More than 20 million people are impacted by the floods in Pakistan and more than 1.2 million homes destroyed. The media has highlighted a growing concern that the floods could strengthen militant groups that are engaged in relief efforts. However, the Pakistani military is in a greater position to benefit, particularly in the absence of a strong democratic leadership as their rescue efforts are glorified over the work of progressive organizations, and even the government.
It is for these reasons the international community must support the work of progressive grassroots Pakistani groups. These are organizations that have ties to the flood affected regions where they have worked with famers, laborer, women and children to bring about the much needed social change. They will be there working for long term rehabilitation as waters recede, and after the international relief organizations are gone, and individual efforts diminish.
In addition to progressive organizations, the international community must compel the government at provincial, district, and local levels to remain accountable by strengthening the National Disaster Management Authority (which provides updates of affectees), and ask for oversight and coordination between thousands of individuals and NGOs. Instead of an unceasing focus on the corruption of top level bureaucrats and politicians, there is a need to build grassroots institutions.
The Sindh Rural Support Organization <http://www.srso.com.pk/>(SRSO) loosely collaborates with the government. Through a World Food Program, the SRSO targets to deliver one month ration to about 42,000 families in five districts in Sindh. It is also collaborating with USAID and UNICEF. It has been installing hand pumps and dry toilets. "Camps need drinking water supply, toilets and food supplies – the very basics which are somehow missed by our government," wrote Saqib Khan, an SRSO volunteer, from a relief camp in Sukkur, Sindh. Established in 2003, SRSO's mandate is to alleviate poverty by harnessing the people's potential and to undertake development activities in nine districts of Sindh.
Sunghi's <http://www.sungi.org/> mission is to bring about policy and institutional changes by mobilizing communities to transform their lives through equitable and sustainable use of resources without any discrimination against social origin, sex, race, caste and religion. They are working in collaboration with Oxfam in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KPK), Punjab, Balochistan and the Azad Jammu and Kashmir regions on relief efforts related to sanitation, hygiene, road clearance; drinking water supplies and mobile medical camps. Oxfam has called for the cancellation of Pakistani debt, demonstrating that short term relief will be inadequate in a country struggling to pay interests on debt while 60% of its people live below poverty. <http://www.lef.org.pk/labou%20releafe.htm>
The Labour Relief Campaign <http://www.lef.org.pk/labou%20releafe.htm> (LRF) was set up by a group of members from different progressive organizations. Their campaign is two-fold: collecting funds for the immediate relief and making demands for cancellation of foreign debt, aid in the form of grants not loans, reduction in the military budget, reparations for global warming, and land for landless peasants. Many of those displaced are landless peasants. Zehra Khan of the Home Based Women Workers Federation, a member of the LRF coalition, described the situation of landless peasants in Moro, Sindh as exploitative They get 1/4th of the proceeds from the land they work on – and from these proceeds they have to repay the landlord for tube well and seed costs. Many affectees will return to exploitative relations if we do not advocate land reforms.
The LRF has camps in Baluchistan, KPK, and Southern Punjab and have distributed food, kitchen items and construction material. Working in collaboration with Sindh Labour Relief Committee (SLRC) in Sindh they have set up medical camps to distribute medicines. Khalid Mohammad, of the LRF said, "We have learned from our experiences in flood relief work the most effective way is to form local people's committees for distribution of relief items. Empowering local people through organizing even in very difficult situations is the best way to work for them."
The Citizens Foundation <http://www.tcfusa.org/> has a network of 660 schools in 68 towns and cities across Pakistan. 10,000 new students are inducted every year, and it has achieved a 50% female student population. Many of its schools are being used as relief camps. Setting a target of 20 million meals in a month, it is providing food packages, water purifying packs and basic medicines across districts in Sindh, KPK, and Punjab.
Shirkat Gah's <http://www.shirkatgah.org/> goal is to encourage women to play a full and equal role in society by promoting and protecting the social and economic development of women. Since 1996, it has provided legal assistance to over 187 women through court cases, while hundreds of women and men have been provided advice and support mechanism. Partnering with Global Fund for Women it has set up medical camps and distributes food items, medicines, cooking utensils, clothing and shoes.
There are progressive organizations in Pakistan doing excellent grassroots work with long term objective to bring about institutional and social changes. They are also involved in relief work and can bring about stability and equality in the flood ravaged country, and offer an alternative to war. This is an opportunity for the world to support and learn about these organizations.
*Yasmin Qureshi is a bay area, CA human rights activist involved in social justice movements in South Asia and Palestine. *
*Abira Ashfaq is a lawyer based in Karachi. She is a member of the Sindh Labour Relief Committee.*