Both Awab and I recently went on separate trips to Kot Addu and Sukkur, into just some of the areas affected by the flood. I think that by now, the scale of the disaster is hitting people- even Ban Ki Moon’s statement sent everyone scurrying for ideas and strategies to deal with the flood. The food relief truck I went with was organized by Saad Sarfraz Sheikh, an inspiring photographer and friend, who pulled in food through donations, and had someone arrange for a truck to transport it all to Kot Addu. I must also mention that even now, Saad’s father remains trapped at the PARCO refinery in the Kot Addu area.
I realize that we’re going through the greatest natural disaster that we’ve gone through- ever, and what’s more important, is that the world is realizing this as well. Rather than going into the usual analysis-paralysis of why the floods were so bad this year, or why the politicians are so indifferent, this article candidly shares what Awab and I have learned from our short trips into the field (Awab is more experienced with relief work, since he also helped out with earthquake and army-operation refugees earlier). I’m also cowriting this with him so that we share experiences from different affected floodzones. If you are working in Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunwa or any of the many, many regions that we aren’t please get in touch or just write your thoughts out as a comment. No time for formalities here.
Normally, a social worker would write this, but I wanted us, normal people with no training, to put out thoughts together on what worked, and what didn’t work based on our experiences. Why? Because the majority of Pakistanis who can help- are average people like Awab, Saad, myself and you.
Khurram Siddiqi: Kot Addu
- I’ve found that in the almost utter absence of a functioning government disaster management authority, citizens are taking matters into their own hands. No independence day has ever meant more since 1947, than this one. We’re all in this together, and pooling resources and funds like never before.
- Work with someone who has already done this in the past. This is not Pakistan’s first disaster, so there are bound to be people who’ve done this before, and have lessons to share; usually in the form of logistical efficiency.
- Empathy over sympathy – action over emotion. For the most part, I saw that people in the cities- removed from the flooding, are eager to satisfy their personal grievance by purchasing loads of food supplies. Though commendable, before we set out to help others, I think we need to take stock of what is really required, and choose a partner in the field to work with. Too many people seem to be generating stockpiles of supplies that though necessary, become burdensome because of distribution. Furthermore, because of the lack of coordination between relief providers, we might end up providing too much of one thing, and not enough of another. We saw this firsthand. For example, our truck carried a great deal of onions, potatoes and flour, but no anti-malarial medicine.
- This is a relief trip, and not a chance to be Indiana Jones: do not take this as an adventure trip. Make this about the people you want to help, and not about soothing the restless ‘activist’ in you. For example, Saad and I are both avid photographers (though I just shoot- he photographs), and there came points for both of us where we realized that in an effort to document and ensure that food was being distributed to the right people, the volunteers we were working with began to feel that this was becoming a slight PR campaign. It’s embarrassing to admit, but you need to be humbled in order to realize it.
- Ensure that what you’re taking out to the field is pre-packaged, preferably as ‘family packs’. With the help of your chosen relief partners, establish the quantities or sizes of packages required, meaning how much of what item they intend to distribute, depending on estimated family size.
- Someone posted this on their Facebook page: “Pack this with the expectation that it shall be dropped from 80 feet”. Brilliant piece of advice; you should aim for this even if your food is pre-packaged,
- Aim before you fire. Trucks, on average, cost Rs.20,000 (driver and diesel included one way), for goods that must have totaled about the same. The truck however, had much more space available, which would have been filled of course, had the pace of donations been higher. That said, logistics need to incorporate the incoming sources of funding. I realize again that this stuff sounds natural, but when you’re emotionally charged and want to save lives, you’re usually in 5th gear from the get-go; not the best of ideas. Another thing to consider is that fuel itself is in short supply. Let’s not become a part of the cycle, by burning it inefficiently. I just think we could have packed a lot more in there, before leaving. (But on the flipside, that is also a testament to Saad, who believed in getting the food out ASAP)
- Staying on the truck topic – banners and marks of your organization are probably not the safest of ideas. You could get looted- or you’ll get mobbed at your destination, and might end up distributing your relief supplies in ways you never expected: robbery and/or mobbery.
- The Pakistan Youth Alliance truck just got looted, then had their stuff returned. Some local MPA orchestrated the looting. So, yes- it is about how many big fish you know, and get ON the job as well. But I recommend considering strongly the added fuel costs, if you so desire, of a security detail. (convoy = protection, but convoy = more staff, more fuel)
- One of the main things we came across, even when working with professionals, was who and how to distribute food amongst. By who- I mean tribes, clans, families. I mean it. And if you’re not ready, you’ll discover this all at delivery time when you’re heading out into the field. This may or may not become an issue for you, but please consider where you want to distribute.
- As far as who to give the food to, even with the most skilled of social workers, I think there is always room for error. The question of ‘who is most deserving’ arises. In this case (of floods), it’s a hard call to make. Is it in terms of who lost their house? Who lost the most cattle? Who lost family? There are no solid answers, but make sure you have decided what you want out of the distribution exercise. Though this sounds like it’s about making it convenient for you, it’s actually about you, getting out of your own way, and getting the displaced, what they need, as soon as possible.
- I believe that food is not the thing in shortest supply; medicine is. While we were out in Kot Addu, Mospel (mosquito repellant) was one of our best friends. Anti-malarial medicines, along with gastro-drugs and even anti-venoms, are must haves (though anti-venom requires careful storage and temperature control). I don’t have a complete list of required/ suggested medication, but I’m sure that information won’t be too hard to pin down.
- Apart from food, think about the other things that people might need. For example, women have special needs, and things that pertain to them in particular are rarely considered as relief items. Again, this depends on what the objective of your trip is.
- One thing that really worked well for us was who we partnered with. Zafar Ali of the Pakistan Wetlands Program, Kot Addu office (thank you, Nuzhat Siddiqui for putting us in touch), and Saleem Khan of Saiban Trust (a trusted partner of the PWP’s in Kot Addu) were just amazing to work with. They each had their own teams as well, who we got to know quite well over the short time we spent in the field. It’s tempting for me to go up to Nowshera or down to Sukkur the next time to take aid, but because of the familiarity with the locality, and team- I suggest returning to the same place you’ve been, a few times again before picking a new spot.
Awab Alvi : Sukkur
- Our trip to Sukkur was quite well coordinated, we had two teams one destined for Sukkur while the other was ambitious enough to go to Kashmore.
- There are many nay-sayers scaring the beejeepers out of you, be confident in the belief that you are out to serve, and inshallah God will make way
- We had the support of the local politician who provided us with support on the ground which was a key influencing factor in our decision to go there – I would suggest if possible do arrange for a local contact within the area you are going, if not then remember to travel during the day only and distribute in areas where you have an exit strategy just in case you get mobbed. Meaning dont distribute on a dirt track, a paved metal road provides the vehicle to quickly move away
- Your own security is prime at all times, DO NOT carry a weapon and treat these people with patience and respect, understand at all times they are suffering and are desperate
- We had 3 trucks of goods all were offloaded into a warehouse where we hoped to effectively disburse in an organized manner, this turned out to be a strategic mistake, being located on the main road, we attracted a lot of attention and a mob quickly formed outside
- Having only one entry and exit door to disburse pre-prepared hampers became a problem as mob became impatient to block the door, it became difficult to open the door and when it was open difficult to close it under the pressure of the mob
- During the mob riot that ensued within our warehouse it was not possible to maintain discipline even after a police force was called in, they too were fighting with all their might, we tried to control the use of force but at times had to
- What I would have done differently, if we had a warehouse, id prefer it to be located a little far off the main road. I then would load small consignments on small datsun and head to areas where there was a need. smaller consignments meant less at stake
- If you feel the need to disburse to the settlers on the street, do so in a slow moving vehicle dropping goods intermittently, that too you have the fear of being mobbed, if it gets out of control move quickly away
- If you want you can also drop items from the truck itself, but fear the fact that if you loose control of the mob, the entire truck shall be mobbed within moments and you will loose the entire tranche of relief good that you brought for them, contend to the fact that you came to serve the needy and they all were needy [truly they are]
- Try to distribute by hand going to schools and checking the situation, this requires an local escort, politician etc – and most will regret supporting a political hegemony but on the flip side you get organization and can target the needy with a free hand
- The disbursement of tents was also a little difficult, we requested ID Cards in lieu of each tent where we noted Family # [or Khandan #] so that it prevented members of each family getting multiple tents, we caught 3 people doing the same, we only listed the Khandan number on a sheet of paper and compared every number before giving them the tent
- After the tent was given, we told them to set it up in the designated area and we would return to them the ID card with the promise to supply them each with 2 hamper bags for supporting them for the entire week, this temptation got them busy in putting up the tents in the required location
- In Sukkur there is a desperate need for Tents, Clothes and Medicines, with even a strong request for powder milk.
- Sukkur itself having a few hospitals are facing the pressure for medical support, but it was not so apparent in our two days there, but the need will definitely grow shortly
- I would stress people going for relief to target slightly deeper locations further away from city centers, if you have gone the effort to come this far, go a little bit more and target some area you suppose has not been provided relief
- Prefer to arrive a little 3-4 hours before your truck so you know the geography, refer to Google Maps / or the Pakrelief.crowdmap.com to help identify the location before departure.
- I used GPS tracking with frequent twitter updates and posted abundant pictures on Facebook – do that, not to show-off your work but to inspire others and also update your donors that you have taken the effort to deliver, build a credibility and it shall go a long way. People in Pakistan will trust a doer, dont even for a moment spoil that level of trust, its priceless.
- Go with friends, and distribute with your own hands, there is an immense emotional satisfaction to have given with your own hands, it inspires you to do more for these poor suffering people, compels you to come back and give more
- Remember to look after your belongings strongly advise to leave your wallet inside the car and do not carry large amounts of cash, carry a notebook, in case you want to make a list of people etc, manage the finances to the last rupee and publish it maybe on a Google Doc so that your donors know what was used and what remained, do not reveal the names of your donors as most will not appreciate it.
- Remember to applaud and acknowledge your team, after successful trip it is mostly the credit to team work that brought you through
- Plan housing in advance and not ‘hope’ to get a place nearby
- You are doing this from Zakat fund, your travel, eating and housing is NOT an expense from the donation.
In closing, if you’d like to help out or contribute to the efforts, here are the next trips planned by Saad, and Awab:
Saad Sarfraz Sheikh
Targeting 100 families this time, I’ve used up all my funds, but still need the following quantities to accomplish the task…
You can either donate these items or fund them by transferring money to my account…
- Water: 300 bottles of 1.5 litre, preferably Aquafina, as it is cheaper than Nestle and Kinley… 300 bottles/35 cartons will cost = Rs 4,900
- Aseel Dates: 100 packs of 500 grammes…. @ Rs85/500grammes = Rs 8,500
- Pulses (assorted): 100kgs @ 150/kg = Rs 15,000
- Atta: 400kg needed, 80 bags of 5kg flour, @ Rs 175/5kg = 14,000
- Sugar: 7 cartons of Ashraf Sugar (2x10kg): 140kg, Rs77/kg= Rs 10,750
- Rice: 138kg, 69x2kg packs, Rs 11,040
- Salt: 14 packs of (800grammes x 3) National Iodized Salt = Rs 637
- Milk: 5 cartons of 24x250ml Dairy Queen, @ Rs 272/carton = Rs 1,360
- Banaspati: 100kg – 100 packs of 1kgs banapati, Rs 75/1kg (Sufi) = 7,500
- Truck transport/logistics: 20,000
Total cost: 93,687
More of Saad’s details:
Drop stuff at 72-FCC, Gulberg 4, anytime before 6pm.
If you put an assortment of goods in a bag, kindly attach a list so that we can distribute equally.
Contact me (Khurram) if you need his bank details- he will be needing money as well.
Awab Alvi is also embarking on a Second Rescue Mission read more in detail here
Some pictures from the trips:
Some videos from the Kot Addu trip: