Friday, August 20, 2010

Flooding brings new distrust of Pakistan government

The flooding in Pakistan has created a new distrust of government. When Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani left for France during the height of the flooding, it made him and the rest of the government seem uncaring.

From IPS, writer Zofeen Ebrahim has a couple of reactions to how the government is responding to the crisis, Ebtahim also gives some examples of people taking it upon themselves to get money and goods to the victims.

"I don’t know where and how to begin helping these people who have lost just about everything – their home, land, livestock and some even their families," says Siddiqui, a 35-year-old mother of two.

While the calls for assistance say how to and who to give donations to, she is unsure whom she can trust. But she is sure that her donation will not be going into the relief fund set up by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani.

This is a common refrain heard here every day, reflecting the deep mistrust of and anger against the government. For many, this sentiment has been exacerbated by President Asif Ali Zardari’s sojourn to France and Britain earlier in August, when the destruction caused by record floods was at its peak.

"I haven’t heard in the media even once how much donations the ruling elite have given to this fund, how can the government expect me to put my money in it?" 75-year-old Salma Ahmad says angrily.

"This government is not honest, that’s what we hear on the media daily. There are no refutations from them, which means it’s all true. The message we get is they don’t care. Only last night I heard our foreign minister talking to the Pakistani expatriate community in the U.S. telling them to donate generously," says Azra Ahsan, a Karachi-based obstetrician. "He said if they didn’t trust the government, they can give to groups they do, but donate they must. It was laughable for a government to admit this."

Some have started their own collection drives for goods and cash. Salim Tabani, 49, a factory owner in Karachi, took four truckloads of rations that he and his friends donated to Khairpur and Kashmore districts in Sindh province ."Now I know better what is needed and will go again next week with more goods," he said.

In Karachi, abuzz with a bevy of fund collectors, a group of young women collects clothes for flood victims. Textile design students are collecting old, faded T-shirts, which are made into blankets, mattresses and hammocks. An art gallery held a "silent auction" of paintings collected from 88 artists and raised 1.26 million Pakistani rupees (140,000 U.S. dollars). Meantime, another group of women collects plastic water and soda bottles and fills them with clean water.

In Peshawar in north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 32-year-old Najiullah Khattak has collected over 2.2 million rupees (250,000 dollars) since he started a group on the social networking site Facebook on Aug. 2. "To be honest, I and a few friends decided to collect some funds and give it to an organisation, thinking that’s where our responsibility would end," Khattak told IPS by telephone from Peshawar. "All I did was tell people on Facebook what we were doing, and people just came in with their donations."

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