Aurat Foundation’s response to the floods

(By Dr Masuma Hasan, Chairman, Pakistan Institute of International Affairs)

The Indus River floods almost every year. After the flood recedes, the people living along its banks repair their homes and shops and pick up the threads of life again. In some years, the flooding is acute and the government, civil society and other donors mobilise to bring relief to those left homeless and destitute.

Dr Masuma Hasan

This year, the floods have been described by some, as the worst natural disaster in the history of mankind. Devastation? Tragedy? Calamity? None of these words truly describe the magnitude of what has struck disaster-prone Pakistan. As if terrorism and the war against it had not caused misery and displacement enough. It is estimated that 20 million people have been affected by the monsoon rains and the Indus flood which has broken dykes and embankments and submerged millions of acres of land. Hundreds of towns, villages and hamlets have been evacuated. People are on the move, desperately seeking a patch of dry ground and the means of survival.

The impact of this disaster will be felt for generations to come. The gains Pakistan’s economy, infrastructure, industry, health and education sectors had made have been washed away by the angry Indus. Heritage sites have been destroyed. Sludge covers the land, many feet deep. Crops, livestock and fodder have been lost, public and private records of governance, education, businesses and landownership have drowned. Stocks of grain and rice have been swept away. Who will sow the next crop? Epidemics and disease threaten our land.

In these most tragic circumstances, Aurat Foundation, (‘aurat’ literally means ‘woman’) a non-governmental women’s rights and empowerment organisation, has launched a flash appeal for assistance, under the banner “Motherland Flood Relief Campaign.” I have been a member of the Board of Governors of Aurat since it was founded in 1986 and am now also its Treasurer.

The assistance provided by Aurat Foundation will target women, children, the elderly and special people with a focus on nutrition, health and hygiene, especially for women. For this purpose, we have mobilised our unique grassroots network, painstakingly developed over the last 24 years through citizens’ action committees in all the 110 administrative districts of Pakistan. The members of these committees were in the vanguard of our relief effort during the killer earthquake of 2005. Also through groups of women leaders identified and groomed in 38 districts. We have already started providing food hampers and hygiene assistance and, through our formal and informal networks, started receiving donations.

Aurat Foundation’s special website for flood relief can be accessed at www.af.org.pk/motherland

Our international partners, Women’s Learning Partnership, have also launched an appeal at

http://www.learningpartnership.org/en/partners/pakistan/flood-relief

Pakistan and its people have many years of hard work ahead of them because the tasks of rehabilitation and reconstruction will be monumental, especially for a poor country. Rebuilding educational institutions, especially girls’ schools and colleges, health care systems and homes which have disappeared, reconstructing roads, bridges and embankments, reclaiming the boundaries of landownership, sowing the next crop, and restarting businesses. Providing livelihoods and employment and, at the same time, trying to prevent social unrest and restoring the social support systems which have been shattered. Above all, healing broken hearts and bruised souls.

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