they were so hungry.  All the parents could do was to console their children."

"We started assessments for the relief operation in the worst-affected areas of the district and then we began distributing food provided to the Pakistan Red Crescent Society by the ICRC," recalls Rashid. "The enormous destruction and large number of people in need of assistance in the area prompted many individuals to register as volunteers.  Like me, these people saw the importance of working with the Pakistan Red Crescent to help others who were in need."

"I will not forget my experiences over the period of the floods.  It was terrible to see a frail old woman carrying a bucket and searching for drinking water under the blazing sun, with two children following her and frowning, hoping we were going to lessen their suffering by feeding them," Rashid said.  "I was saddened to see such misery amongst my own people. We are all really pleased to have been able to ease the suffering of flood victims in the area."

Helping the most vulnerable - volunteering in Southern Punjab

Muhammad Rafiq distributes food to flood victims in Rajanpur, Punjab Province. 

Muhammad Rafiq distributes food to flood victims in Rajanpur, Punjab Province.
© Pakistan Red Crescent Society

Twenty-two years old and a recent graduate, Mohammad Rafiq was looking for a permanent job so that he could start earning a living and help his family. With each passing day and every rejection, he was beginning to lose hope of finding the kind of job he wanted.

Then, in August, the floods hit his home town in southern Punjab. Rafiq and his family lost everything - their home, their crop, their cattle. The devastation was vast and unprecedented.  "There was very little left to salvage in my village," explained Rafiq, "yet so much needed to be done. There were hundreds of helpless people in desperate need of help."

Despite being in need themselves, some flood victims were more concerned about the needs of others. Rafiq found himself assisting those who were less able to cope. He did whatever he could for others: carrying people to safety, bringing in foodstuff and drinking water, collecting firewood and helping the most vulnerable, including the elderly, women and children. "We simply tried to alleviate the discomfort and suffering of homeless families," he said.  

While helping others Rafiq came across members of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS). "They helped me to help others," he explained, "because with the PRCS came the material assistance that was so badly needed by flood victims. This strengthened our resolve to help others by working together with the PRCS. Suddenly I was able to make more of a difference, and this gave me tremendous satisfaction."

Today Rafiq is formally working as a PRCS volunteer. With the support of the ICRC over the past three months Rafiq and his PRCS colleagues have assisted more than 200, 000 people with food, hygiene, shelter and household items in the districts of Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur.    

"Once the emergency of the floods has passed I intend to remain a PRCS volunteer, helping the most vulnerable in the community," says Rafiq. My mind is made up; I plan to make a career in the service of humanity."  Rafiq has found his passion.

Restoring family contact in fighting and flood-affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

A Pakistan Red Crescent volunteer distributes food and hygiene items to flood-affected families at Jumu Agham in Larkana district, Sindh.  

A Pakistan Red Crescent volunteer distributes food and hygiene items to flood-affected families at Jumu Agham in Larkana district, Sindh.
© ICRC / v-p-pk-e-00968

Monsoon rains caused unprecedented flooding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in late July, resulting in enormous damage to communities and infrastructure.  Many families lost contact with their loved ones as a result of the damage to roads and destruction of bridges.  Communication links were destroyed across the province, and remote areas were completely cut off.

Kandia, one of the most flood-affected villages of Kohistan, was left inaccessible by road and without communication. Many local people were killed as houses were washed away or collapsed under the pressure of flood waters. While survivors were in acute need of food, water and shelter, most of them were more anxious to know the fate of their loved ones.      

Despite the great difficulty that  humanitarian workers had in reaching people who needed assistance, Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) volunteers, Muhammad Saleem and Assmat Ullah Afridi, were determined to reach Kohistan's more remote villages, such as Kandia, to help flood victims make contact with their families.  Informed by the local PRCS about a possible route to Kandia, they drove for an hour to a drop-off point. With the help of a local guide they then trekked for almost two days, while fasting as it was during Ramadan, before reaching their destination.

"I was extremely scared while crossing one makeshift bridge," explains Muhammad Saleem.  "One wrong step and I would have fallen into the raging river below me. I was tempted to turn back... but then I thought of all those people who were waiting for my help. I prayed for strength, and continued across the loosely tied wooden sticks. When I saw the misery on the other side, I was convinced that I risked my life for a worthwhile cause, and I remain ready to take similar risks in future".

When the volunteers arrived in Kandia, villagers quickly gathered around them. Satellite phones, supplied by the ICRC, provided a rare chance for the villagers to restore contact with family members who had been separated from them by the floods.  They beamed with pleasure and emotion after making phone calls and exchanging vital family news.

"I still remember the time I provided free phone calls courtesy of the ICRC and the PRCS during the “Bajaur operation” in 2008, when many people were cut off from their loved ones owing to the fighting and everyone wanted to restore contact,” says Assmat Ullah Afridi.  "When I help people in this way I am very satisfied."

In the same way as the satellite telephone service restored family contact for those displaced by the fighting, the service was provided right across the more remote and inaccessible areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the aftermath of the floods.  For families separated from their loved ones, it is a very important and much appreciated service.

"It's been two years since I started as a PRCS volunteer," sums up Muhammad Saleem.  "I have worked in situations of armed violence and the floods in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Today, when I look back, I think I have achieved a lot despite the fact that I have no proper job to sustain my family.  In spite of this, I will never stop volunteering - I will continue to help people in need."

Hygiene promotion in remote villages - volunteering in Pakistan administered Kashmir

Anjum, a PRCS volunteer in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, gives a briefing on hygiene. 

Anjum, a PRCS volunteer in Pakistan-administered-Kashmir, gives a briefing on hygiene.
© Pakistan Red Crescent Society

Anjum Awan has worked as a volunteer of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society in Pakistan-administered Kashmir for more than four years.  Anjum provided healthcare to women and children in camps after the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 after attending a paramedic's course. She also worked in remote villages of Muzaffarabad district after the earthquake, gathering data on physically disabled people.

"It is neither common, nor easy, for a woman to go out to work in remote villages," she explains.  "When we step out of our homes each morning, we carry the honour of the entire clan and this puts tremendous pressure on us.  But this work is very important for the benefit it brings to our communities."

Since the 2005 earthquake, Anjum has also worked with volunteers to promote hygiene in remote villages of Muzaffarabad district.  "We experienced a lot of problems and diseases arising from the use of dirty water and poor hygiene practices in the home," says Anjum. "Scabies and diarrhoea are quite common ailments in less developed areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir and our objective as hygiene promotion volunteers was to bring education and change in the people’s behaviour"
In a programme lasting two years, we managed to reduce by almost 50% the number of preventable diseases caused by poor hygiene. This involved repeated interventions, long discussions, information sessions and the distribution of information booklets and soap," she explains.

''I am proud of my work as a PRCS volunteer, addressing many different areas of need in our community. The work environment at the PRCS is based on human values and respect for all. It is a pleasure to work in such an atmosphere of trust and respect. Being a volunteer and helping others gives us happiness and satisfaction."