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Asia

Pakistani volunteers bring relief to flood victims

Islamabad would prefer to be the sole channel for international flood aid but that might not be a good idea for the victims. Thomas Baerthlein talked to victims and volunteers in Jamshoro District near Hyderabad (Sindh).

Even if the water has receded the mud will stay for months

Even if the water has receded the mud will stay for months

The litany of complaints at the Gulshan-e-Shahbaz camp in Jamshoro is familiar – there is not enough water, not enough food for the children. Women in similar camps all over the country are saying the same. Moreover, the government is not doing enough and the police are often sent in to distribute aid because they can best defend themselves against angry crowds.

However, there are other scenes. The atmosphere at Gulshan-e-Shahbaz's makeshift infirmary is calm – there is enough medicine and everybody is treated in turn, at no cost.

Many houses are too damaged to be reoccupied

Many houses are too damaged to be reoccupied

A group of academics collected money, bought medicine and came here as volunteers. Despite many cases of gastroenteritis and difficulties for pregnant women, the situation seems to be under control. Complicated cases are sent to a nearby hospital that has been set up by the cricketer-cum-politician Imran Khan.

"One thing is clear, if civil society hadn’t pitched in people here would be really in bad shape," says the retired college principal Syeda Basheer Chandio.

Pakistani civil society mobilized

Famous television hosts have also been collecting donations in their shows.

"The government is helping the people, we can’t say they’re not doing anything," says Shahzad, an engineer from Hyderabad who has been in the flood-affected regions with his colleague Yasir for weeks.

"But even the government doesn’t know what to do considering the massive consequences. That’s why people like us from the younger generation have got involved and are supporting the government with private, non-governmental organizations. The government can’t do anything alone."

What the two engineers have done is visible to the eye. There are 450 people living in the bare bones of a stadium and each family has electricity and a ventilator. There is television for everybody at night.

Thousands of bridges were destroyed in the floods so people have to take long detours

Thousands of bridges were destroyed in the floods so people have to take long detours

"The food is good. There’s enough medicine, and water too. We have everything we need," says Saiful, one of the inhabitants, enthusiastically.

Authorities want victims to go back to their villages

One reason why there are shortages in the state camps is that the authorities are encouraging the flood victims to return to their villages.

However, many cannot and they are subjected to difficult conditions. In a school in the village of Khanote, people feel helpless because the authorities have cut off food and water supplies.

"Nobody listens to us," says Yusuf Raza, one of the victims. "Today we even thought of blocking the streets in protest. But then someone said we’re poor and who knows what could happen to us if we block the street. What can we do?"

Hundreds of thousands were displaced by the floods

Hundreds of thousands were displaced by the floods

Lack of democratic structures at local level

The central and provincial governments have been distributing aid according to party lines and there is widespread corruption. Punhl Sario, the coordinator of a local NGO, explains that the problem is that there are no democratic structures at the local level.

"Elections have been due for two years now but have still not taken place. That’s always been the case with the Pakistan People’s Party, under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir, under Nawaz Sharif too. Whenever there is a civilian government the local elections stop. And when there’s martial law, the local bodies are strengthened. That’s our backwards democracy!"

He adds that foreign aid organizations should choose their Pakistani partners carefully.

"They should work with elected representatives here and not with the administration or the army. There would be less corruption regarding the reconstruction even if this cannot be completely avoided. The UN and the international community have to work with civil society and the grassroots. I think Oxfam’s approach is right – they are mobilizing volunteers all over Sindh and are making a start with their own reconstruction projects."

The international community will probably invest billions into Pakistan’s reconstruction but it would do well to take time to find out how the money can be used most efficiently.

Author: Thomas Baerthlein (Hyderabad)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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