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"Helping the poor at any cost"

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December 23, 2010
By Sobia Nazir
By Sobia Nazir

Could you tell us a little bit about your organization “Citizen Rights and Sustainable Development”?

CRSD was registered under the Societies Act 1860 in 2008 with the government of Pakistan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Peshawar. Its board of directors has 10 members from various strata of life. CRSD is a non-profit, non-partisan, and non-sectarian organization. We have been working with the community for last almost 30 years and have experience in management in sectors like poverty alleviation, workers education, labor rights, political rights, health, peace building, education, women’s development, child labor, environmental pollution, human development. We are also capable of building NGOs, CSOs, and CBOs. We have a vast working experience in mass mobilization, community awareness, advocacy, capacity building and arranging of seminars, dialogues, conferences, workshops, walks, rallies, festivals, exhibitions, debates, focal group discussions and meetings on social, political and economic issues. Change the policies of the state, so that these are in accordance with the wishes of the people.

Which difficulties do face, working on issues like poverty alleviation, labor rights, education, women development or environment pollution in Pakistan?

To work in sectors like labor rights, workers education, environmental pollution and the like in Pakistan is not easy and we face many problems during our endeavors. We are very active in labor capacity building programs, which is not always looked upon with favor, as a worker who is more aware of his legal rights will be more demanding, which in turn is not exactly desirable by the industry owners. The marble industry in Buner District is one of our focus points. There are about 5,000 mine and industrial workers in the region. We conduct capacity building workshops for them with support of Actionaid Pakistan. Most of these people are not even registered. Also, we are trying to introduce better and safer methods of mining to these workers. In these marble industries, very ancient and hazardous methods are being used. These are cheap, but also not only dangerous for the miners, but also only 25% of the marble is extracted and the rest is wasted.

We are also working on different issues like human rights, democracy, and peace building. We are working for the rights of the people in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and to repeal the draconian law Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). We are also working for the women rights in close cooperation with other NGO’s such as Aurat Foundation, SharkatGah, SPO and Noor Education trust etc. If it weren’t for poverty, most of the people would want their daughters to obtain an education. The government is providing an incentive in the form of free books, but the education should be completely free so that everyone can have easy access to it. We are also working for the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and formed the Network for Humanitarian Assistance (NHA) with other NGOs to highlight the problems of flood affected people and other IDPs. We are part of many networks and alliances, working on different issues like human rights, education, environment, child rights, democracy, peace and security, youth development and food security.

What did you do to help the people in the flooded areas? How long did it take to get there and provide help?

Although I now live in Peshawar, I come from a small village called ‘Tarkha’ in the District of Nowshehra. I first received information about the flood on 28th July from my relatives, who are still living in that village. Our village did not suffer many losses, but other villages that were only 2 km away from us, and closer to the River Kabul, were affected badly. And most of the inhabitants of the affected villages left their homes and came to our village Tarkha and other near villages of UC Akbarpora. Our people opened their doors to the flood affected people and gave them shelter in their own homes and Community Centers (Hujra). The women and children were taken into the schools and the men into separate Community Centers. With this large influx of flood refugees, we needed to provide food for these people. Although our organization CRSD is usually not associated with service providing activities, this was an emergency and so we decided to provide as much relief aid to as many people and areas that we could.

As a first step, we formed a volunteers committee. Initially it consisted of 24 members, but was then extended to 40 members. The Committee’s main responsibility was to look after CRSD camps in Tarkha, Ali Shah, NATAL, Kurvi, and Khusmuqam in District Nowshera. We got in touch with other NGOs partner organizations such as SPO, Noor Education Trust and Rakshanda Naz of Women Action Forum, a Philanthropist and Woman Activist, Mr Daud Khan Khattak Ex Nazim District Nowshera, Khattak Quami Jirga, and some other friends from abroad. Noor Education Trust provided with food for about 1,200 people for the first day. SPO provided for the next three days, Rakhsinda Naz of Women Action Forum, Fauzia Asad Haider from US, Khattak Quami Jirga and some other Philanthropist for next days. And Aurat foundation provided some hygiene kits. Poda and ABKT distributed some relief goods in our camps.

Our relief aid was primarily obtained by charity, and was being administered on a day to day basis. In order to provide people with the required sustenance, we had asked the donors to provide us directly with food items instead of money. In the beginning, our access was to 1,200 flood people affected by the flood. After few days, we started providing food items for 3,700 people. Contributor Abad Ullah Khan, an engineer by profession, distributed (non food items) NFI and other relief goods to the flood affectees, living with host families. We also provided the displaced persons with medical facilities by arranging private doctors and medical camps with other NGOs and medical students, who could then provide free checkups to the people.

By this time, we had started to also receive help from Bait-ul-Mal and the Nowshehra Government. World Food Program also distributed relief packages amongst the flood affectees. With WFP in the area, the dietary needs of the people started to be fulfilled efficiently. There weren’t many faith based organizations working in our area although many of them were active in the regions like Akora Khatak. These organizations did not delay with administrative issues, like lists and registration. They just provided aid packages to as many people as possible. This created a positive image for them, as they had accessed major numbers of people. Local leaders and workers of Political Parties were also active to provide relief to flood affectees.

After the flood, the situation in Pakistan was described to be quite chaotic in the newspapers. Is it still like that? Or is the situation more stabilized by now?

The aid efforts comprised of different periods. The first was the rescue efforts, which were mainly carried out by the people themselves in our area. Apart from some regions like Mohib Banda, Pashtoon Gari and Nowshera Kalan Khaishegi, Pir Sabaq, in Nowshera helicopters were sent to take part in the rescue activities. Then the people needed to be provided with relief. The provincial governance system had collapsed, since all the government employees had been stranded due to the flood. The Motor way runs over the River Kabul and was also flooded. The only way open was by air. But the provincial government only had two helicopters. So the provincial Government contacted the federal government and army to arrange more helicopters for the rescue operations. Some helicopters were also sent over by the USA. Thus the flood affectees, both directly and indirectly, started to receive sustenance from various national and international organizations.

Some regions received more than the others. And in yet other parts, not everyone did get the required aid. But most of the people for now have sufficient amounts of food for the next month or so. The World Food Programme (WFP) has started providing people with food items, on the basis of work done for food. This was considered as important by the government and other civil societies. With that, the people can once again engage in everyday life activities and return to somewhat of normalization. People have lost their livelihoods and are still without proper shelters. Now the government and the national and international community need to help these people in the process of rehabilitation. Shelter is needed urgently, as in the coming days the weather will change drastically, leaving the people in a vulnerable state. It will take hard work and lots of commitment, before we can truly say that the situation has improved. In the winter season, the situation will worsen, if their living conditions are not improved. They have no blankets, no beds and no heating facilities.

Who did you work with? Local organizations, government, military, international organizations?

Our camps were regularly visited by officials from government, army and international organizations. The administrative efficiency of these camps was duly appreciated. In the beginning, we had about 176 families in one school, comprising of women and children. In the six schools of the village, there were 370 families. The men were hosted in Hujras and Mosques. In the last days of September, we had about 88 families in one high school and combined 145 families. In this way, we had hosted large numbers of people displaced due to the flood. We are basically an advocacy organization and had no experience with charity collection and relief operations. But when this crises created havoc in the lives of so many people in our region, we arose to the situation and worked in close collaboration with all the institutes including the Khattak Quami Jirga, local government as well as international institutions, so that we could do as much as possible to provide relief to the people. As our slogan is: “Helping the poor at any cost”.

Did the money donated by people abroad come through to the victims? Was international help welcomed?

Two or three incidents in the past have changed the concept of NGOs and foreign aid agencies in the mind frames of the people. The aid provided after the earthquake had not been fully utilized for the development of the region, and as a result is still in poor condition. And then the aid provided to the IDPs was linked to ulterior motives of the donor agencies. The NGOs and international agencies also lack transparency, proper monitoring and evaluation. They are also considered to be involved in corruption and favoritism. That has resulted in a tarnished image of these institutions. This is the first time that other Islamic countries have also provided relief efforts, for example Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc. In general, people were touched by the visits made to the affected regions by the foreign representatives and were thankful for the support provided via these institutes.

Mr. Kamal, thank you very much for this interview.

First panel of our conference: Shahgufta Malik, Muhammad Idrees Kamal, Britta Petersen, Ayesha Siddiqa, Abid Suleri.
Image: Stephan Röhl. License: Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0. Original: Flickr.

Report and interviews

Pakistan after the flood