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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hunger, Disease and Death Continue to Plague Flood Victims

Islamic Relief USA’s VP of Fund Development Anwar Khan returns to Pakistan for the second time since severe flooding in late July marginalized millions of people and spread hunger, disease and homelessness throughout the country. Read about his latest journey below and follow his live updates via Twitter: @AnwarKhan_IRUSA.

Being a humanitarian aid worker often involves work outside of the field: Strategic planning goes into delivering aid. I spent a portion of last Friday attending strategic planning meetings about Islamic Relief's flood response. Because we're nearing the end of the initial emergency phase, a greater emphasis will now be placed on long-term aid relief and rebuilding.

As we begin preparation for the winter and simultaneous rehabilitation in flood-affected areas, Islamic Relief Pakistan's capacity is being tested with work extending through all of Pakistan's major provinces.

Most non-governmental organizations are facing a shortage of experienced staff; many NGOs can only cope with one large-scale emergency a year, and such an emergency has already affected the world: The Haiti earthquake. The flooding in Pakistan has already affected more people than the Haiti earthquake, the 2004 tsunami and 2005 Pakistan earthquake combined.

I attended a press conference later that day to announce Islamic Relief's $20 million shipment of medical supplies that will benefit 300,000 people. Unfortunately, due to public demonstrations over a court ruling, media attendance was low, and this news wasn’t widely heard.

The Distribution of Aid
Due to security concerns, whether or not to travel to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) became an issue on Friday evening. But later, it was confirmed that we could go.

We set off Saturday morning for the Nowshera district in KPK. Nowshera was the first heavily-populated area that was devastated by the floods. Islamic Relief is working in the more rural areas of the district, providing aid to people who are more difficult to reach.
Aid is often given out where it is easier -- in the city or near a main road. But that causes a non-uniform distribution, where those in certain areas receive the bulk of the aid and the rest receive very little.

We visited an Islamic Relief medical clinic in Zando Banda that is providing medical care for thousands of locals. They are trying to detect diseases in the early stages, when treatment is easier and cheaper. Dr. Atif, a health professional in the clinic, explained that skin infections, eye infections, acute diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, malaria, and acute respiratory infections are spreading rapidly.

The clinic offers a female health professional who provides prenatal and post-natal care along with care for gynecological issues. Without a female health professional, many women in the area would seek medical treatment from female staff in other towns or would not have their medical needs met. A shortage of female medical staff in KPK has led to a lack of medical care for many women; that has been worsened by the current crisis.

“No One Ever Comes Back”
Later that day, I returned to Zarmina for the first time since my visit last month. The locals recognized me and were surprised to see me return. They said no one ever comes back.

The floods had decimated the village. More than 80 percent of the buildings were damaged or destroyed; many buildings had washed away. The roof of the girls' school had collapsed and the walls had caved. The boys' school has cracks in the wall and is in danger of collapsing. University students are staying home because they cannot afford this year's tuition.

Life savings were kept at home and they, literally, washed away.

Six-year-old Mairoon died of diarrhea and heat exhaustion four days before I arrived. Everyone knows that 1,600 people died as result of the floods, but how many have died from hunger and disease? No one knows that tragic figure. Mairoon was one more child to add to that number. Her death is the second of malnutrition and diarrhea that I have come across in the villages I visited in the last month.

And these are preventable diseases.

Local resident Shahzad Ahmed said that people have just become shells of their former selves and have died from within. They feel they are under a tremendous weight just trying to survive.

Later, in Ajab Bagh we saw land where homes were being prepared for reconstruction. Debris was being removed and new foundations being dug. Construction was scheduled to start the next day on the first ten houses. Islamic Relief is providing cement and other building materials, but the local residents will rebuild their own homes.

We traveled back to Islamabad to rest for tomorrow's journey to Muzaffargarh.

Please don’t forget the people of Pakistan. Donate generously.
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