Pakistan Embassy in Washington DC Raises Money, Awareness For Flood Victims

Ambassador Husain Haqqani

WASHINGTON, Nov 18 (APP): Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States has called for greater American public support for his country’s flood victims as he sought to raise awareness about human sufferings the worst natural disaster inflicted on around 20 million Pakistanis.

Ambassador Husain Haqqani faulted coverage of the tragedy in the American media, a factor which partly contributed to a tepid initial response to the catastrophe. He pointed out that the media stories ignored the plight of flood victims and instead focused unduly on political and security implications of the floods that triggered an epic humanitarian crisis.

Haqqani was making an impassioned appeal to back recovery efforts for flood victims to a gathering of American citizens, Congressional staffers and Pakistani-Americans at an event the ambassador and his wife, MNA Farahnaz Ispahani, hosted at their residence.

“One fifth of Pakistan, an area of the size of Italy, an area of the size of the entire east coast of the United States all the way from Maine to Florida, was inundated…two large rivers basically merged into each other…ten years of rainfall occured in a space of seven days in the Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa province.

“When 20 million people are in trouble the first priority is savasing lives, making sure that there are no waterborne diseases (breakout), no epidemics and making sure that immunization of children remains on track and pregrant and lactating mothers in relief camps get the support they need and the people are enabled to return to their farms and homes,” he stated as a slideshow of images illustrated the extent of human suffering and infrastructure losses.

The international effort, where the United States has been clearly in the lead in providing relief assistance, has fallen short partly becasue governments alone cannot help assist the victims of such major tragedies.

The ambassador appreciated the fact that the U.S. government has allocated $ 493 million towards flood relief recovery and is in the process of directing $ 500 million from Kerry-Lugar funds, approved by Congress last year. But, he underlined, Pakistani flood victims would still need a lot of support from individual donors and private charitable giving in the United States.

“More than the dollar cheque that you may write for the effort, what is more important is to contribute to increasing the awareness of this tragedy, taking the focus away from the political debates to humanitarian dimension of the tragedy.”

Jonnah Blank, chief policy advisor for South Asia to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reaffirmed the influential panel’s support for flood victims.

Speaking on behalf of Senator John Kerry, he commended the Pakistani envoy’s efforts to improve relationship between the two countries.

“Ambassador Haqqani has been a lynchpin in the US-Pakistan relationship. I don’t think that is any exaggeration. Anyone who looks at the US-Pakistan relations will come to the same conclusion.”

Blank said the Senate panel is trying to re-direct as much money as possible from long-term funding to immediate needs in the flood-affected areas.

“Pakistan of July (this year) is not the Pakistan of August (after flooding). Everything has changed and our plans for development have to change with that.”

The gathering evinced a keen interest in a display of Pakistani dresses designed by leading fashion exponent Deepak Parwani, whom the ambassador hailed as a designer of immense talent, “reminding every one, Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis of the pluralism of Pakistan. He symbolizes a new Pakistan that we are trying to build.” The proceeds from the sale of dresses will support flood victims.

The monsoon floods buffeting Pakistani lands this summer have been termed as the largest natural d1isaster in the world since the inception of the United Nations, more than 60 years ago. But statistics in terms of world response to recent disasters reveal that in comparison with the Far Eastern Tsunami, the Pakistani and Haitian earthquakes, the flooding disaster has so far received much less financial and in kind backing.

A US helicopter pilot’s tale

The following is an article by Mr John Brockman, a US helicopter pilot who has been working to rescue flood victims and bring relief supplies to affectees. It was originally published by Express Tribune blog. It is a beautiful reflection of humanity, and so we re-publish it here…

I am an American helicopter pilot in Pakistan.  My colleagues and I came because Pakistan and its people are enduring the aftermath of a devastating flood.  We were ordered to be here, and we miss our homes, but most of us are glad to help because we believe it’s the right thing to do.

I did not know much about Pakistan before I arrived here.  I knew of the food.  I knew of monsoons and Mohenjo Daro, Karachi and the Khyber Pass, but I had no concept of what Pakistan looked, felt, or sounded like. I even thought many Pakistanis would want us to leave.

I had no idea what the people would be like in person.  I wondered if they would resemble the images I’d seen on TV – would they protest our presence in the streets?  Would they tolerate us?  Or would they simply ignore us and go about their business?

After a few weeks of packing and planning, we were ready to deploy.  Full of excitement and some anxiety, I kissed my wife, took one last picture and was gone. We flew on a cargo jet from Alaska to Islamabad and the flight took so long I hardly knew whether it was day or night when we finally arrived.  Shouldering my gear, I headed to the terminal, weaving among Pakistani military and civilians on the tarmac.  A US Marine captain guided my group inside where we filled out information cards and relaxed in the cool quietness, surveying our area; smooth stone floors, low-slung furniture, and ceiling fans spinning high above.  The captain was talking to a Pakistani man who had been helping us.  Before we left, the man shook my hand and looked me in the eyes. “Thank you for coming to my poor country,” he said quietly.

I wanted to convey the depth of my feelings toward him and his homeland, but all I said was, “You would probably do the same for us” as I walked away.

That was my first interaction with a Pakistani here.

The days since arriving have passed quickly.  Every day we take rice, flour, blankets, housing materials, cooking oil – anything – up and down the Swat and Indus River Valleys.  We also bring sick, injured, and displaced people to hospitals and hometowns.

My first mission took us up the Indus river valley, and I embarrassed myself by constantly exclaiming its beauty.  Below me was the Karakorum Highway – the old Silk Road into China – and the valley itself, with terraced farmland overshadowed by majestic, snow-capped mountains.

Along with the beauty, though, I see reminders of the flood, bridges that are broken or missing and roads and fields that have been washed away.  I am beginning to see widespread reconstruction now as well and feel hope for the people in these villages.  They will soon have another way to get help.

I realize that some who read this will question our intentions and some may even wish us ill.  I certainly did not imagine that cheering throngs would greet us at each village though – we are always welcomed.  I did not expect our goodwill to be taken at face value by all of Pakistan, but we have received immense support.

I have learned in my time here that Pakistani people are truly gracious.  Strangers have invited me for chai and conversation.  Almost anyone will shake my hand and ask my name, inquire about my health and how I am getting along.  Instead of a handshake at our first meeting, I have sometimes been embraced.  “Strangers shake hands,” my new friend Mahmood explained, “but brothers hug each other.”

This warms my heart.  My mission, our mission, is straightforward, noble, and good.  I am deeply grateful to those who support us here, for we need all the help we can get in order to help those in need.   I am honored to do this work. I feel at home here beyond anything I could have expected.

Ah, home!  I miss my home, my wife and family; each day I wonder when I will see them again. But we have a humanitarian mission to accomplish.  Since I must be away, I’m glad that I am here, doing work that’s needed and good.

When I do return home, I will bring with me hundreds of pictures, dozens of journal entries, six duffel bags, and several recipes for local dishes that I have enjoyed, but I will also bring innumerable memories that I will treasure for life — memories of Pakistan and its people.  They have surprised me with friendship.  I hope that through our work of compassion we may surprise them with friendship as well.