An Eid Amidst the Suffering


Farahnaz IspahaniBy Farahnaz Ispahani for The News International

There are many ways to define family. To me, the pain of my displaced brothers and sisters affected by the worst floods in our nation’s history, made me decide to spend Eid with them instead of with my immediate family at home. During the holy month of Ramazan I had traveled to the flood-hit areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which I found to be both heart wrenching and rewarding. For “Eid-ul-Fitr” I wanted to be with my some of my other brothers and sisters, the flood victims in my ravaged home province of Sindh.

This has been the most memorable Eid of my life. Sharing this auspicious religious festival with those who have lost their homes, possessions, almost everything besides the clothes on their backs will forever remain part of my memory. It has touched my consciousness and touched my soul. And remarkable, despite the unrelenting negative coverage of the flood affectees’ plight, I personally observed a glimmer of hope in their conversations. That hope should strengthen our resolve to rehabilitate the flood victims and reconstruct our country.

The affectees did not feel abandoned by their government but were naturally anxious for the day they could go back to their own areas and homes. However, the unrelenting soundbites that we have been shown on the electronic media have misled the nation to the truth — all major natural disaster affectees are naturally emotionally shaken and confused and often angry — that is a human reaction. But, the one-sided picture of the victims bubbling over with despair and negativity towards their public representatives is also not the true picture. Reports of dereliction of duty by some might well be true but it is equally important to identify those among our elected leaders, civil servants and military men who went above and beyond the call of duty.

During what should have been festive days, the men, women and children in the camps were under immense strain. Yet their morale was high. Children were seen playing in the camps — some of which had brought special Eid gifts for them along with mehndi and bangles.
They were optimistic about their futures and generally satisfied with the response of the government machinery and civil society, including national and international NGOs and trusts. Most knew the enormity of the disaster and understood that no government or collection of private organizations could have accurately predicted or perfectly tackled the challenge.

The devastation is undoubtedly tremendous but the response has been heart-warming. Politicians, civil society, national and international NGOs and students are all geared up in helping their brothers and sisters during this crisis period. This crisis has united our people, our provinces and our federation. If the irreconcilable critics visit any of the camps that have been in existence for over 2-4 weeks, they would be pleased by the enthusiasm and diligence of both government and non-government agencies.

The contrast to the almost universally negative media reports could not be more dramatic. The hungry are being fed while the sick are being provided with medical treatment in the established camps. Doctors are present for first aid as well as managing serious illnesses. There is no doubt that there must be several shortcomings in some places, too, but an honest overall picture should include the positive alongside the negative.

A recent academic study about rehabilitation and reconstruction in areas affected by the 2005 earthquake shows that even in that case the early media reports about militants performing better than the government in providing relief were incorrect. Most of the earthquake affectees now acknowledge that their rescue and rehabilitation was made possible by the government and by foreign assistance providers.

I observed many things during my stay on Eid day in Sukkur. Firstly, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — the largest political party of Pakistan that has won both MNA seats and 4 MPAs seats in Sukkur in the last election, has been engaged in relief activities since the very first day of floods. Syed Khursheed Shah, MNA and Federal Minister, who has the support of the federal and provincial governments, is supervising and guiding the relief activities there along with Senator Islamuddin Sheikh and his son MNA Nauman Sheikh. They have set up dozens of camps in the greater Sukkur area, provide thousands of ‘deghs’ of food a day and have been personally monitoring the overall relief measures from the onset of the deluge in their area. They are leaders who are leading.

Yet I also could see camps in Sukkur where there was inefficiency, where an excess of food and bottles of mineral water were discarded after a few sips while in newly and more recently hit areas like Thatta and other parts of Sindh and in other parts of the country there are still many who have received very little. The government is trying to balance out provision of food, shelter, medicine and water to every victim of the floods. A concrete system — with the kind of meshing of civil society, federal and provincial governments such as I saw in Sukkur, — should be replicated nationwide, soon.

I visited several hospitals specializing in pediatric care for children from the camps. Though it was heartbreaking and brought me to tears to see those tiny children – some new-born — affected by stomach diseases and viral fevers and a few suffering from malnutrition, it was also inspiring to watch doctors, both from the government and private sectors, treating them professionally and with tenderness. Bhatti Hospital, a private hospital, which Dr Bhatti has turned over completely to cater for flood-affected children and the Railway Hospital with highly efficient and skilled teams from the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi, are selflessly offering their services to the children of the Sukkur camps.

It did one’s heart good to see our own people with skill, dedication and patriotism, taking on such a difficult and mammoth task. I wish this would be in the newspapers and on television so all of the people of Pakistan can share in this pride.