Jamshoro, Pakistan – Monsoon floods have devastated large parts of Pakistan over the past month, overwhelming disaster management efforts. But nonprofits and dozens of entrepreneurs, old and young, stepped in as their country faced the worst disaster in decades.
There is an enormous need for everything from tents to blankets, from mosquito nets to water purification, from food to hygiene kits, and from malaria medicine to simple fever medicine.
“Millions upon millions of people lack access to water, shelter and food. We have seen malnourished children suffering from skin diseases, diarrhea and everything you can imagine,” Abdullah Fadil, the Pakistan representative for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), told Al Jazeera.
Fadil said more resources are needed, such as medicines and therapeutic food for children and nursing and pregnant mothers, 680,000 of whom are among the 33 million people affected by the floods.
“We need the world to really pay attention to the plight of Pakistan’s children and mothers. I hope the world pays attention to this catastrophe caused by climate change,” he said.
Last week, UN chief Antonio Guterres said he had not seen “climate carnage on this scale” after visiting the flood-hit South Asian nation.
The international response has been slow so some Pakistanis are trying their best to help their fellow citizens. Here are some of their stories.
The Flood damaged or destroyed more than 1.5 million homes. For weeks, people had to endure torrential rain and scorching sun for lack of shelter. Thousands of Pakistanis have donated tents and tarps to help people get some rest.
Muhammad Omar, an advertising executive in the southern port city of Karachi, thought the best way forward was to rely on Panaflex sheets, which are used on billboards.
“All we did was cut them into a four meter by three meter rectangle, had our team add metal rivets so they could be attached to hooks or attached with string, and voila, we had an inexpensive one and easy-to-use solution. Put up shelters that could provide some shade for desperate families left homeless by the floods,” Omar told Al Jazeera.
Since then, Omar and a group of volunteers have helped raise more than $40,000 for dozens of tents and managed to ship them by truck, helicopter and boat to far flung areas including Keti Bunder, Kachee, Jhal Magsi, Gandakha , Sukkur and Khairpur in southern Sindh province – the area hardest hit by the floods.
Tent manufacturers have taken this crisis as their opportunity, and hundreds of small and medium-sized factories have sprung up in major cities.
Water everywhere, not a drop to drink
Millions of people in Pakistan drink contaminated water and some are forced to drink from pools where dead cattle are floating.
“UNICEF has distributed millions of liters of water, but this is just a drop in the bucket of what people need,” said Fadil, the UNICEF representative.
The World Health Organization has warned of several disease outbreaks due to unsanitary conditions for those displaced by the floods.
Economist Hamza Farrukh has been working to provide clean water without electricity since 2014. Farrukh has used a solar-powered water filtration unit to purify contaminated water through his non-profit organization Bondh-E-Shams – which translates to ‘droplets of the sun’.
The Solar Water Box offers a robust, solar-powered water filtration unit on wheels that can deliver up to 10,000 liters of filtered water per day, he says.
Dozens of solar boxes, quickly scaled to 50 boxes per month, have been deployed to help flood survivors in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces. Filtered water can help control waterborne diseases and prevent people from becoming dehydrated.
The box is a semi-permanent solution, as once the floodwaters recede, the same units can be moved to permanent water sources in villages.
According to Farrukh, Bondh-E-Shams has delivered an estimated 50 million cups of clean water to 40 communities around the world, including the Rohingya community in Bangladesh and others in need in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen and Pakistan.
Its goal is to “help reduce the global water crisis by 2050”.
Another startup called PakVitae offers a filter product that doesn’t require electricity. Using gravity and attachment to the bottom of water tanks, the filters can deliver up to 10,000 liters.
According to Jarri Masood, a business consultant at PakVitae, filters made from fibrous membranes are used to eliminate most contaminants and bacteria.
Since the flooding began, PakVitae has donated some equipment and has also started providing filters to relief workers. They lowered the price: instead of 5,000 rupees (US$22), they charge 4,000 rupees (US$18) for flood relief, and they added a 15 liter canister per unit for flood relief units.
No electricity, no light
It is pitch black at night for tens of thousands of people living in small patches of land in most of Sindh, including Jamshoro. At least 101 people were treated for snakebites and 550 for dogbites.
Businessman Raza Zubair learned of the plight of the flood victims during a Friday sermon. He and his friends have provided solar powered lamps to the survivors.
Their lightweight solar lamps have provided much-needed illumination to thousands.
Along with other volunteers, Zubair, who owns Sun King’s solar business, is distributing essentials, including food rations, medicine, mosquito nets and toiletries.
His company has lowered the price of simple solar lamps for flood victims and also introduced lanterns that can also charge phones. A solar lamp now costs 1,000 rupees ($4.50) instead of 1,600 ($7.20) and a solar lantern costs 4,000 rupees ($18) instead of 6,500 ($29).
When large numbers of citizens, government agencies and non-governmental organizations start helping people, there is a risk that the effort will be duplicated and help will not reach the right people.
Shafeeq Gigyani, the co-founder of Enlight Lab, was frustrated that he could not get relevant statistics for his ancestral village on the banks of the Swat River in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Enlight Lab, a non-profit organization, decided to collect data for flood-affected areas across Pakistan. The company has developed Flood.PK – a crowdsourcing platform that allows those affected by the flood to call for help and field teams to respond.
Gigyani, who lives in Peshawar, says this data is streamlining housing, assistance, medical assistance, volunteering and fundraising while also answering some questions about the floods.
Other aggregators and crowdsourcing platforms like FloodLight also provide similar datasets for volunteers and victims.
As relief and rescue efforts ease, the pressing question is what comes next after the waters recede and the devastation lingers. The main task of rehabilitation would be to provide homes for hundreds of thousands of people.
How does a cash-strapped, indebted economy pay for it?
Miran Saifi and three others founded Modulus Tech in 2017 to address Pakistan’s housing shortage. Even before the devastating floods, the country had a housing shortage of 10 million.
Modulus Tech aimed to provide easy-to-assemble homes for refugees worldwide.
The Modulus Tech team develops long-term solutions for flood survivors by designing homes that are inexpensive and can be furnished immediately.
They use unconventional construction methods and off-grid solutions through responsible sourcing of sustainable and lightweight materials. They claim their homes now pollute 90 percent less than traditional house building.
Afia Salam, chief executive of the Indus Earth Trust, says long-term rehabilitation solutions are just as important as urgent relief.
Together with her colleagues, she tries to generate funds for the reconstruction of houses by training masons and wardens from flood areas. Her designs include low-cost, locally sourced homes that also have a lower carbon footprint.
This is not a comprehensive nor exhaustive list, but rather a small representation of the hundreds of organizations old and new and tens of thousands of selfless volunteers helping Pakistan as it experiences its worst climate disaster.