Disasters seem to be happening all the time now. Maybe climate change is the culprit. But when they happen to you or to people you know, it becomes very personal. I get that. And I know most Americans don’t know the people in Pakistan who have just had their homes and lives swept away in the worst flooding in eighty years, but let me share with you why you should care as if they were your own family.
Our country manager, Farid Rahman, wrote to me this morning to thank us, saying, “[W]e are very much happy that you are working heart and soul to raise funds for the flood victims in Pakistan.” Actually, I think we should all be “working our heart and soul” to support and be in solidarity with these people. Here’s why: 1) there are millions of people suddenly in need; 2) we can ease their suffering; 3) this is a strategic region important for long-term peace.
As flood damage in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly the North-West Frontier Province) increases, and larger numbers of Pakistanis are displaced from their homes (now estimated at three million), it is becoming clear that the response to Pakistan’s crisis needs to be quick, efficient, and comprehensive. While BRAC staff in the area expect the water to recede in two or three days, they report that many families have watched their homes wash away and both the food shortage and health risks are now dire.
To make matters more complicated, the region of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa also precariously borders Afghanistan, sandwiched by militants passing through from both sides. Pakistanis living in the region not only have to endure severe development challenges—poor maternal mortality rates, child mortality rates, and education services—but they also essentially live in a war zone. The Khyber Pass at the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan serves as a supply route for U.S. NATO forces in Afghanistan with a simultaneous flow in the opposite direction of Taliban members fleeing to the mountains of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
As the New York Times just reported in an Op-Ed, a strong majority of Pakistanis hold an unfavorable view of both the United States as well as their own president, Asif Ali Zardari. In this gap, Islamic charities (some with alleged ties to militant groups) have stepped in to help the Pakistanis in the region and win good favor. We should be doing at least as much if not better.
I visited this part of Pakistan and was inspired to meet the women who were working for BRAC. These well-educated and strong women stood in stark contrast to the war zone around them, and they were proud to be enabling themselves and other women as agents of change. Now, most of them have also lost their homes, and ten of the twelve branches in the region were flooded. Nevertheless, they are working to provide relief to members of the community. BRAC staff is providing food and water to thousands of families. Dr. Zubair has set up an emergency medical camp at the Nowshera Club to respond to urgent health needs. Small amounts make a real different. A large family can eat cooked food and have clean water for less than three dollars a day.
If you need to make this real and personal then think about Bahat Zaree. She is a BRAC microfinance client in Peshawar, a widow. Her seven children range in age from two to twelve. When her husband passed away, Bahat turned to BRAC to take out a loan, using the money to start a business selling cosmetics door-to-door. Carrying her products in a basket on her head, Bahat would visit between twenty to twenty-five houses per day. Before the floods she said, “My children are now eating better, and now three of my children are in school. I want more BRAC loan to grow my business.”
I shiver now wondering if Bahat is all right, if her house is still standing, and if she will be able to recover the business that she worked so hard to build. Bahat, and the other incredible women I met, are who I think of now in this time of need—them, their kids, husbands and other relatives. They are real people, not statistics. They are just like most of us—playful, working hard, wanting a better life. Today, they need our help. Please spread the word. Please give generously.
By Susan Davis for Tonic