Chris Anderson writing about the Pakistan floods

I just came across blogs about the Pakistan floods by Chris Anderson, the person who founded the amazing TED talks and has over 1.1 million followers on Twitter. For two weeks (August 31 to September 14), he devoted his blog to stories about the floods that don’t get covered by mainstream media, what he referred to as “stories of insight and ingenuity, generosity and heroism”. He writes:

Pakistan has the world’s sixth highest population (170m) and more than a quarter of the country has been deluged. Its people are resourceful and compassionate. There’s an incredible effort on the ground, often led by Pakistanis, that we need to know more about.  If these stories are told, it will chip a hole in the monotone narrative so much of America and the west has adopted of “Pakistan = danger”.

He visited Pakistan with his wife Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund, and together they’ve been trying to create awareness and support relief initiatives. So far he’s published over 19 stories and also produced a slideshow with a great soundtrack “Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel. Here it is:

Don’t judge Pakistan too hastily

Reading a few articles exhorting people to donate to the Pakistan floods, I literally feel sick by the hateful and ignorant comments posted on the articles. A case in point is an article by Ethan Casey that appeared in the Huffington Post. The comments range from paranoid Pakistan-bashing (‘what unites Pakistanis is their hatred of India’) to more widespread concerns about corruption and terrorism.

A few days ago I had read another article in the Telegraph titled ‘Pakistan suffers- but our wallets remain closed‘ and the comments on that one just horrified me because they were so downright racist. In stating their objections to helping out Pakistanis, some people had gone into everything they hate about Pakistanis and Muslims.

I realize that these may be some of the most ignorant and bigoted people out there and perhaps a minority. But when the majority of the comments are so hateful and people are ‘recommending’ (similar to the ‘like’ button on facebook) the nastiest ones, you just stop and wonder: Is this what the majority of the people out there think?

Maybe being surrounded by amazingly tolerant and respectful people at work (and before that at uni), I’ve developed a naive understanding of the world devoid of people’s prejudices.

Of course I also have to face the reality that things don’t grow in a vacuum. People who comment on the corruption or links to terrorism in Pakistan have some basis in reality (albeit exaggerated). I don’t want to get into all the structural arguments for why we are where we are, but it really saddens me to think that this is what my country has been reduced to.

Perhaps people’s short memories would make them believe that Pakistan has always been like this. But that’s not the case. And it doesn’t have to be either.

Yes, we’ve been a politically fragile developing country for most of the 63 years of our short history. But there have also been great moments. We’ve seen periods of remarkable growth and stability. Pakistan has produced some world famous inspirational people and the country has a lot to offer at so many different levels. It’s not all been perfect and I’m not glorifying the ‘past’. I’m just trying to put things into perspective.

Most nations go through periods of ups and downs. Afghanistan was a relatively ‘normal’ country in the 1960s showing similar development levels as its neighbours and look where it stands today. As late as 1990s, Iraq had one of the highest literacy and life expectancy rates in the Middle East along with its rich cultural and civilizational heritage (I’m not brushing under the carpet the abuses of the Saddam regime) and we know what’s become of it today.

On a positive note, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world in the 1950s and today it’s one of the strongest economies in Asia. Not too long ago, Ireland was mired by terrorism, instability and poverty (and some really horrible stereotypes were associated with that nation too) and today it is a respected member of Europe.

So all I’m saying is: let’s not give up on Pakistan so easily.

Crisis in Pakistan

A man leads his children through the waters in Nowshera (Courtesy: Guardian)

The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Pakistan is tragic at many levels. These are the worst floods in Pakistan’s history and have affected over 4.5 million people and taken over 1500 lives. And it’s not over yet. As the flood waters continue downstream to Sindh, they will cause more destruction in their wake. The images from NASA of before and after the floods bring home some of the scale. The disaster has also brought into sharp focus two other aspects: the lack of disaster preparedness in Pakistan and the fact that poor people are most affected.

Save the Children has commented that this disaster could be worse than the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan in which over 80,000 people lost their lives. Although the loss of life was much graver in the earthquake, this disaster is considered worse for its scale and geographical reach. It has caused destruction in all provinces of Pakistan, particularly Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa, and has displaced over a million people.

Talat Hussain, one of Pakistan’s most respected journalists, has been travelling all over the country to report on the floods and talk to affected people. Reporting from a town in Mianwali, he brought home the point that the disaster in that area, like many others, was avoidable if precautions had been taken in time, or at least if an early warning had been given people would have been able to evacuate in time. However, the lack of investment in infrastructure or prioritized disaster response meant we saw unnecessary loss of life and property. So while the heavy rainfall was a natural phenomenon, the scale of the flooding was a manmade disaster.

Another dimension of this disaster that has become apparent is that the poor are the worst affected as they live in the rural and low lying urban areas that have poor infrastructure and lack of sewage and drainage. The internally displaced people due to the conflict in Pakistan are now more vulnerable than ever. Oxfam has commented that the floods are a double catastrophe for the people of Swat valley as they had just begun to return to their homes.

“Those affected were already vulnerable and mostly poor and now they’ve been made homeless and in need of help once again. People desperately need clean water, food, shelter and healthcare”, said Neva Khan Oxfam’s Country Director in Pakistan.

The floods will make poor people poorer and those who were on the brink would be thrown into poverty.

The priority now is immediate response to alleviate some of the impact. If you can please give:

  • In the UK contribute to the DEC appeal
  • In Pakistan, you can contribute to Human Relief Foundation, Thali, Future Leaders of Pakistan, or any trusted organisation that you support.

For grassroots fundraising taking place in Islamabad, please contact the following individuals:

Abdul Basit Khwaja, Human Relief Foundation, +923315248814

Atif Siddique, Future Leaders of Pakistan, +92 333 555 2843

Thali, 03335600082, 03458562843, 03345110013

This is a slightly updated version of the article I wrote for