Sunday, August 29, 2010

Guest Post: Pakistan Flood Relief - The uphill battle to rebuild lives -- Jawwad Farid

17-20 million affected
5 million without shelter on the streets and roadsides because relief camps are overwhelmed
1.6 million people are already being affected by waterborne diseases
800,000 people still cannot be reached because bridges have been washed off
170000 acres of crop land has been affected

The water came at night in Nowshera.

Not silently like a thief, nor on tip toes, but with all the ferocity of a moving sea mixed with the weight of mud, stones, trees and swept away dreams. 2 am at night, all you could do was wake up and run. But unlike a tidal wave that comes in, takes what it needs to pacify an angry God, and goes, the water in Nowshera kept on coming. Days later when the flooding stopped, like an unwelcome and over bearing guest it stayed. And it brought company with it to keep away the boredom of lesser lives it haunted; misery, hunger and silence.

You could change the name of the city and repeat the story throughout the length of the mighty Indus. By the time you would reach Sind and Thatta, the late night rush to safety, the breaches in river embankments and the loss of life, livelihood and loved ones become one practiced orchestra. No audience except the three that water brought with it to Nowshera; misery, hunger and silence. No post performance celebration other than the one where millions of souls slowly start re-threading their lives, one battered tin clad suitcase at a time.

With the water slowly receding the relief mosaic across Pakistan is looking more and more like a drive in movie in an endless loop across multiple time zones. Upnorth, we need food, clothing, medicine, water purifiers and shelter. Down south, we are still waiting for Thatta and nearby cities and villages along the Indus Delta to take on the first wave of flood waters.

The widespread devastation and damage to infrastructure has added a new dimension of difficulty to relief efforts. And so if you can’t find food or support in the enclave over run by mud that you used to call home, you walk to the relief camps being set up near larger urban centers.

A school for children now houses 30 families and 150 kids. It is not women and children first. The men have opted to stay behind to guard livestock or land for in the chaos caused by a raging river there is more room for tragedy, robbery and outright villainy by your fellow beings. Possession is nine-tenth of law, especially if thy neighbor has been claimed by the rising waters of River Indus.

A white collar family is not used to handouts or being treated as landless destitute. But the tragedy that is unfolding across Pakistan across millions of lives, hundreds of cities and thousands of camps is just that.

You may have escaped the water; but will you ever escape the fate and the company the Indus brought with it.

Misery, hunger, death and silence.

Jawwad Farid is the founder and CEO of Alchemy Technologies. He is an actuary by profession, a computer scientist by training, and a Columbia Business School MBA.

Jawwad has worked directly as a founder, mentor or advisor at multiple startups including two green field life insurance companies, multiple technology product businesses, financial services consulting operations, product focused distribution as well as micro insurance, micro pensions and micro finance startups. The ones he remembers the most are his failures.

He came to Darden in April for his talk "REBOOT - Everything you ever wanted to know about STARTUP FAILURE" and is a regular contributor to the DesiBackToDesh, Learning Corporate Finance and Oil Insight  blogs. 

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