Pakistan flood story 10: A pair of unspoken heroes

Sabina Bhutto (left) and Asma Soomro were at the edge of raging flood waters a week ago when they received the news flash that their home town Shikarpur was about to be flooded. Relatives reaching them by cellphone implored them to rush home and rescue their belongings. They were right by the rushing water and didn't believe it was headed to Shikarpur.  And they were facing an emergency of their own. On the the side of the waters a group of stranded villagers was preparing to ford the flow. Sabina and Asma could see what the villagers couldn't. That the waters were deadly and would sweep them away. They had watched as full-grown buffalo were swept off their feet by the torrent. They stayed were they were to shout directions and assist others struggling for safety as waters from the Indus continued their deadly surge miles beyond the river banks. Ultimately the trapped villagers were persuaded to wait for calmer waters. And happily, as they had hoped, Shikarpur itself was not flooded.

A second night, the women heard news of a group of villagers about to be swept away, left their homes at 10pm and joined the dangerous night-time rescue mission. It took four hours to reach and rescue the stranded party. 

Sabina's eyes twinkled as she said: "This past month I have learned what it means to be brave."

Sabina and Asma work for the Sindh Rural Support Organization, whose venerated leader, known simply as Dr Sono, describes them as "my commandants".  His team have rescued several thousand villagers and mounted a vast logistics operation to bring cooked food to 60,000 people twice daily.  Just one example of the massive effort Pakistanis are making to take care of their own.
Chris Anderson  •  TED Curator  •  •  "Ideas Worth Spreading"

More news from the Sindh Rural Support Organization here >>

Pakistan flood story 9: The fight to save farm animals...

Along the roads to Karachi runs a seemingly endless, heartbreaking stream of people heading from their flooded villages towards the city. Many refugees have sent their women and children ahead on trucks and are following behind on foot with whatever animals they were able to save.

In his Wednesday post, Chris Anderson wrote, "I am shocked at how many livestock have perished... With agricultural land ruined for perhaps a year, and livestock lost, the short term prospects for these people are bleak indeed."

80% of the flood affected population relies on agriculture and animals for their livelihoods. Around 1.2 million livestock and 6 million poultry have died throughout the country. The hundreds of thousands of animals that have survived are in urgent need of emergency fodder, shelter and veterinary support.

So it's no trivial act that the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), in collaboration with the Karachi Animal Hospital, organized a relief mission to Thatta and Makli in Sindh to provide veterinary treatment to the flood’s animal victims.

The team included veterinarians Dr. Zulfiqar Haider Otho and Dr. Shalla Hayat of the Karachi Animal Hospital, Baqai veterinary students Mashood Ahmed, Mohammad Saifullah and Suroop Chand, volunteers Francis Liaquat Khushi, Emmanual Liaquat Khushi, Benjamin Khushi and Viyay Arif Massieh, and PAWS co-founders Maheen Zia and Mahera Omar.

Again and again PAWS team members spotted men huddled over their collapsed animals, eventually having to leave them behind. Some were trying to help their baby buffaloes back on their feet, but the young animals simply couldn’t keep up with the rest of the herd. There were even reports of people flinging their collapsed cows and buffaloes over the bridge on the Thatta – Sujawal road and into the river water.

On reaching the Thatta – Makli area, the PAWS team spent the day providing veterinary treatment to injured or sick buffaloes, cows, goats and other animals. People eagerly pointed the injured or sick animals in their vicinity. They were extremely grateful for the help -- they cannot afford to lose even one of their animals.

There are over 300,000 animals around Makli for which there is an extreme shortage of fodder (wheat straw) -- it's been either washed away or damaged by silt. With so much farmland inundated, both people and animals have lost a vital source of food.

It was a hot day, with temperatures rising to 40 degrees Celsius. Women, children and small animals huddled under every inch of available shade. A baby buffalo and an old woman took refuge in the shade of a small thorny devi bush. Smaller animals like goats and chickens were generally under the shade of charpais (beds). There was even a duck under one.

Men had taken their livestock out to graze in nearby fields, returning later in the evening. Women walked far to the nearest watering hole to fetch murky water for their families, and for the smaller animals that were too young to walk to the water themselves. We saw a woman by the roadside pouring water on her buffalo’s head to keep it cool.

The care and concern of the people for their animals was evident wherever the team went. Some hadn’t received any relief goods from the government authorities themselves, yet were busy making sure their remaining animals survive.

At least seven trucks of fodder are required to be sent in daily to feed the animal population around Thatta and Makli. Each truck will cost around Rs. 80,000 ($934 USD). A supply chain of food has to be set up on a war footing to prevent starvation amongst the remaining livestock, which are a valuable source of income and draught power for the people. For many poor refugees from small farming communities, their livestock is their only remaining capital.

View all photos here:

Adapted from PAWS blog post

See more news from PAWS here >>

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(posted by Jane Wulf)

Pakistan flood story #8: Day 2. Video snapshots of what it's like to be trapped

Continuing our week in the Pakistan flood-zone, Jacqueline Novogratz and I had our minds blown by what we were seeing and the scale of the task ahead. Today, I simply brought my iphone with me and recorded a few instant rough and ready video impressions, all no more than a minute long. (And because of bandwidth restrictions, I'm running them at low res.) 

First, in the Sukkur area of Sindh we took a boat out into the flood waters. A single massive breach of the Indus has flooded a 5000 square kilometer area of Sindh. New towns were flooded today. The water is full of people wading and jamming makeshift boats to try to get to safety.

At one point we saw a railway washed away. The same fate befell a major highway here.

The incomporable Dr Sono of the Sindh Rural Support Organization (who I'll be writing more of in the next few days) took us to Shikarpur to see part of their food distribution program. They're getting two meals a day to 60,000 people across the region. Plus 6,000 garments for the women, most of whom have nothing but what they're wearing.

A school in Shikarpur was taken over for use by flood victims. Many of the kids were suffering skin complaints, caused by dirty flood-water infection and no ability to change garments.

Compared to the tented villages there was a lot of communal interaction, but also a sense of desperation. No one knew how long they were likely to have stay, nor how they would manage to restart their destroyed farms.

Downstairs the mood was getting tense and a few seconds after the video below was shot, the police insisted we leave.

Back in Sukkur, we visited another school. The conditions seemed worse. The limited latrines couldn't accommodate the number of children suffering from diarrhea. The place stank and was full of flies, but there seemed a greater sense of enterprise. The women had begun organizing clean-up teams. Still the space was seriously cramped. I couldn't begin to imagine the experience of spending three weeks here with perhaps three more months to come. Check out this room:

This room was even smaller and the tale they told was dramatic.

In the next room we found women making the best of the tough circumstances and working on embroidery.

She had finished one gorgeous table-cloth. Jacqueline bought it from her for Rs3000. It seemed to have made her day. It certainly made ours.

We drove back to Sukkur airport in awe at what humans are capable of enduring.

The drama of the 30 trapped Chilean miners has caught the world's attention. But on the other side of the globe, Pakistan's flood victims are facing an equally daunting fate, trapped in desperate, confined spaces. When the miners get out, they will be greeted like heroes. When the people we met today get out, they will be greeted by no one, and will face rebuilding a life from nothing. And instead of 30 heroic, suffering, innocent individuals, there are millions.

Chris AndersonTED Curator"Ideas Worth Spreading"

More news from the Sindh Rural Support Organization here >>

Pakistan flood story #6: Setting up a refugee camp - a photo essay

In the Shikarpur bypass area, thousands of people were living on the roadside and the bridge:
The roads are cutoff by flood waters.  The conditions are terrible, made worse by the hot weather and the inhospitable landscape. If urgent action is not taken, epidemics and medical emergencies are inevitable:

The region, the interior of Sind, is one of the poorest areas of Pakistan. The people living on the roads were already on or below the poverty line. The floods have dealt a devastating blow to them.

Very little aid had reached this area and the Watan Foundation was the only NGO providing organized aid to the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) here. They had managed to set up a registration and a small medical camp.

Food was being provided twice a day. However this was becoming more and more difficult as food and ration vans were starting to get mobbed.

YPO Pakistan (a chapter of the international Young Presidents Organization) came in to work with Wattan to provide essentail materials needed to create a camp to house 1,000 people.

The first day was spent assessing the situation on the ground and scouting for an appropriate location for the camp. This turned out to be a bigger challenge than they had anticipated.

It took until nightfall to secure land near the Shikarpur bypass. The supplies arrived at 2.30 AM that night and the next day was spent setting up the camp.

Views of the site before the camp was set up:

Materials arriving:

Ground cleared and work starts:

People start moving into the camp while work is ongoing:
Waiting for shelter:

Nearing completion:

Finally a reason to smile:


Adapted from a report via Farrukh H. Khan

More news from YPO Pakistan here >>

More news from The Watan Foundation here >>

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If you have a story from the Pakistan floods, please email it to (Pakistan floods: the stories we're not being told

Trusted organizations to support listed here:

(posted by Jane Wulf)

Pakistan flood story #7: After dramatic bridge collapse, villagers construct ingenious chairlift

In the isolated village of Besham in the Swat valley, there's only a bridge to connect this community of 60,000 to the outside world.

And in minutes, flood waters swept it away.

This drastic moment was captured by a local resident on his cellphone camera:

The first thing that hits you is the sheer beauty of the region, and the incredibly clear air. However, up-close there is enormous destruction.

Completely cut-off, the people of Besham had lost most of their belongings and were fast running out of life essentials.

So the community built themselves a hand-pulled chairlift across the river, using what materials they had on-hand.

Precariously balanced over the rapid-flowing water, it's their only access to main roads and supplies.

YPO Pakistan (a chapter of the international Young Presidents Organization) joined the relief work. Two of it's members, Ali Jameel and Farrukh Khan met with a local organization, the Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation (OAKDF) and together have begun laying the foundation for a larger, motorized emergency chairlift.

Local leaders know well what assistance they need. Their hand-drawn map shows all the bridges and road that the flood waters destroyed.

In fact, all the bridges in the entire area have been washed away, as well as the road running parallel to the river. A journey to market that used to take 30 minutes now takes upwards of eight hours. The community is creating a pedestrian path along the river where the old road was. But they still need more chairlifts and temporary bridges.

Farrukh reports that they saw no other NGOs or government relief worker during their visit. There is enormous resolve among the local people to help themselves, yet there's only such much they can do alone.

The community is extremely appreciative of the fact that people from far away are thinking of them and willing to help.

Adapted from a report via Farrukh H. Khan

More news from YPO Pakistan here >>

More news from Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation here >>

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If you have a story from the Pakistan floods, please email it to (Pakistan floods: the stories we're not being told

Trusted organizations to support listed here:

(posted by Jane Wulf)

Safety, trauma and a miracle baby

Here's first of a series of posts from the flood-hit areas of Pakistan. After a month of growing concern at the situation here, my other half Jacqueline Novogratz and I decided we needed to get out here and see first-hand if we could do anything to help.  Jacqueline runs the Acumen Fund and is pondering smart ways to facilitate restoration. I figured I would try to understand the situation better and see if I could bring back some stories that main-stream media in the west aren't likely to bother with. Snapshots of what's happening on the ground.

We arrived in Karachi at 2am this morning, and at 7am joined a relief group flying up-country. First stop is at the Mithankot camp in southern Punjab.  180 tents housing some 2000 people. US-AID tents right alongside those from the Iranian Red Crescent (see below) - amazing who a crisis can bring together.

We spoke with a farmer who arrived with his family two days ago (pictured below). Their home and all possessions swept away two weeks ago.  After two weeks increasingly desperate huddling on open land they heard about this relief camp and made their way here. . . 

Another tent houses 25 people from two families (below). Their homes and all they own, including 100 goats and cows, are gone.  They have no idea what the future holds. The children are traumatized, but still some of them crack up at the sight of their pictures on a digital camera screen.  

The men gather round. They want to work, but have nothing to do. There's a sense of powerlessness, frustration.  There's not enough water. A single makeshift pump-well serves the camp on first-come first-served basis, but the water is constantly running out. Those with many children are unable to get enough.  

Although the human death toll from the floods has been surprisingly low given their staggering scale, I am shocked at how many livestock have perished. Just in this one camp, the men believe that between them they have lost thousands - mainly goats and cows.  Humans could be whisked away by boat, no room for the animals.  With agricultural land ruined for perhaps a year, and livestock lost, the short term prospects for these people are bleak indeed.

It's clear a massive reconstruction effort will be needed. 

At another camp in northern Sindh province, we hear of a miracle baby. Here he is.

Wahir Ali was born two days ago right here in the camp. It's incredible he's alive. Two weeks ago his mother and grandmother were plucked from the flood waters by fellow villagers and they've been sustained at the camp ever since, their home gone.  I'd love to paint this as a joyful tale. It may turn out that way. But right now, the mother is exhausted, the grandmother stressed, and Wahir is running a raging fever, and there's a serious shortage of doctors.... 

We leave the camps on the highway to Shikarpur, the town where I was born (my British father worked in Pakistan as an eye surgeon). Except there's a 12 kilometer section of the road that has been submerged by flood waters.  

We prepare to depart in boats to visit a flooded village, then discover the boats are leaky and the engines breaking down. So instead I'm ending my first day here with a four-hour drive, my head reeling.  How do you communicate the scale of what's happened here? But already I've met a host of smart, passionate Pakistanis determined to help turn disaster into hope.  They speak of new designs for relief tents, of new village facilities built to avoid flooding, of "building back better".  I'll be sharing some of these stories in the next few days.

Chris Anderson TED Curator "Ideas Worth Spreading"

If you have a story from the Pakistan floods, please email it to (Pakistan floods: the stories we're not being told

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Pakistan flood story #4: What was recreation becomes a lifesaver

The flooded regions of Daddu and Shikarpur are among the most difficult areas for aid and relief workers to reach. The terrain is almost impassable.

But this coming Friday -- September 3 -- Faisal Kapadia and Awab Alvi, having received urgent calls for help from there, will embark on a mission to deliver food and supplies.

How is this possible? Faisal and Awab have the machines and skills to make an impossible trip possible -- Jeeps.

Ardent off-roaders, just a few weeks ago neither imagined using their cars and off-roading skills to save lives and bring supplies to such areas.

"We never thought of that," Kapadia said. "But when you see things happen like this, you can't just sit on the side and watch thousands of people die."

Along with members of their unofficial club, Offroaders Pakistan, they have been working to deliver aid to regions others have not been able to reach.

The club was formed to encourage people to learn about and explore the natural beauty of Pakistan. Most of the club members have rebuilt their own Jeeps and are able to fix almost any problem. They're prepared with spare axles, driveshaft crosses, bearings -- along with supplies for those stranded and in desperate need.

They have delivered a week's worth of food rations to over 22,000 people, ready-to-eat meals for one person to 25,000, and shelter for 285 families in the form of durable tents that house up to eight people

They have raised over $24,000 USD online, and more than triple that figure offline. All of this is going to the flood victims and being delivered to them by the Offroader's own hands.


Adapted from a story sent by Faisal Kapadia, an Entrepreneur, Writer, Blogger based in Karachi, Pakistan.

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If you have a story from the Pakistan floods, please email it to (Pakistan floods: the stories we're not being told

Trusted organizations to support listed here:

(posted by Jane Wulf)

Pakistan flood story #3: An entrepreneur takes action is collecting and distributing alerts about flood incidents in Pakistan.

The website’s founder is Islamabad-based technology entrepreneur and TED Fellow Faisal Chohan. Working with him are a team of over 33 volunteers, drawn from professional crisis-mappers and Pakistani postgraduate students in the United States.

When the floods struck, Faisal and his team swung into action, working with Kenya-based to build and deploy the crowd-sourced crisis response platform

Allowing anyone to report their observations of a flooded area by texting 3441 or reporting online, Pakreport collates live information. Once verified by a Pakreport administrator, the information is placed on a map of Pakistan. Pakreport’s process ensures that only reliable information is published, but at the same time gives space for potentially life-saving information to be noted from private individuals.

It prevents duplication of efforts and brings to relief agencies’ attention areas where people need help. Amnesty International has recognised the website's utility, as has the Ministry of Information and a number of media outlets. Several agencies are using Pakreport.

So far the website has logged 1,523 reports. An increased awareness and use of the initiative will streamline flood relief.

Past initiatives like PakReport have been effective in saving lives. Using Google Earth in conjunction with the Ushahidi platform, students at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston instant-messaged with the United States Coast Guard in Haiti, telling them where to search.

Visit here >>


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If you have a story from the Pakistan floods, please email it to (Pakistan floods: the stories we're not being told

Trusted organizations to support listed here:

(posted by Jane Wulf)

Pakistan flood story #1: Three rented vehicles

It was still dark and the sky was calm. Trees rustled quietly and all went as usual. It wasn't long before people were to awake for a normal day.

But, at the first light of dawn, people began running desperately down the streets of Thatta. Word was spreading like wildfire that the Soorjani Band had broken. Water had flooded villages nearby, and was heading towards Sijawal, Daro, Mir pur Bathoro and the main city of Thatta district. In mere minutes, the lives of almost a million people were at stake.

Chaos spread as, all at once, hundreds of families had to flee, taking only what they could grab as they rose from sleep. Everyone was laden with whatever they could carry, some only clutching their children as they ran.

Participatory Development Initiative [PDI] is a not-for-profit working on behalf of local communities in Pakistan, especially women. As they too awoke to the panic, the team in Thatta knew the most urgent need was to help this evacuation. But they only had one truck on hand. Despite the chaos, a few members of the team managed to get  outside of Thatta to where they thought they could rent vehicles of some kind. As quickly as possible they returned with the only three things available: two buses and a wagon.

By evening of that first terrible day, the roads leading out of Thatta were still jam packed with people moving on foot and trucks. Dust-covered and panting, the PDI team moved with them, rushing in and out of the district.
It was night when they realized there were still 15 families stranded, struggling to get out of a village -- a group of 35 men, 46 women and 55 children. The group was in tears when the PDI team arrived, waiting for help that had not come. The children were terrified that the water would soon sweep them away. It took PDI two round-trips and six hours to bring the group to safety, but finally all were evacuated.

Since then, those three vehicles have made hundreds of trips to the interior of Thatta, picking up families, taking them to a safe place and coming back for more. The team has saved about 7,000 families inside Sijawal, Thatta City and Mir Pur Bathoro.

The region, once a hub of fishing communities, is now barren. Thatta awaits complete flooding of Sijawal, Daro, Mirpur Bathoro, ares which held a population of half a million people.

There are half a million people, living under the open sky. They can breath safely, but have lost everything.


Adapted from a story by Khalida Brohi, Participatory Development Initiatives

See more news from PDI here >>

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If you have a story from the Pakistan floods, please email it to (Pakistan floods: the stories we're not being told

Trusted organizations to support listed here:

(posted by Jane Wulf)

Pakistan flood story #2: Self-initiated relief from Karachi

My name is Arsalan Ahmed, I live in Karachi Pakistan, the biggest City of Pakistan, in the Sindh region. I was very surprised to read your kind and generous views about Pakistan, that unfortunately the world does not have.

I am the General Secretary of The Rotaract Club of Karachi Karsaz, (Rotaract is a Rotary-sponsored service club for young men and women ages 18 to 30).

My Club has opened relief camps across Karachi since the inception of the flood. I am proud to let you know that we collected over 1 million Pakistani rupees. (~$12,000 USD (the average monthly salary in Pakistan is ~$41 USD/month))

We bought relief items with that money, making boxes for the effected families. Each carton can help a family survive for a week or even more. Each carton includes the following items:
2kg Rice
2kg Flour
1kg Sugar
2 ltr mineral water
1 ltr Cooking oil.
1 kg lentils
1kg beans
one packet of biscuit
1 packet (300gms) Tea
one packet milk Powder
2 ltr Milk (liquid)
Pain Killer Medicines
ORS, Glucose

We also provided clothes and tents separately.

All of the material that we bought was taken personally by us, regardless of the risks we have faced on the way. We went to Khairpur, Sukkur, Jamshoro, Hyderabad , Latifabad and Qasimabad. All of which are areas intensely effected areas in the Sindh region.

The situation is terrible everywhere, lack of clean water being the biggest issue. I believe people are getting sick from drinking unhygienic water. People have lost every thing. Their lands, their families, their animals, everything they had.

According to what I saw, sadly it is going to take years to recover and build back the infrastructure.

Arsalan Ahmed

If you have a story from the Pakistan floods, please email it to (Pakistan floods: the stories we're not being told

Trusted organizations to support listed here:

(posted by Jane Wulf)