ROJHAN: A hangar at the Aviation Airbase in Multan is full of relief goods, which have been donated by the United Nations Development Programme and private organisations, as well as materials which have been dropped off at army collection centres.
These goods “have been donated by Muslim countries”, says Captain Aftab. Tents from Iran, food rations from Saudi Arabia, water purification plants and bottles of mineral water from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are lined up inside the hangar.
The Aviation Airbase is also currently home to three Chinook helicopters, which have been given by the UAE and are manned by that country’s military personnel, who were not authorised to speak to the media. “We don’t have any American planes here,” Aftab said.
The Chinook helicopters, in addition to carrying goods, are also transporting civilian doctors who are treating people in flood-hit areas, such as Rojhan Jamali. Medicines have been donated by pharmaceutical companies and institutions such as the King Edward Medical College, Lahore.
The army is aiming to deliver 300 tonnes of relief goods every day.
“The first priority is to send ‘family packs’ – these contain mineral water, powdered milk and biscuits, which are enough to last a family of nine or 10 people for one week. The next priority is to send medicines, primarily for diarrhoea, flu and fever and scabies,” Aftab told The Express Tribune.
Captain Aftab asserts that the aid is not being distributed on an ad hoc basis. “We have a good system of ascertaining the needs of every area and how much aid needs to be delivered there. We are not just sending it randomly,” he said.
Disease spread in disaster-hit Rojhan
Rojhan, which is part of the Rajanpur district and close to the Balochistan-Punjab border, has been badly affected by the floods. The area is next to the River Indus and approximately 30,000 people have been affected but relief work has been slow. Seven to eight thousand people are yet to leave their homes and are guarding their possessions and livestock.
According to a document shown to The Express Tribune at the Rojhan airbase, tents, mineral water, milk, flour, family packs, biscuits as well as loose cloth has been delivered to the area via helicopters since August 14.
Lieutenant Rizwan, who is overseeing operations in Rojhan, told The Express Tribune that they were delivering aid to 1,500 people daily and had rescued over 10,000 people in the past 10 days. When asked what was being done for those who had stayed back to look after their property, Rizwan said that relief goods, including cooked food from the civil administration, was being sent to them on a daily basis.
Diseases have also started spreading through Rojhan. Diarrhoea and skin diseases, according to Rizwan, are the biggest issues but there are a number of medical camps being run by the rangers, Pakistan Army and the health department.
The concept of rehabilitation in Rojhan is still a far cry away. “This will only be possible when the water level goes down,” Rizwan says. “It has only receded by two or three inches.”
But, according to Rizwan, there are areas that even the army has not been able to access. He told The Express Tribune, “Bangla Icha and Son Mayani which comprise small villages are across the river and touch Rahim Yar Khan. They have been inaccessible because the road links have been cut. We have only been able to drop goods through helicopter sorties so far.”
An image-building exercise
However, Rizwan admits that the army’s relief and rescue operations have served as an image-building exercise. “It is important for the army to show people that it is helping. Some incidents took place in Pakistan which made people think that the army is not doing a good job, and initially people were against the relief and rescue operation. But this has helped with our image.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2010.
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