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Pakistan floods: How new networks of Pakistanis are mobilizing to help

Pakistan flood aid is coming from new quarters as educated Pakistanis raise funds and distribute aid directly to victims of the flood. Activist networks have sprung up as the middle class has become more prosperous and organized.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent / August 19, 2010

A Pakistani man reaches out from behind a truck during the distribution of relief goods for flood victims at Muzaffargarh district, Punjab province, Pakistan, Thursday. Weeks after massive downpours first battered northern Pakistan, killing about 1,500 people and leaving millions homeless, those floodwaters are still sweeping downriver and through the south, adding one more layer of misery to people long accustomed to hardship.

Aaron Favila/AP Photo


Lahore, Pakistan

Ain-ul-Ghazala, a local Pakistani doctor, says what motivated her to take matters into her own hands came down to what she saw on television. Images of immense misery and destruction brought about by the worst floods in Pakistan in recent memory unfolded before her eyes, and she says she couldn't sit still.

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She had noticed hundreds of tents setup on the streets of her hometown, where various groups sought funds and materials. But despite hearing repeated calls for more aid, tales of corruption deterred her from donating to the government or aid organizations, and she didn’t want to give her money to Islamist groups like Jamat-ud-Dawa.

“No one trusts the government anymore, so I wanted to see the situation for myself and do what I could to help,” she explains. As the effects of the disaster wound into a third week, the gynecologist, who works at a private hospital owned by her husband, decided to set off to the flood-afflicted southern Punjab region along with her three adult daughters and one of their friends, also a female medical doctor.

IN PICTURES: Pakistan floods

Over the course of two days, they distributed, tents and food, while the two doctors checked in on some 200 patients in Kot Addu, near Muzaffargarh. “There were a lot of people suffering," she says. On top of the health problems, "some didn’t have anything to wear - they were without any clothes,” she says. “We gave iron and calcium supplements to the pregnant women, and ended up seeing a few male patients, too.”

Such stories are becoming increasingly common as educated Pakistanis are taking matters into their own hands, organizing fund-raising activities and distributing aid direct to victims of the flood.

Civil society and activism in Pakistan

According to Rasul Baksh Raees, head of social sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, the reach and influence of civil society has grown as Pakistan’s middle classes have become more affluent, organized (thanks in no small part to the Internet age), and confident.

In recent years, Pakistan’s civil society has made headlines for its activism. Indeed, students and middle-class professionals joined lawyers in a movement to restore the country’s popular Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was removed from office twice in recent years by former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

The networks formed during that "lawyers movement" are the ones that Maham Ali, a student at Bahria University in Islamabad, and her friend Samad Khurram, a Harvard graduate who recently returned to Islamabad, turned to help raise funds for victims of the flooding in the country’s northwest.