The human tragedy remains

I was standing on the banks of a muddy tributary making its slow rippled way through rice paddies. A cold wind was blowing in my face and ruffling the trees freshly washed from last weeks rains. The sky was partly overcast with shafts of lights peeking out from among the clouds onto the fields, it seemed like a great place to just put amanji and lie down to listen to nature at its idyllic best. Unfortunately there was no time to lie down on this trip as we had come to Khorwah to conduct a medical camp.

Khorwah is a sleepy little village cum town just on the outskirts of Thatta. Too small to be of any note yet of the size that can support 5000 to 6000 people. Most of the locals earn their living from working on rice farms or weaving baskets and other handicrafts to sell along the main highway.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

The floods had ravaged this area just like others in Sindh right up to the Deewan sugar mill which was right opposite our campsite on Saleem Khan’s farm, who not just hosted us but fed every single patient who visited.

The waters have receded with time but they have left behind many families who do not have income streams any longer, plus many of the locals had been hosts to their family members fleeing the incoming water from higher up in Sindh and thus are still in a desperate need for aid.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

After a quick wash in the tributary to take off the dust of travelling to this location (three and a half hour drive from Karachi), we proceeded to start setting up our medical camp which would start early next morning with the doctors accompanying us and would grow as the second team joined us from Karachi. When I say we, I mean our team ofOffroad Pakistan which has been working on relief activities all around Sindh since August last year.

Once the camp was setup and signs made in local Sindhi for the incoming patients, we proceeded with organizing stationary for the camp. Many teams ignore the importance of proper patient forms and data entry in the field to later realize that they saw a lot of people but have no information on them for follow-ups.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

A proper screening area with three volunteers was setup which processed patients into areas of ailment marked out on desks which doctors would man to consult. The last stall was the pharmacy which would supply the donated medicine and lead the patients to the food area where they could eat their fill before leaving.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

We started at the crack of dawn and opened doors to a throng of people at 9.30am. As patients streamed in we realized that people were mostly dealing with three issues: poor hygiene, unawareness of birth control methods and rampant poverty. They, either had skin diseases and were unable to treat them properly due to lack of a working rural health center or they were too poor to buy the medicines prescribed to them by other visiting doctors. There were many families with eight kids or more and this seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the day, as our team of psychologists also discovered large scale suicidal tendencies in a lot of female patients.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

As one of the organizers helping patients and trying to maintain crowd control, it was surprising for me to see that most of the male patients were easier to handle than the women. Or perhaps the women were used to violent herding-like tactics which none of us would indulge in. Suffice to say, in about five hours the camp treated 1,200 patients, handed out 1,500 dental kits and aided more than a 100 people for post-camp surgical procedures, which we will sponsor in hospitals upon returning to Karachi.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

It’s always euphoric to help people but for me, the highlight arrived around midday with a father bringing his severely malnourished child to the camp. Our doctors not only managed to re-hydrate the child and revive him but most certainly saved his life which was hanging in precarious balance. Saving that one child gave our team renewed vigor to see the effort through.

—Photo by Faisal Kapadia.

As I sit here writing this after the first Sehri of the holy month, I am thinking how important it is for all of us to realise that although the floods of last year may be over and long gone, the human tragedy remains. It remains in the form of people stranded in areas they fled to, it remains in the fact that they cannot go back as they do not have the prowess to obtain further loans from their respective landowners to plant new crops. It also remains in the grim reality that their life is better in these alien surroundings with visiting, once-in-a-while medical camps and aid teams than it actually is back home.

So as a nation we still need to own and provide for these people, especially during Ramazan. Therefore please remember the flood victims when you donate your Zakat to any organization and recognise the fact that poverty-stricken, malnourished and on the brink of suicide, could just as easily have been one of us.



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A battle against time

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As mentioned in my previous postOffroaders Pakistan and the Motor Rally club had been collecting funds for flood relief for the past two weeks in Karachi. We received a tremendous response and with around Rs. 2.5 million  donated to us, we loaded five trucks of food supplies as well as a truck full of tents and set out at 10:30 am on August 14.

Our initial plan was to go to Moro in Sindh, but due to local weather conditions not permitting and the dire need of food and supplies in Sukkur, we decided late Friday to take everything we had acquired and head to out to where we were needed the most.

This relief trip was unique since we constantly updated in real time via Twitter (@faisalkapadia & @drawab) and the entire trip was also covered by GPS updates.

Day 1

It took us approximately six-and-half hours to reach Sukkur and contrary to what we had been hearing on through different media outlets, the roads throughout the way were very well-policed and secure. We entered Sukkur around 5 p.m. and as we neared, thousands of people lined the roads, sleeping on both sides in the scorching heat, without any shelter or even charpais; women, children as well as the elderly and handicapped people lay along the street in the mud. Most of these people had migrated from Thul, Jacobabad, Shikarpur and Kashmore due to the incoming waters. It was really hard to digest the tragedy in front of our eyes as we unloaded the aid we had brought and proceeded to our camp which was set up with the help of local volunteers provided generously by Shehryar Meher. The Motor Rally team took the remaining trucks onwards to their camp near Shikarpur.

Once that was done and our iftari eaten in haste, we started setting up tents in our camp site and proceeded to do so till 2:30 a.m. We adopted the modus operandi of noting down ID card information as we gave out supplies to make sure that not more than one tent was given to one family so maximum people could get shelter. What was remarkable for us was that people whom we were providing relief to (some of them who hadn’t eaten a proper meal for a week) were very cooperative; they were only too happy to get any sort of help with shelter and it was quite a sight to see them standing in line as we handed out packets of biryani and water after which they settled into their tents for the night. Each tent sheltered up to eight people and thus with 500 people secure about three feet above ground level we finally called it a night.

Day 2

We arrived at the campsite at about 830am and found there were dozens of people not only from our tent enclave but from the surrounding areas as well. The crowd was so large and their need so great that we had to take the help of the local police to organise all of them into lines. At several points this morning our team of seven individuals considered stopping the provision of rations as we were repeatedly stormed by people desperate for any sort of relief. Still at no point during this very tough distribution process were we threatened by any of the refugees, it was just a matter of clear frustration and lack of adequate provisions that drove these people, they were not begging but merely trying to survive each day.

Till about 1130 a.m., we distributed close to 500 care packets that consisted of rice, oil, biscuits, water, salt and pulses. We also learnt the hard way that smaller packets would have been easier for the women and children to carry since ours were too heavy for them. We managed to split up the rations at the camp site but perhaps others organisations who are making similar care packets need to to keep this in mind.

We then left for Shikarpur where along the way we stopped to unload our last truck of rations into a mobile kitchen. Here they began preparing over 3000 rotis and began cooking rice and daal for the people traveling the route to Sukkur. The rest of the supplies were sent along with volunteers who manned the boats into the kacha areas in Shikarpur where there is about 4-5 feet of standing water and the people are cut off by road access. We also had a chance to go into lucky tehsil and survey firsthand the breach in the Indus minor, which is threatening Shikarpur with one million cusecs of water. Currently the army and the locals are considering total evacuation since there is talk that Shikarpur may not be able to make it in case fresh floods hit the area.

After return

For the last two days the 2nd part of our team MCP Club has been distributing relief all across the Kashmore area. They have now managed to distribute 1800 hampers on a per house as per need basis. Our next target is the collection of more funds for our next distribution mission. Thus please donate generously via the chip in widget you see to the right.


*We have been joined by PYR PakistanFLP and CIO Pakistan in our efforts. The Offroad team consisted of Nabil Jangda, Rehan Bandukda, Faraz Khan, Ali Khurshid, Imran Hussai, Dr Awab Alvi and Faisal Kapadia. For more information, go to our website

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A version of this post was published on the Dawn blog at 16/8/2010

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