Humanity amidst the horror. an unforgettable video

When Jacqueline Novogratz and I returned last week from our visit to Pakistan's flood hit areas, we couldn't get out of our heads the faces of the people we'd seen -- in equal measures beautiful... haunting... hopeless...  hopeful...  These faces are the best possible answer to the insane indifference so much of the world has shown in response to this crisis, which by any objective measure is one of the worst this century.  

We wanted to spread the word about what we'd seen, so we wrote to one of our heroes Peter Gabriel and he generously agreed to let us use an unforgettable song of his as the soundtrack to a video that will show you the people we met.

Every one of these people has lost almost everything they own: their homes, their possessions, their animals...  in most cases, all but the clothes they're wearing.  Please stop what you're doing for 5 minutes, take a deep breath, sit down next to someone you care about, click the full-screen button below the video, and then press play. 

If it's too slow to load, you can do a lower-res version below (but the high-res version is preferable).

If this moved you, please point other people to this video.  And to find out more, including a shortlist of trusted, effective organizations to give to, please visit http:/

Thank you.

Pakistan flood story 19: Hope Floats. The Community Rafts of Fizagat, Pakistan

The Karachi chapter of Architecture for Humanity is working on post-flood assessments, in partnership with the Karachi Relief Fund.

On Sunday, September 5th, the team was surveying a potential site at Fizagat, near Saidu Shaif. They were stunned by what they found. A village that has designed their way out of the floods and into economic recovery.

Chapter leader Mahboob Khan explained, "The SWAT riverbed is over 300m wide at this point, with both sides of the river supporting large populations. During our trip we stumbled across an ingenious series of handmade rafts made from tire tubes and bamboo by local villagers. At least 50 of these rafts were seen crossing the water with a number under construction."

Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity has this to say about the rafts: "This 'found' project is a clear example of a local innovation working without international aid and communities working collaboratively to design a better future. For all the talk on 'design for change' it is those who are on the ground and challenged every day that prove once again that creativity is an instinctive trait in the human ability to survive. For those of us who fund projects it is our role to embrace and support this natural instinct and not crush it with the weight of predetermined international response."

For more about this project, more photos, and to learn about the Open Architecture Network (OAN), please click here.

Pakistan flood story 18: Sending in Lifesaver jerrycans to tackle the drinking water crisis

  One of the terrible ironies of the floods is that despite all that water, the single biggest need is...  water.  Water that's safe to drink. The flood waters are full of all manner of dirt and microbes, and as they start to subside and stagnate, the risk of infection through water-borne parasites, including cholera, rockets.  At the relief camps we visited, severe diarrhea, especially of babies and children, was the number 1 health problem.

So what to do? Some generous donors have tried to ship in bottled water, but this can't scale. There are up to 20m people displaced.  It's an expensive, short-term solution. A whole truck load would be needed to supply a single camp for a week.

In some areas there is good ground water 50 feet below the surface. Here, a great solution is a simple hand pump.  They're available locally, cost approximately $50, and depending on the terrain, it may be quick and simple to drill down into the water.  Below 40 feet, most parasites have been filtered out. 

But in many areas, the water is harder to get to, and is often foul-tasting, or brackish. On the other hand, there are copious amounts of (dirty) surface water available.  These situations seem to call out for some kind of filter technology.  As Jacqueline and I pondered whether we could help, we remembered the spectacular demo given at TEDGlobal last summer by Michael Pritchard.  He had invented a "Lifesaver" filter which extracted dirt, bacteria, even right down to the smallest viruses.   He filled a tank with disgusting dirty water, added some sewage, then pumped it through his filter and offered me to drink the water. It tasted perfect. (You can view his short talk here.)

The company Michael set up to manufacture his invention is still fairly small, and most of the major relief agencies have not yet had a chance to experiment with it. So we decided to take a chance and see if we could help introduce it to a situation which seemed tailor-made for it. At TED he had demoed a bottle, but the best product for the relief camps seemed to be the larger 5-gallon/20-liter jerrycan.  Each of these cans, if used intensively, can turn 600 liters of muddy flood water every day into pure drinking water.  They can continue up to 15,000 liters each, before the filters need replacing.  A single truckload could deliver the same water capacity as 750 trucks carrying bottled water.  

When we contacted Michael, he too had been trying to figure out how to help in Pakistan. Medecins Sans Frontier had taken some of his Lifesaver jerrycans, but he had 500 still sitting in a warehouse unused.  Jacqueline and I purchased them and donated them to the Pakistani foundation run by the remarkable Ali Siddiqui who arranged a rapid airlift to bring them to Pakistan. He is running logistics operations to many of the 1500 UN relief camps in the country, and believes these will be invaluable in many circumstances.

Here are the jerrycans being packed for the flight...
Distribution of them began yesterday.  Michael himself flew out to oversee training and has been blogging about the experience here.   Here's his picture of the first recipients.

The jerrycans were filled from this water:

In theory, the 500 jerrycans should be able to deliver 7.5m liters of clean water to people who desperately need it. But we're nervous about it. A lot could go wrong.  

What if they're delivered to locations that don't really need them?  What if people, desperate for their families, steal them, or fight over them? (The initial experiment involves chaining several jerrycans together to increase capacity and make stealing harder. Also, careful allocation to camp managers, and to frontline mobile medical units.)   But still, what if they're not properly used?  There are too many examples of well-meaning aid offers that just don't cut it in the real world. Indeed Jacqueline's life's work at Acumen Fund has been devoted to finding solutions that are market-based and sustainable for the long-term.

So part of our rationale for the contribution is: it's a worthwhile experiment.  Some will be used well, and those that aren't we can learn from.  Just possibly there's a business to be built in Pakistan based on this technology where relief agencies are the customers. Already Ali and Michael are talking of the possibility of manufacturing locally to bring price and distribution time way down.

Hopefully at least some will benefit, and if proven effective, future disaster situations will have another powerful tool at their disposal.

Although we're now back in New York after our tour of Pakistan flood areas, we'll be tracking this closely, and will tell you what we learn, for better or worse.  

Meanwhile our huge thanks to Michael for his brilliance and persistence (and generous pricing), and to Ali for taking on the tricky aspect of distribution and oversight.

(Posted by Chris Anderson)

Pakistan flood story 17: I Dream of Urooj

This is Urooj. She is nine years old. She was born in the villages of Jacobabad. Her father is a farmer. She has seven brothers and three sisters. She loves playing with babies and is so happy that her mother has given her a baby brother just last week. “I wanted a sister, but brother is okay too.” 

She has the biggest grin on her face as she watches us distribute the food. When an old woman comes knocking on our car window, Urooj is dancing in the background making twirling gestures with her fingers. “She’s crazy”, she mouths to me. “This old woman is crazy, ignore her, ignore her!” She lets out a peal of laughter when the old woman turns and swats at her.

She is a natural leader. Other children crowd around her. They follow her where she goes and sits when she sits. Even the older boys shush when she says shush. “They are excited because of the food,” she explains.

She loves cold cucumbers. When I tell her I will come visit her again, she says with a passion, with such an air of authority, its almost a command: “You must bring me cucumbers.” I really must. She has convinced me of the necessity of cold cucumbers in life.

She is disdainful of the management of her camp. “They say food will come, but it doesn’t. We got food only once yesterday. It wasn’t enough for everybody. What’s the point in lying to us?” I don’t try and explain the magnitude of the crisis to her but I admire her practical tone.

She announces her name to anyone who will listen. I ask her if she knows what it means. She hesitates and I fill in the silence “Rising, ascension, greatness, higher, up in the skies.” I keep adding synonyms and her smile grows wider and wider. She understands it is a powerful name.

When I tell her she is beautiful, she laughs. There is an acquiescent acknowledgement in that laughter. She has heard this before I am sure of it. I am scared she has heard this before. Right before I was leaving for the camp, I saw a news report about girls being abducted from the camps. But right now, this little piece of magic tugs at her lime green tunic and tosses her golden brown hair. I am breathless.

When I ask if I can take her picture, she crosses her arms in front of her, raises her chin proudly and smiles. I take a close up and then turn the digital camera around so she can see it. She frowns. “Take another one.” She steps back a few paces, out of the shadow of the car and into the sunlight. “Now take it.” She is pleased with the second result.

I tell her I must leave now. “Will you come again?” she asks, her smile faltering for the first time. I make promises that I only pray I can keep. She shoos the children back from the car. They have been standing with their noses pressed against the windows. The children run on to the next amusement, but she stays. She stands and she waves and waves and waves as we drive away. She has the biggest grin on her face.

There is something choking my heart. I feel like throwing my head up to the sky and howling. This is a smart, beautiful, interesting, sassy, funny little person. There must be thousands more like her. Will they spend the days of their lives living under two metres of cloth, waiting for food that never comes? In the right place, at the right time, with the right help, this girl could do wonders. Why her? Why me? What is fair, what is not? Is asking that question kufr? What can I do for this girl? Will it make a difference? What is the point of anything? I am angry and I cannot explain why.

I will be grateful for the opportunities and privileges of my life later. For now…I dream of Urooj.

Khuda tujhe Urooj aisa naseeb kare
kay rashk tere naseeb per falak kare
har more per farishtay hon saath tere
har gham par hifazat tairi Khuda kare…

-- This was written by a young woman Hiba, who visited a relief camp.

Pakistan flood story 16: These babies urgently need your help

Just received this video from Dr Awab Avi, fresh back from a visit to a pediatric ward overwhelmed by flood victims. 

Watch if you dare...

Dr. Awab Alvi takes you through a walk-thru tour of the Pediatric ward at the Civil Hospital Shikarpur to show the deplorable conditions.

The ward looks after only the most severe cases. There are three natal wards with a total of 20 beds, which now hold over 100 children. Some generous donor had air-conditioners installed, making it barely livable. Once you walk out of the rooms, the stench and the heat of the hallway is unimaginable. Toilets down the hall are over-flooding beyond belief.

Team members from OffroadPakistan visited the ward, and desperately want to make a difference. They need help to raise funds and expertise to save the lives of these gentle little kids. Dreaming big, they hope to revamp the entire Civil Hospital in this area, as a long-lasting measure for this impoverished city.

You can donate at

Pakistan flood story 15: The banker who's spent the last month doing flood relief work

2010-09-02-heroesjpg Across Pakistan, uncommon heroes are arising in response to the worst natural devastation in the country's history. One of them is Ali Siddiqui, head of the JS Group, a financial services conglomerate employing 23,000 with stakes in companies in transportation, agriculture, energy and the like. Though only 33 years old, Ali is a man of vision, courage and great spirit. While too many complain that government isn't providing services, he and his family and employees have just gotten on with the business of bringing their skills and resources to do what they can against the odds -- which is ultimately what it takes to bring about change.

Ali has mobilized the family's companies owned by the JS Group to set up and run five camps serving more than 10,000 displaced individuals and providing food supplies to more than 20,000. He works with the army, the military, the UN and grassroots NGOs, and in this way, has created strong relationships that have allowed the camps to function relatively smoothly. He spends five days a week in southern Punjab and Sindh, problem-solving, troubleshooting and ensuring the steady flow of what has become a major operation. His family has donated significant financial resources, but what amazes me is how they've mobilized others to enable them to give, having raised nearly $1 million for their relief efforts in the camps.

Ali has 15 or 20 of the company's senior people working closely with him on everything from partnerships to logistics to working with the United Nations. Rather than wait for international food rations, his team works through bank offices to identify the best prices at local markets and puts together packages that feed 20,000 people daily. Ali's beautiful wife Saira and brother-in-law (also named Ali) spend considerable time fundraising and giving other types of support.

We visited three of the camps with Ali and a small team, meeting military officers and police who provided us security, speaking with camp residents and listening to the stories of children survivors. We were amazed by the efficiency of operations and the strong relationships among different organizations working together. Mostly, we were humbled by Ali's leadership. Indeed, one of his slightly younger employees, Imran, told me that he was in the camps because Ali inspired him daily to give all he can to the world.

As David Bowie sings, "We can be heroes." Ali Siddiqui and the JS Group are showing the power of the private sector to move quickly, nimbly and efficiently. He is saving lives and changing perceptions of what role business can play in responding to crisis and in building a country that needs to believe in itself. It starts with leadership, and Pakistan -- and the world -- needs more individuals like Ali Siddiqui to show the way.

If you want to donate directly, please give to the Mahvash And Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation, go here.

It's possible to donate to Ali's foundation from anywhere in the world with a credit card or Paypal account - a fantastic way to contribute to flood relief efforts

(Posted by Jacqueline Novogratz)

Pakistan flood story 14: Joining the relief efforts

Muneeza Kazi, who lives in Karachi, felt driven to get involved in relief work. She writes about her experience:

"I started by collecting donations from friends, family and contacts. These were added to the relief activities of my employer (a well known International Bank), with the collaboraton of the NGOs Hope and Red Crescent. We collected $25,000 USD and donation-in-kind -- enough to fill up a large container.

We set off on Friday September 3, 2010, taking a truck load of food and relief materials to Thatta District in the Sindh Province.

When we reached the destination, what struck me most was the utter magnitude of the disaster. There were people all over, thousands, some with the luck of having received tents, some without. No facilities for garbage disposal or temporary toilets, and a lack of any organized governmental system of distribution or database for ascertaining who and where is in need of relief.

I saw donation-in-kind arriving. But what was missing were volunteers to help out with the packing and distribution of goods, information on areas in dire need of help, and facilities to reach those areas. Not just food is needed, but things like rubber boats, building material, seeds, fertilizers.

Helping the victims who've been brought into urban relief camps is somewhat easier. But many people have decided not to go to the camps. Finding whatever dry land they can to perch on, they chose to stay closer to what's left of ther homes, belongings and animals. Their fear is that if they're forced to evacuate farther, they'll have to sell their animals at a fraction of their worth.

I realized that it actually requires a real experience to truly feel the gravity of a situation. Watching the plight of the flood victims on TV may arouse a distant sympathy. But when I saw them face-to-face, saw the sick children, watched the naked hunger written in their parched faces, and witnessed fights over food and water, only then did I realize how huge the problem is, and how badly these people need help.

This has only persuaded me to plan another relief trip to the region, this time into the more remote regions to help provide shelter to the victims."

-- Muneeza Kazi, 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 13: In makeshift classrooms, children in flooded Pakistan go to school

Via UNICEF Newsline

Millions of children have been devastated by the disastrous floods in Pakistan. They have lost homes and possessions and have been forced to relocate to temporary accommodations. But the crisis has also brought opportunity. Saima, 10, is going to school for the first time. In just 12 days she has learned how to count and read the alphabet. She has begun to write and is memorizing poems. 

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Tahira
Flood-affected Saima, 10, lives in a UNICEF-supported camp in the Rahim Yar Khan district of Pakistan's Punjab province.

Temporary schools

Saima lives in Rahim Yar Khan district in Pakistan’s Punjab province, where some 8 million people have been affected by the floods. The district government has established 30 relief camps and 13 tent villages to shelter desperate families.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-1631/Ramoneda
Children and women sleep in a school in Karachi, Pakistan. The school is one of many that has been turned into a shelter for people displaced by flooding.

Saima’s family came to the camp 10 days ago. The bright-eyed girl is the is the youngest of six children. Her father is hearing impaired and her three brothers used to go to school back in their village. But she was forced to stay home and help her mother because her grandfather refused to allow her to be educated.

More than 12,000 children in the flood-stricken provinces have been given the opportunity to continue education at 73 Temporary Learning and Recreation Centres established with UNICEF’s support.

Officials estimate that 11,000 schools have been destroyed by the floods. More than 6,000 others are being used as shelter for the more than one million people displaced throughout the country. Temporary school structures are helping to ensure that school-aged children among the affected population do not miss out on class until their permanent schools are reconstructed.

Safety and support

UNICEF provides School-in-a-Box and recreational kits with games and sports equipment to facilitate the re-opening of classes. The temporary schools are also supplied with seating mats, blackboards and stationery.

Children are provided a safe and supportive environment while parents work to re-build their lives. In the education centres, girls and boys also get the opportunity to play and learn in a protected environment with caregivers, who assist them in addressing issues such as gender-based violence cope with the effects of the flood.

Saima is just one of thousands of children whose lives have changed forever by this disaster. But UNICEF and its partners are working to ensure that the change is ultimately for the better.

“It’s my lifetime dream coming true,” said Saima about her first time at school. “Please ask my mother to promise that she will let me continue my school when we go back home.”

-- By Tahira Sharafat

Read more about UNICEF's work in Pakistan >>

* * *

(posted by Jane Wulf)

Pakistan story 12: What's the right design for a relief camp?

Every flood relief camp we've visited has been set up differently, and it's intriguing to speculate how much the design impacts the camp's effectiveness.  Two we visited today appeared to have a dramatically better atmosphere than either the tented villages we saw in Punjab or the school-based camps in Shikarpur and Sukkur.

Was it caused by:
- different tent design?
- different tent layout (circular instead of row after row)?
- existence of a large communal area?
- provision of rations to be cooked, vs cooked food?
- easy access to clean water on demand?
- good latrines at decent distance from the camp?
- toys or other activities for the children?

Or perhaps it was more down to other causes like whether the residents shared common language and tribal loyalties, and whether they had been able to bring with them belongings like mattresses. cooking utensils, spare clothes and their animals.  

I suspect there is no shortage of knowledge on most of these issues, it's just not as widely circulated as it might be, and much of it has to be rediscovered by a new set of local NGOs every time there's a new disaster.  

Here are some rough and ready impressions on two of the camps we visited today.  The first was striking for its design of two groupings of about 50 tents each situated around a large open communal space. It seemed to really work, and even though the residents had arrived just four days earlier, they seemed incredibly well settled in.  One key difference. They had been able to bring their livestock with them, so during the day, the men were fully occupied, taking them to graze. At other camps, with all their livestock gone along with everything else, there was an air of utter despondency.

Rashid Bhajwa, whose remarkable non-profit, the National Rural Support Organization, was running this camp - and dozens of others, told me they'd found that 100 families was a magic number for relief camps, keeping them at human scale. They had happened on the circular design, saw its effectiveness, and had tried to incorporate it whenever space allowed.  Across Pakistan his organization had created camps and food provisions for more than 140,000 displaced people.

Traveling with us was a dynamic Pakistani entrepreneur Adnan Asdar who has built a series of logistics companies, but in times of disaster drops everything to work on relief. In conjunction with another nonprofit the Karachi Relief Trust,  he has been setting up a dozens of camps, bringing in clean water via a series of Life Straw gravity powered filters and creating facilities to provided cooked food for all residents. Here they are in action:

There we also met a dozen student volunteers from Karachi University, assisting in putting up tents and digging latrines.  Small touches like the provision of cricket and soccer equipment add to the sense of an organization going above and beyond.  After the terror of the march away from the inrushing water, these places seemed like extraordinary safe-havens. And although some tents and equipment had been donated from overseas, all the internal logistics were Pakistani-managed. Daunting, but hugely impressive.

Chris Anderson  •  TED Curator  •  •  "Ideas Worth Spreading"

Pakistan flood story 11: A wet ride to a ghost town

We had an unbelievable trip today to the submerged town of Sujawa in Sindh, Pakistan. The floods hit it just four days ago and Its 40,000 residents had 24 hours notice to get out. Even though the waters had since subsided a couple of feet, the road to the town took us through an endless vista of flood waters as far as the eye could see. Here's the start of the trip (1 min).

The road continued past numerous dying animals. We counted five dead dogs, others on their last legs, several buffalo being picked over by crows. A few farmers had stuck stubbornly with their properties. Several were very visibly armed against intruders. Others had unrolled fishing nets and were successfully pulling in small fish -- from terrain that less than a week ago was miles from the river. Sujawa itself was still largely under water, and we couldn't enter more than 30 feet or so by vehicle. Apart from a handful of adventurous souls exploring a possible return, it was completely deserted, its residents in the relief camps or making do in makeshift shelters along the highway. Not a single fatality was reported in the evacuation... but the destruction of property and business in the whole area beggared belief... and this is just one tiny part of the flood zone.


Chris Anderson  •  TED Curator  •  •  "Ideas Worth Spreading"