How Pakistanis, young and old, intervened after a flood disaster

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Jamshoro, Pakistan – Monsoon floods ravaged large parts of Pakistan last month, making disaster relief efforts overwhelming. But nonprofits and dozens of entrepreneurs, young and old, stepped in as their country experienced its worst disaster in decades.

There is a huge need for everything from tents to blankets, from mosquito nets to water purification, from food to hygiene kits, and from malaria drugs to basic fever medication.

“Millions and millions of people have no access to water, shelter and food. We’ve seen children who are malnourished and suffering from skin diseases, diarrhea, anything you can think of,” Abdullah Fadil, Pakistan’s representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told Al Jazeera.

Fadil said more resources are needed, such as medicines and therapeutic food for children and nursing and pregnant mothers, including 680,000 among the 33 million people affected by flooding.

“We need the world to really pay attention to the urgent needs of children and mothers in Pakistan. I hope the world will pay attention to this disaster caused by climate change,” he said.

Last week, UN chief Antonio Guterres said he had not seen a “climate hemorrhage on this scale” after visiting the flood-stricken South Asian country.

International response has been slow so far, so some Pakistanis are doing their best to help fellow citizens. Here are a few of their stories.

(Al-Jazeera)

Hideout

The Flood damaged or destroyed more than 1.5 million homes. For weeks, people had to endure pouring rain and blazing sun because they had no shelter. Thousands of Pakistanis have donated tents and tarpaulins so that people can find some peace and quiet.

Muhammad Omar, an advertising agency in the southern port city of Karachi, thought the best way forward would be to rely on Panaflex plates to be used on billboards.

“All we did was cut them into a four-by-three-meter rectangle, ask our team to install metal rivets so they can be hung on hooks or tied with string, and voila, we had cost-effective and easy-to-place shelters to provide some shade for desperate families left homeless by the floods,” Omar told Al Jazeera.

Since then, Omar and a group of volunteers have helped raise more than $40,000 for dozens of tents and transport them on trucks, helicopters and boats to distant areas, including Keti Bunder, Kachee, Jhal Magsi, Gandakha, Sukkur and Khairpur in the southern Sindh province – the area worst hit by the floods.

Tent manufacturers have seen this crisis as their opportunity and hundreds of small and medium-sized factories have sprung up in major cities.

Water everywhere, not a drop to drink

Millions of people drink contaminated water in Pakistan, and some are forced to drink from pools of dead cattle.

“UNICEF has distributed millions of liters of water, but that is a drop in the ocean of what people need,” said Fadil, the UNICEF representative.

The World Health Organization has warned of multiple disease outbreaks due to unsanitary conditions for those displaced by the floods.

Economist Hamza Farrukh has been working since 2014 to provide clean water without using electricity. Farrukh, through his nonprofit Bondh-E-Shams — which translates to “droplets from the sun” — has used a solar-powered water filtration unit to purify contaminated water.

The Solar Water Box is a robust solar-powered water filtration unit that runs on solar energy and can provide up to 10,000 liters of filtered water per day, he says.

Rapidly scaling up to 50 boxes per month, dozens of solar cells have been deployed to help flood survivors in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces. Filtered water can help control waterborne illness and prevent people from becoming dehydrated.

The box is a semi-permanent solution, because once the flood water has subsided, the same units can be moved to permanent water sources in villages.

Bondh-E-Shams, Farrukh says, has supplied an estimated 50 million cups of clean water to 40 communities around the world, including the Rohingya in Bangladesh and others in need in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen and Pakistan.

His goal is “to help reduce the global water crisis by 2050”.

Another startup called PakVitae provides a filter product that does not require electricity. Using gravity and attaching to the bottom of water containers, the filters can deliver up to 10,000 litres.

Jarri Masood, management consultant for PakVitae, says filters made from fiber membranes are used to remove most impurities and bacteria.

Since the floods started, PakVitae has donated some units and has also started providing filters to aid workers. They’ve lowered the price: instead of 5,000 rupees ($22), they charge 4,000 rupees ($18) for flood relief, and they’ve added a 15-litre jerry can per unit for flood relief.

Pakistan flood map
Nonprofit Enlight Lab has decided to collect data for flood-affected areas across Pakistan [Courtesy of Enlight Lab]

No electricity, no light

It is pitch dark at night for tens of thousands of people who live on small patches of dry land in most parts of Sindh, including Jamshoro. At least 101 people have been treated for snake bites and 550 for dog bites.

Businessman Raza Zubair learned about the plight of the flood victims during a sermon on Friday. He and his friends have provided solar-powered lamps for the survivors.

Their lightweight solar lamps have provided much-needed relief to thousands of people.

Like other volunteers, Zubair, who owns the solar energy company Sun King, also distributes essentials, including food rations, medicines, mosquito nets and toiletries.

His company has lowered the price of basic solar-powered lamps for flood victims and has also introduced lanterns that can also charge phones. A solar-powered lamp now costs 1,000 rupees ($4.50) instead of 1,600 ($7.20), and a solar lantern costs 4,000 rupees ($18) instead of 6,500 ($29)

Auxiliary Aggregator

When many citizens, government agencies and NGOs start helping people, there is a risk that duplication of effort and help will not reach the right people.

Shafeeq Gigyani, the co-founder of Enlight Lab, was frustrated that he could not get relevant statistics for his ancestral village on the bank of the Swat River in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Enlight Lab, a non-profit organization, decided to collect data on flood-affected areas across Pakistan. The company came up with Flood.PK – a crowdsourced platform for those affected by the flood to call for help and for field teams to respond to them.

Gigyani, who is based in Peshawar, says having this data streamlines shelter, emergency, medical, volunteer and fundraising, while also answering some questions about the flooding.

Other aggregators and crowd-sourced platforms such as FloodLight also provide similar datasets for volunteers and victims.

Floods in Pakistan
Victims of severe flooding from monsoon rains stand next to their tents at a relief camp in Dasht near Quetta, Pakistan [Arshad Butt/AP Photo]

Revalidation

As aid and rescue dwindle, the glaring question is what comes next after the water recedes and the devastation continues. The main task of the rehabilitation would be to provide homes for hundreds of thousands of people.

How does a tight, debt-ridden economy pay for that?

Miran Saifi and three others founded Modulus Tech in 2017 to tackle the housing shortage in Pakistan. Even before the devastating floods, the country had a housing shortage of 10 million.

Modulus Tech was intended to provide easy-to-assemble homes for refugees worldwide.

The Modulus Tech team develops long-term solutions for flood survivors by designing homes that are inexpensive and can be set up immediately.

They use non-conventional construction methods and off-grid solutions through responsible sourcing of sustainable and lightweight materials. They claim that their homes now pollute 90 percent less than traditional housing.

Afia Salam, chairman of the board of directors of Indus Earth Trust, says that long-term rehabilitation solutions are just as important as urgent aid.

Together with her colleagues, she tries to raise funds for the reconstruction of houses by training masons and foremen from flood areas. Their designs include cost-effective, locally produced homes that also have a lower carbon footprint.

This is not a comprehensive or exhaustive list, but a small representation of the hundreds of organizations old and new and the tens of thousands of selfless volunteers who serve Pakistan as it goes through its worst climate disaster.

Floods in Pakistan
Displaced families fleeing their flood-stricken homes seek refuge along a road in Jamshoro in southern Sindh province [Pervez Masih/AP Photo]



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