From our recent archives: Helping Pakistan

Indy coverage from the fall of local efforts to help Pakistan

Although the floods in Pakistan hit near the end of July, it is an ongoing disaster site where many people are still suffering, living in water for months and unsure of what their future holds.

The grandeur of Pakistan’s situation has brought some local St. John’s citizens together in an effort to help bring relief to the country.

Seema Khan is one St. John’s resident who has worked with a group of others to help raise money.

“We said we could sit and watch tv and cry or we could do something,” said Khan.

For the last four weeks Khan and many others have been stationed at different commercial areas within both St. John’s and Mount Pearl.

Khan and her associates have raised just over nine thousand dollars, which they have donated to Red Cross.

Khan said the response from the community has been invaluable and she reminds the public that every penny counts. Although it may be hard to imagine, one penny can go a very long way in the relief effort.

“A kid who was about 7 or 8 years old gave one cent, one cent becomes two cents when it’s matched. It’s something, it could be a whole day of food for someone,” said Khan.

Other side of the coin

Saima Siddiqui has also been working with Khan, distributing Red cross canisters around Memorial University and setting up booth at a variety of departmental and grocery stores and she has a different perspective on the local contribution.

Unlike Khan, Siddiqui feels the community’s feedback has been “lukewarm” and the amount collected by her group was mostly “due to the hefty donation made by a few individuals only,” said Siddiqui.

Siddiqui said there are many reasons why Newfoundlanders, and Canadians alike, have not come forward with many donations or participation towards the flood.

“It has been suggested that the low death toll, the protracted unfolding of the extent of the catastrophe, the lack of celebrity involvement, the impression that the government is not focused on the event, and a certain donor fatigue, perhaps more so as Pakistan had been receiving support before,” said Siddiqui.

Although the flood has what is considered a low death toll, United Nations estimates more than 21 million people have been affected by this flood, ten million of which have been left without shelter for over six weeks. United Nation states that this is one of the worst humanitarian disasters to date.

Who’s affected and why

Siddiqui, a policy researcher from Karachi, Pakistan, as well as a political science major at Memorial University, has observed many social factors leading to the significant grandeur of the ongoing flood.

“Some government ministers were accused of using their influence to direct flood waters off their crops while risking densely populated areas. Also, a number of wealthy feudal warlords and landowners diverted funds and resources away from the poor and into their own private relief efforts,” said Siddiqui.

Siddiqui also said the poor are suffering much more than the rich and Khan said mostly villages were affected, rather than cities.

Tazeen Javed is involved with a citizen group within Pakistan, who accepts donations of money and goods to provide to flood victims. Javed said she has heard the rumours about the influence of the rich and landlords using their power to avoid the severity of the flood, but has not witnessed such events herself.

“The camp that I witnessed in Sind was near the land of a big landlord but half his lands were underwater and he took refuge with relatives in Karachi,” wrote Javed in an e-mail.

From her experience, Javed said poor people were more affected as they live in highly condensed and populated areas.

“Whether rich people have tamed the flood to save their lands, I think they could not have done that even if they wanted to because the devastation was on an unprecedented scale,” said Javed. “However, I do think that after the floods, it [will be] much easier for the rich and well-connected people to claim benefits and compensation.”

‘Some were starved’

Javed mentioned that women have mostly been affected by the flood, especially those who are pregnant.

“Some of them are severely malnourished, some were starved for 2 or 3 days before they made it to camps. Because of the shock to their system and other reasons they are having premature babies which are leading to post-natal complications for both mother and child and most camps are not equipped to deal with it,” said Javed.

As Javed has pointed out, the flood is an ongoing issue whose victims are still in need of assistance. Siddiqui and Khan, along with their group of local citizens, push forward the effort and continue raising funds. On Sept. 28 (2010), a booth will be set up by their group with traditional Pakistani foods, baked goods and crafts. Khan would also like to organize a ‘family festivity’ in the near future, now that Ramadan has ended–a period of fasting most of her group was involved with during the first part of their fundraising.

Any funds raised by Khan, Siddiqui or any other Canadian will be matched dollar for dollar by the federal government until Oct. 2 (2010). Meanwhile, the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced on Sept. 14 (2010) that the provincial government will donate $100,000 to Red Cross towards the Pakistan relief effort.

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