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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Journey Through Pakistan: Eight Months After the Floods, How is the Country Faring?

Anwar Khan, Islamic Relief USA'S vice president of fund development, is on the ground in Pakistan, and gives a first-hand account of how the country and its people are faring post flood.

Sunday, April 17
I returned to Southern Punjab which was devastated by the floods last year, as was large amounts of Pakistan. I was eager to see how people were doing eight months later. The floods were akin to a slow-moving tsunami, which spanned five weeks decimated large areas from the North to the South affecting all five states.

For many of us living in the U.S., the 2010 Pakistan floods have become a distant memory: more recent turmoil in the Middle East and natural disasters in Japan have taken precedence in the media.

Insha’Allah, my journey through the country will help us reconnect with the people of Pakistan so that we can learn about how much has been done and how much still needs to be done to help them rebuild.

Monday, April 18
I was eager to return to Muzaffargarh, but did not miss the heat and humidity of the area. Mercifully, there were clouds and it was only 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Last time I was here it was more than 110 degrees and humid.

We traveled to Mashori, a remote area where Islamic Relief has been helping rebuild villages that were washed away during the 2010 floods. IR has been building one room houses, toilets, sewage pipes and water pumps here. As part of an integrated-rehabilitation program , IR teams have been distributing chickens, goats and sewing machines to local women to help them generate extra income while caring for their children; the sewing machines also help take care of their families’ sewing needs. Men from Mashori often travel outside of the area to work as drivers in larger cities.

Many of Mashori’s families have 10 children—many of the girls marrying in their teens. One such lady is Farzana Bibi, who is 18 years-old, and has three children. During last year’s floods, she was forced to evacuate her home and live in a tent with 12 people for a month. When she was finally able to return, she found that her home and belongings had washed away. But now, al hamdulilah, things are improving: Golden fields of wheat are growing next to the shack she is staying in. Farzana is grateful that life is seemingly coming back to the village, but explains that she has to rebuild and reestablish everything from scratch—the little possessions and savings she had collected during her young eighteen years of life were wiped away with the flood waters. She was already surviving in impoverished circumstances; the floods exacerbated that.

And despite it all, Farzana is so thankful for the bed and emergency aid she received from IR early on, but said she had received no other aid since returning home. She brought back the tent she was staying in the camp and set it up next to her shack, made of broken bricks, stones and pieces of wood. Soon, she will be moving into a new home IR is building—it will be equipped with a toilet and sewer. Farzana has also received 10 chickens, and will soon be getting a goat—she is very pleased. Once the nearby water pump is built, Farzana will also have access to clean water from the correct depth (120 ft. deep), instead of contaminate water from the current shallow depth (40 ft. deep). There is also a clinic nearby; she and her family will have access to free medicine and medical care, provided via a joint IR and government project, for a full year.

When many 18-year old girls around the world are making plans to go to college, Farzana, an 18-year old mother of three, is striving to rebuild her life. She is a dignified woman.

During my journey, I’ve met many like Farzana who have heart-breaking and captivating stories to share:

Sameer Azhar’s mother approached us with her 4-year old son: He is in pain from a kidney stone, but his family cannot afford the $200 operation to remove it. They have already depleted their $100 savings on medication.

Asia Bibi was very emotional when she told me the hell she had to live through in the camp last year. Her story reminded me of one of my camp visits last year, where I learned about an 11-month old baby who died from hunger during Ramadan.

All the families I had met in Mashori had hope for the future as there new village was being built in front of their eyes.

I also visited Ghohar Wala. There, despair was in the air as villagers are still waiting for assistance some eight months after the floods. Immediately after the floods, Ghohar Wala received some emergency assistance from IR and other agencies, but the village is still in ruins: homes have been decimated; children are drinking contaminated water, spouting from a 40 foot dig, when clean water begins at 120 feet; doctors do not visit their area and residents cannot afford transportation to the hospitals in the main town; veterinary doctors don’t come either, so many of the villages cattle have died or are sick.

Local IR relief teams recently announced that they will soon help rebuild Ghohar Wala—the villagers are ecstatic.

An elder asked me if IR was going to rebuild the mosque, but before I could answer, another resident responded, and said that IR would build them their houses and they—the villagers—would build the house of Allah (swt).

It was interesting to see the difference between Mashori and Ghohar Wala. I saw hope and despair, the difference when they get assistance and when they do not. For every village that is helped, there are still many more that need help. To the men, women and children of that village knowing that others care enough to offer assistance makes a world of difference.

Tuesday, April 19
Islamic Relief’s integrated village rehabilitation programs in Pakistan include health components aimed at addressing "Millennium Development Goals": reducing child mortality and improving maternal health. In conjunction with the local government’s health authority, the region’s IR staff and doctors run mobile clinics that run for one year, and rotate among different villages at no charge to residents. Without these clinics, many of the patients would not receive even basic primary care; they would suffer—many would die.

Scabies, skin infections and diarrhea are prevalent among flood survivors. For children—already malnourished and receiving little food—being hit with diarrhea could be deadly: an 11-month old baby girl in Muzaffargarh died the day before I first arrived in the area last year (a few weeks after the floods); the cause of her death was hunger and contaminated water. Many of the area children were bathed in dirty water because residents had no other choice.

Now, the campsite is different: the flood waters have receded, and people have gone home. The bridge has been reconstructed, so, instead of traveling by boat, as we had to do last year, one can now drive a motorcycle.

But the conditions are still dire: Many lost their homes and all of their belongings; they’ve had to endure temperatures that surpass 110 Fahrenheit. I met a local man, who was clutching Tylenol in his hand. He told me that it was the only medicine he had for his children—it had to serve whatever ailment they faced.

In Bundh, I visited a clinic and witnessed the stream of people who came in the morning from nearby villages to receive treatment. One of the top conditions facing women here is anemia—60% of the adult female population is affected. Poor nutrition is a cause. The women, who often marry in their early teenage years and have many children, often have to sacrifice their food rations for their children and husbands: whatever little meat the family has often goes to the husband first; the rest is divided among the family.

Labor is another concern for the area’s women: At the clinic this morning, I saw a female doctor give a birthing kit to a pregnant patient—the kit would help reduce infection during child birth. The doctor told her that if she gave birth between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., she could get free care at the clinic; after that, she would have to make do at home with the kit.

And the water: the water in the area is still contaminated, and diarrhea is rampant. But, insha’Allah, water pumps will be installed soon, and will help reduce the amount of water-borne disease.

As I left Muzaffargarh, I was happy that there had been progress; homes were being built; clean water would be arriving; livelihood earning programs had begun. However there were still many people in need.

It’s interesting to compare what I see in each area I visit: Yesterday, I saw hope in the people of Mashori, who had already been receiving help and seeing progress made; in Ghohar Wala, I saw despair turn to excitement and applause as villagers heard that soon (after about nine months insha’Allah), they would also be getting help. The dignity and resilience of these people has made quite an impression on me. Everyone is very friendly and hospitable, especially the children: they insist that I drink a cold glass of soda when I visit them. That is a rare treat for them and an honor for me.

Wednesday, April 21
Today was full of meetings with the IR Pakistan staff in Islamabad. Team members explained that the chronology of their response to the 2010 floods had gone from emergency to rehabilitation and now, finally, to development.

The government has requested that relief efforts move beyond food aid—officials do not want residents to become dependent upon outside assistance for food; rather, the government wants the people to be supplied with the tools they need to support themselves. Various work-for-food programs and income-generation programs have been implemented to help the people help themselves. As the one-year anniversary of relief efforts approaches, however, many of these programs may be phased out within the coming months.

IR Pakistan is working in large villages in Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa and Punjab, and in smaller communities in Balochistan and Sindh. The country director was shocked at the malnutrition levels in Sindh. He said that he had known malnutrition levels to be that high in Africa, but did not realize that was now also the case in Pakistan.

Islamic Relief teams are looking beyond the programs currently in place to see what other versatile projects can be developed and implemented to help those affected by the floods in more ways.

Tomorrow, insha’Allah, I will return to KPK.
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