Last week I was visiting the flood-affected areas in south Punjab. Whatever I saw was devastating and cannot be reproduced in words but what I can tell you with authority is that living in those conditions is surely hell and nothing worse can be experienced by humankind in these modern times. There are hundreds of stories of misfortune, pain, anguish, betrayal, crimes and selfishness that others, I am sure, will bring to you from time to time.
However, I want to share experiences with you that made me proud to be Pakistani and a human being. I want to share with you those nameless heroes who, despite all odds, zero remuneration or a chance to be photographed, stood taller than any superman you can come across.
Express Television was one of the first to realise the potential tragedy in the making and despite some other mega stories brewing at the time – the shoe incident in Birmingham, target killings in Quetta and suicide bombings in Peshawar – our editorial department instructed us to put all resources in covering the flood that had hit some areas of south Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa by that time. The Express Help Line trust was one of the first to be initiated once the disaster hit. We were the first to do a live telethon on television, not only to raise funds but to create awareness about the devastation, gloom and heartbreak as a consequence of the biggest adversity this region has
However, even we in the newsrooms could not have imagined the extent of the tragedy until we actually visited the calamity-hit areas for coverage.
When our team went to Multan, an aerial view of the city made our hearts skip a beat. We knew this was no normal overflow but a tragedy of gigantic proportions. When we visited the first semi-relief camp near Multan it was evident that we had been clueless about the extent of all that had gone wrong.
When I reported back to the team and asked for help they immediately set up the Help Line Trust that could take part in relief activities and our team threw all resources, funds and manpower behind us to circumvent any impediments. We were told to disregard our professional duties and instead start supplying food and medicines to areas that had been cut off from the rest of the country. The Multan bureau became the hub for all activities. Some calls were made to friends and companies, all of whom responded immediately.
Nestle was the first and the biggest contributor. They took all available food and water items from their distributors in the region and dispatched almost 25 tonnes to us overnight. This included pure water and instant noodles for the kids.
The Aleem Khan Foundation sent food packs for 5,000 families. Muhammad Ayub, a textile professional in Karachi, sent us money so that food could be bought locally and dispatched. Abid Khattak, an office bearer of the transporters union, started to organise trucks that would deliver to far-flung areas. In less than four days we had delivered almost 70 tonnes of food and water to areas like D G Khan, Taunsa, Jampur and Muzaffargarh that were totally distraught. It took us almost 15 hours by road one way to reach Dera Ghazi Khan which was otherwise cut off from all areas due to the highways coming under almost nine feet of water.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2010.
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