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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.

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Ms. Ali says she used Facebook to solicit contributions from relatives, friends, and friends of friends both at home and abroad. She raised some $2,300, transmitted either to her mother’s bank account or via Western Union transfers, to spend on "family packs" (food items, flour, cooking oils, sugar, lentils, and candles) for the victims of the flooding in Swat. Mr. Khurram and half-a-dozen friends, meanwhile, organized a couple of truckloads of meals and traveled to Swat to hand over supplies to the Army for distribution.

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The group was stranded for three days by landslides but then traveled to the village of Solgarah in Pakistan’s northwest to setup a Tandoor kitchen that would feed 50 families for 10 days.

“Naturally we don’t have enough donations for everyone,” says Khurram. “So we tried to make sure the same families aren’t getting the same stuff again and again.”

Tapping the Internet and mobile technology

Avoiding duplication of efforts was also a key motivation for Faisal Chohan, an Islamabad-based technology entrepreneur who created a website to keep track of flooding, aid, shelters throughout Pakistan. Aid workers, officials, and residents can use the system via text message or smart phone log on at:

The open-source platform was originally created in Kenya and called Ushahidi, Swahili for "testimony." It maps user reports of events sent via text message, e-mail, the Web and Twitter. Explains Mr. Chohan: “We believe the mobile [phone] is the best way to communicate with people in normal conditions as well as disasters. This was tried and tested in Kenya and Haiti. Why not put all this first line of reporting on mobiles in Pakistan?” With more than 90 million mobile phone users, he says, it has the potential to become the largest deployment of Ushahidi anywhere in the world.

Others still see opportunities for creative methods of fundraising. Zahra Mirza, a young artist in the city of Lahore, says it’s important to keep the public’s interest alive as donor fatigue sets in, even among Pakistanis. Along with a group of friends and upcoming artists known collectively as Sanjh, a Punjabi word meaning “togetherness,” Mirza has organized an art auction at the city’s major Alhamra gallery.

To Dr. Raees, the analyst, such initiatives highlight both the lack of faith Pakistanis place in the civil institutions, but also the strong sense of solidarity that unites Pakistanis of different ethnicities and cultures.

“Generally, foreign experts portray Pakistan as a fragmented, divided, and confrontational society,” he says. In reality, he argues, “there are overlapping layers of social forces: religion, history, and tradition that bind the Pakistani people together. Pakistaniat, Pakistani nationhood, is something very strong but unacknowledged by many analysts.”

IN PICTURES: Pakistan floods