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A Letter from Pakistan

Dear Friends,

The situation here in Pakistan, particularly Sindh, is beyond our wildest nightmares. So much destruction, and on such a magnanimous scale. I do not think I need to go on about it, as all of you have been quite upto date with the flood situation through the media. Thankfully our region has been unaffected, but the nearby districts have been devastated.

Pakistan team leader

As in the last disaster of earthquake, the nation both inside and outside the country has been reacting very responsibly. Let us appreciate those who have been spending their days and nights, their tireless efforts, their fortunes and lot of other things “ prayers included“ on flood victims. Yes, there is some truth in the reports that at some places, victims have turned into thieves and looters, but there is really little if any point in blaming them for that. Yes, the response from government and international community has been somewhat slow, and may be inappropriately and inadequately so, but can you imagine them working over an area of land submerged under flood water, larger than that of England? Because of illiteracy, in many places people simply ignored the calls to vacate their homes and places before flood struck them. Even when flood did hit areas, some people still refused to leave their homes surrounded by an ocean of water! Some said they did not wish to leave the land their forefathers have been dwelling at for centuries! Some had some other excuses. But still, a lot of people believe that the casualties have been kept to a minimum by taking appropriate and timely actions by the government. A large number of over 1700 deaths is being described as a small number considering the size of disaster. But still, imagine over 3.5 million have been affected.

I just hate to imagine what would happen next, once the flood water dries up. When the affected families return to their "houses" or "villages", many will find they do not exist any more! It has been predicted that there is going to be a severe food shortage as a large part of the cultivated land is submerged. Lot of animals have died, so there is going to be shortage of farm animals too. Fields that supply textile mills with raw material will not be able to provide as much material as would be needed. There is going to be a great hike in consumables because of lack of supplies. Keep thinking on these lines, and your nights will get sleepless!!

Pakistan mobile team

But, my friends, this is a worry for the future - not the problem at hand right now. Now is the problem with a large number of displaced people who have lost everything. They need medicines, food, shelter, cloths, beds, etc, etc, etc. They are so much in short supply despite all the efforts from all organizations. One of my landlord friend was only today telling me that he is fearing that those who are now residing in camps in or near cities, may turn into mobs and start attacking passer-byes and even houses in order to get things for themselves. I personally thought he was over-reacting, but some in attendance then did share that fear. That land-lord, by the way, donated a respectable amount of money to our Flood Relief Medical Camp activities.

A lot of people are doing commendable things for the victims. Number of organizations are on the field. We at Muhammad Medical College & Hospital, Mirpurkhas, Sindh, have also been doing what we can. Initially we tried and sent some aids in the form of cash to victims at north and then in the central Pakistan (Punjab). When we started getting the floods here in Sindh, we started doing our own activities. Like I said, thankfully Mirpurkhas has not yet been affected. But nearby districts have been. Moro is one of the badly affected areas. We started our activities there, and plan to extend them to other areas this and the next week, such as Jamshoro, Sajawal etc.

We camped at Moro (District Naushero Feroz) last week on 24th August. We had a base camp in the city, and also sent mobile medical teams to the Moro bridge where there are a number of tents of the displaced people. There were around 20 doctors and many non-doctor volunteers from Mirpurkhas and Moro who worked with us. In the camp that started just before 10 AM, and kept on going until Iftar time, the tirelessly working teams saw over 3,500 patients. Medicines worth nearly 250,000 PKR were distributed free of cost. Problems included mostly gastroenteritis, malaria, non-specific febrile illnesses, upper respiratory tract infections, skin infections, hunger, poverty, lack of food, frustration, anger, depression, etc, etc.

We wished to carry some consumables, food, beddings, etc, but were advised, by the local people who helped us doing the camp, against it. We are not trained to do something like this, and no matter how much of such things we would have carried, it would have proved totally insufficient. The crowd was so large that anyone trying to distribute those things would have been mobbed, and safety issues would also have arisen. Nevertheless, many of us distributed some cash individually and collectively particularly in the mobile medical teams who were visiting tents, and so were only facing a few people at a time “ making it a lot easier to do that activity.

We are still counting, but it has been estimated that PKR 27,000 were spent on miscellaneous expenses (transport, stationary etc), and an unspecified amount on distributing non-medical items. The approximate expenses on medicines is PKR 250,000. More detailed report will appear on our website www.mmc.edu.pk soon.

Pakistan camp

Apart from asking some friends, we have not yet asked many people to help us in terms of money. We have started doing this on our own, as we did in the floods of 2006 and 2007 in the local areas, and the district government joined us later those years. We have been doing Free Medical Camps many times a year in our hospital, and also have helped other organizations in doing this in and around Mirpurkhas. We regularly spend a large amount of money in subsidizing the treatment of patients who come to us. This is despite the fact that we only charge symbolically. As an example, we charge PKR 10 for consultation, and PKR 25 for a general bed in our "private" hospital! We provide 3 meals a day free of cost to patients admitted to a general bed. Anyone who is over 60 years of age, anyone who is a worker at an educational institution in whichever capacity (not just teachers) and his/her first degree relative gets these fees waived. And believe me, many people who do not fall under any of the above categories, are unable to pay even this! They either get further subsidized charges, or completely free treatment. There are over 50 items in medicines which get distributed in the outpatients completely free. We do charge a small amount for things like operations, but that too only from those who can afford to pay. In brief, no one who enters Muhammad Medical Hospital goes away without treatment. Last financial year, we spent over 4 million PKR over patients in areas such as above. Please note that currently 1 US $ = 85 PKR approximately.

However, this flood situation is so over-whelming. Some people have contacted us themselves and paid donations. We have been stretching our limited resources. So are many other organizations. There are number of them in action.

I now do urge you to donate, as you have been doing already. I know you have very quickly gone well beyond the initial task you set for yourselves which is very commendable. However, please be sure that whatever we do is never going to be enough. We can, and should, all do whatever we can. However, this is going to be a loooooong battle. All kinds of help will be needed for a long time to come. Despite that we will only be able to make a small dent in the miseries of the affected people. Those who used to be well-off, many of them are now destitute and beggers. Only God can completely heal their wounds. But we all can and should play our roles. I have learnt through experience that it is so easy to criticize, but is so difficult, yet so important to take no notice of this and keep working. I urge you to ignore the harsh words from and about different people, but donate generously to the people and organizations of your choice. Important thing is to act, and act quickly, and act for a long time until sufficient work has been done (will it ever happen, I ask myself????).

Syed Zafar Abbas