In late July, the monsoon rain that brings the moisture necessary for rice, wheat, potatoes and a host of other agricultural crops began in the northern Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. For farmers during the peak rice-growing season, it was a welcome sight; the moisture seemed substantial this year, which meant higher crop yields. Except the rain never stopped.
Now, two months later, the flood along the Indus River is considered one of the worst natural disasters in Pakistani history, resulting in 1,802 casualties, as well as displacing or affecting a record 20.2 million people.
Noting the DePaul’s “strong emphasis on social justice and reaching out to the underprivileged,” Agha Raza, a media consultant living and working in Islamabad who graduated from the DePaul last year, called on the university to “stand up for the principles it is founded on and help the millions of Pakistani victims who were stranded by the flood.”
“The crisis took the people and government by surprise,” Raza said. “The disaster in Pakistan crept up on people. Initially, the flood didn’t get a lot of domestic media coverage, as monsoon rains during this time of the year aren’t out of the ordinary. No one expected precipitation of this magnitude.”
The enormous amount of people displaced by the flooding has made it hard for Pakistan to provide adequate supplies and keep up with the rising need for medical care. The refugee camps are often overcrowded and unsanitary. Health conditions that experts say will only get worse include cholera and malaria, fueled by remaining pools of stagnant water that are breeding grounds for disease.
Ramla Salahuddin, an international communication student at DePaul who was born and raised in Pakistan, saw the relief operations firsthand. She said that the Pakistani people “really stepped up to help” giving clothes, food, and money to victims which was considered by many to be a part of the observance of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Ramla also acknowledged the great work of NGOs and other private organizations in their efforts noting their “organization and mobility” in distributing supplies and food.
However, problems of accountability and transparency have surrounded the massive effort to help the victims. Ramla relayed a story of when Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Gilani personally visited two camps in the Islamabad area, “praising their cleanliness and organization, and awarding relief money to both.”
The following morning, however, the leaders packed up the camps, “disappeared and were nowhere to be found,” according to Ramla.
Criticism of the civilian government has been widespread, especially due to the slow pace and transparency issues in distributing the aid to the camps. A credible source in Pakistan that wished to remain anonymous said, “Many Pakistanis believe that the government won’t pass on aid to the people. This is not a good concept and it reflects some internal problems in the way the situation so far has been handled.”
Although the humanitarian situation in Pakistan is one of the worst in recorded history, international support for the relief effort has been small in relation to the scope of the disaster.
The vast majority of the Pakistani aid money so far has come from governments and large organizations rather than individual donations.
Raza believes that the lack of donations also stems from the view of Pakistan in Western countries, including the United States. “The perception of Pakistan is not so great in the eyes of many Americans,” he said. “When average Americans hear these comparisons, it is hard for them to open up their wallets and donate to a country that they perceive to be supporting terrorism, even though Pakistan has taken an active role in fighting extremists within its own borders.”
“I as a Pakistani appeal to the world for help and support. The relief efforts are so huge no government can handle it alone,” said Asif Salahuddin, a prominent figure in Pakistan who owns The Independent News Pakistan.
“Unemployment and crime are on the rise, and without rehabilitation of the victims these problems will plague Pakistan and the rest of the world for many years to come. Please help my country and my people.”
Ramla talked about going into a refugee tent, and how “the first thing they did was to offer me tea, something to eat, a place to sit. They had lost everything and what little they received they offered to a complete stranger. Do we have the heart to share like that?”
She said that when she talks to many students at DePaul they aren’t even aware of the disaster. “We have stalls here for every small thing– tons of sororities, sports clubs and interest groups. Did we ever have a collection or booth for the Pakistani flood victims? I don’t think so.”