Journalism Blog

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The wait continues…

Three months after floods wrecked insurmountable devastation an estimated 10 million children still remain affected by its fury – some 2.8 million among them under age 5. Thirty percent of the areas still remain inaccessible due to flood waters.  The chances of cholera and dengue breaking out in the relief camps are extremely high. 350,000 people are still on the move in Sindh, trying to flee further surge

Anxious lady with her child

Each family, each house and each face has a story to tell, the story of the devastation that surprisingly went unnoticed by the a majority of the world. Repeated appeals by the ‘who’s who’ of the world are not converting into the urgently needed funds for the displaced. Former President Bill Clinton called for action and commitment for Pakistan at this year’s annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.  UNHCR ambassador Angelina Jolie’s repeated appeals to the media for further intense coverage and more aid also did not yielded very little.

District Co-ordination Officer of Dadu, Iqbal Memon said that of Dadu and Johi, Johi was the most threatened by the advancing floods. “The floodwaters are fast heading towards Johi town after inundating most parts of Khairpur Nathan Shah and Mehar towns and several surrounding villages in Dadu district,” he told the Associated Press. Similarly, each province has a separate story, a separate set of problems that it has to deal with.

There have been allegations of corruption. The Sindh High Court has issued notices to the Sindh chief secretary, Irrigation and Power Department secretary, Thatta District Coordination Officer (DCO), National Assembly member (MNA) and three non-governmental organisations on a petition regarding indiscretions and corruption in the distribution of flood aid and Watan Cards to the flood victims of Thatta district. There have been cases of relief being denied to the survivors. On such example being the Sukkur camp in the Sindh province. Relief has been denied because they did not have their IDs with them. They had fled their homes with whatever they could carry as rising floodwater inundated their towns and villages.

Documentation of the flood affected regions by two leading social workers of Pakistan gives a very vivid picture of how severe the devastation was. Huma Beg returned to flood-stricken Swat shortly after floods hit the region. “The difference I saw was incredible. Where orchards once stood, there was nothing – a wasteland of water and stones,” says Huma.  Noor Aftab a board member of the Shahina Aftab Foundation was appalled the situation in the relief camps. “I was horrified how many cases of acute diarrhea there are. People in camps we visited have been wearing the same clothes and in come cases they haven’t been able to wash their hands in ten days,” says Noor.

These are the various accounts that reinforce the fact that the wait needs to be brought to an end. The survivors need to be accessed and aid provided as soon as possible

Recomended Links : (The World Federation Pakistan flood relief 2010)


Breathing Bridges of Meghalaya

Breathtaking is the only word that can gauge the response of the numerous travelers who get the chance to see this wonder of nature. Who knew that the simple use of betel nut trunks can create stable structures that could last for centuries?

The Live Root bridges are the most commonly seen architecture over small or big rivulets the tribals of Meghalaya use to cross them. The East Khasi Hills of the state inhabited primarily by the War-Khasi tribe primarily is the region where these bridges dominate the communication channels. As the wettest place on earth (450in rainfall yearly), any kind of construction is very difficult in this region. But these bridges existed long before artificial bridges came into wide usage. The Khasis, faced with the challenge of crossing the streams, noticed the strong roots of the Indian Rubber Bush (Ficus elastica) and carved out a technique to convert them into bridges. Discovered by Denis P. Rayen in the beginning of the present millennium, these bridges had a close shave with extinction as the Khasis wanted bridges of steel and concrete. He had to convince the tribals of the commercial feasibility of bridges to save them from being demolished.

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Ingenious Bioengineering

The Fiscus elastica usually grows among rocks next to water. The tree is well adapted to the local conditions of heavy rainfall and high erosion, is epiphytic (growing on other plants) in its juvenile stages and its secondary roots always grow towards the light. It is this characteristic that the Khasis exploit, training these roots to spread laterally along hollowed-out trunks of betel palm that have been placed across the stream. In order to make the rubber tree’s roots grow in the right direction, like over a river, the Khasis used betel nut trunks, sliced them midway and hollowed it out to create the root-guidance system. The thin, tender roots of the rubber tree, prevented from fanning out by the betel nut trunks, grew straight out. On reaching the other side of the river, the roots were just allowed to grow into the soil. Given enough time, a sturdy, living bridge is produced.

The bridge can take anywhere from 10 to 15 years to grow into a stable structure. But once done it has the strength to hold the weight of almost 50 people at a time. The bridges just keep becoming stronger as the roots grow with time. Most of them are usually more 500 years old.

The most special and one of its kind is the “Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge.” It is a double layered live root bridge. With the popularization of these bridges, the traffic of tourist has increased manifold in the past few years. Increasing number of adventurers, travelers and trekkers have found incredible curiosity drawing them towards these amazing architectures of nature (manipulated slightly by humans). The Khasis are still growing the bridges out of roots. A place where any kind of modern construction will fail, the tribal are going green by making the most out of what nature is providing. And doing so rightly as well.

Related links :

Biggest human crisis, hugely under-reported

Pakistan faced the most devastating flood in 80 years that has crippled socio economic conditions in that country. The flood has killed 1,600, knocked down bridges, destroyed homes and submerged farmland. Twenty million out of the total 170 million population have been affected in Pakistan. Seven million are still without shelter according to a report of the United Nation’s Pakistan office.

NASA's ASTER Captures New Image of Pakistan Flooding


Appeal for estimated $46 million was issued by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon after assessing the disaster. He declared it to be the worst humanitarian crisis in the living memory. But as of yet it has just received 50 percent of the total estimate. The UN databases show that the Pakistan floods have received considerably less aid than for example, the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year or the earthquake in Pakistani administered Kashmir in 2005.Twenty days after the onset of the flood the UN Emergency Appeal just had over $200m.Over the same period in 2005, the Kashmir earthquake had acquired $580m and 20 days after the Haiti earthquake it had pulled in $470m of confirmed promises.

The current 1,600 death toll in Pakistan represents only a tiny fraction of the estimated 610,000 people killed in the three previous events. But two million more people are suffering losses requiring long or short-term help. Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: “This disaster is worse than the tsunami, the 2004 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake.” About one-fifth of the country is under water.

The floods began with heavy rains in the country’s north-east in late July and continued as the water swelled through the length of the Indus Valley over the next two months. More people were displaced in Sindh, the country’s southern-most province, than anywhere else, although authorities had weeks of warning about the impending floods. The vast majority of those now lacking shelter are from Sindh. The Northern Province is the worst affected.

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According to the Government of Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority the floods killed 1,961 people. But these figures could still rise sharply due to the spread of disease in relief camps, inadequate food aid, and the disruption of the country’s food supply. There is a huge fear of famine breaking out in the relief camps. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, “What happened was never expected. In the history of the whole sub-continent there was never such a disaster.” Most of the displaced have to drink unsafe water.

The country is also facing a huge refugee crisis. Ziarat Gul, an Afghan refugee who spent three decades building a new life in neighboring Pakistan, are lacking basic sanitation and pure drinking water amongst other basic necessities. He told The Associated Press that the floods wiped out the life he built for himself and his family. “I am left with only the clothes I am wearing,” the 60-year-old said from the Azakhel refugee camp, roughly 150 kilometers from the capital, Islamabad. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has repeatedly and consistently appealed for increased and speedy aid. She has consistently lamented the lack of proper media coverage of the floods as compared to 2004 tsunami. This has resulted in the slow flow of aid to the region.

The floods have erased more than 12,600 homes and leaving 85,800 refugees homeless in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. Thousands of homes have been seriously damaged among both refugees and Pakistanis. The Azakhel refugee camp has been destroyed entirely and is now buried under at least a meter of mud, leaving more than 23,000 Afghan refugees homeless.

There are also instances of suggestions by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at restricting further flow of relief as the country was indulging in corruption and also instances of terrorism. These statements have been received sharply by the aid workers saying that the victims should not suffer further because of issues between the governments. In all these the displaced and the victims of the calamity are suffering more. With millions of livelihood under threat, there is an immediate need for the international community to respond.